“Burgundy Memory Lane – Part II” – By Debbie Ambrous

October, 2016 – Chateau Home & Garden living with gourmet dining was left behind at the regal gates of the luxe Chateau de Gilly Hotel when we drove our rental car toward the city of Beaune, but the tires hardly hit the pavement of the main road when a beautiful castle on a hill above vines outstretched like golden chains beckoned us for a detour. We approached Aloxe-Corton where long-lived wines are produced.  Voltaire revealed that he adored the Corton wine.  In 1759 he wrote to his supplier of Corton saying: “The older I get, Sir, the more highly do I value your kindnesses.  Your good wine is being a necessity to me…”  I could say the same about my experiences in France.  The older I get, the more highly I appreciate what I have seen and what I have had the good pleasure of storing in my memory as treasures.  At least for a time, I can spin a story and tug the photos from my archive.

For this yarn which I am numbering part two of the Burgundy memory lane, my rambling words could easily become volumes more.  Yet, a post card version without embellishment, or depth, is outlined in a rather point A to point B rendition of the second memory lane since my blog would explode otherwise.  Truly, Burgundy is rich and ripe for enjoyment, so much so that it is a shame to rush through.  But that was exactly what Jim and I shamelessly did.We gulped down the golden vista of the vineyards in the early morning light, like an expensive, rare wine.  A chateau with peach- tinted walls, dappled with shadows and a roof like melted caramel was secluded behind locked gates, but my camera found its way without a security breach.  We drank this beauty of colors mixed with history, fermenting our excitement for the remainder of our short adventure. We wanted to see more and more, but while that was impossible, there were two definite places on our list: Beaune and the Chateau de La Rochepot.  Starting with Beaune, we simply wandered the narrow, old streets seeing many of the old places we enjoyed in the past like the carousel; but this time there was a new feature, a modern art sculpture of a dog splashed with bright colors.

I hunted for a mural that is found in the introduction of my book and finally found its soft colors on the wall, realizing that the small trees from the past had grown to large trees that almost hid the painting.

We laughed at a display of socks on the street, thinking about our friend Rob at home who would like the exuberant design.

 

 

 

Jim noticed briefs in the window display with a lobster on the crotch.  He said he felt uncomfortable just looking at them! Around the corner I saw the restaurant where I shared my table with a British couple when I was on my solo trip, and it was still very busy with a crowd of happy people.   However, no red jaguar was parked in front like the one I admired years ago.   We paid our admission to the Hospices de Beaune which seems rather forbidding from the outside, but inside there is a riot of color from the floor tiles to the glorious roof tiles.  This was a charity hospital from the mid-15th century until 1971.

The beds line the walls, and mannequins of nuns are displayed throughout the hospital and kitchen.  Some of the old medicine containers are beautiful, but I’m sure that I would not want the contents.  Still when I think of the warnings on our modern medicine, maybe rose or orange alcohol treatment for any illness is not so bad after all.

We spent way more time in Beaune than what we had intended.  Time just flies when we are exploring with just one more thing to see which reminds me that I must insert the photo from the kitchen at the Hospices de Beaune.  Notice the goose-necked fixtures.  Nothing like these at Kohler or American Standard! Just incredible!  I knew we must drive south in the direction of our rental house so we could arrive there before dark on the next day.  That ruled out seeing some of the villages we dreamed of seeing since they were further west and north.  I didn’t arrange a hotel for the night since we didn’t know how far we would travel.  Chateau de La Rochepot was still firmly on our list.  We tried a few charming B&B’s with no success.   Nolay, a little town with a 14th-century covered market was perfect for the night with a bit of history to see and a hotel in an old building with red geraniums welcoming us inside.  Maybe we would have a nice night with no reservations after all.

We went inside the dark lobby and rang the bell, but no one came.  We waited at the counter as Jim’s bladder was calling for attention with a bathroom in view down the hallway.  We did what any over-the-hill couple would do and trekked to the bathroom in the dark as quickly as our senior legs would carry us.  Unknown to us, the lady owner was coming down the stairway for a surprise meeting at the landing.  She gasped like she never expected to see guests in the hotel.  After we took care of the most important business at hand, we asked to see a room.  We followed the owner around and under many artificial flower displays, perfectly suited for the stale air and matching the framed pictures suitable for a yard sale.  Madam opened a door at the end of the narrow hallway to our potential room for the night.  A large window faced the rear alley of the hotel with a flower box below and a view over the lower roof line to a few village houses.  The bed was covered in a simple white bedspread with an old chair near the doorway.  Fresh air filled the room from the open window.  My eyes drifted to the bedside table with a bottle of water and a glass with something in it.  For a startled moment I thought someone had left their false teeth in the glass of water, but it was more artificial flower decoration for the night stand.  I really need to do something about my eyesight!  The tiny bathroom seemed suitable with a clean shower.  We wanted a cheap room to offset the cost of our previous night at the upscale chateau hotel.  I love the charming places, but I knew Jim would not be happy driving the roads and hunting for my ideal inn.  I shrugged my shoulders and agreed to stay, not knowing what would happen later.

The sun was signaling the end of the day, so I had to move fast with my camera to capture the old streets and houses including one for sale.  I have spent many hours searching the internet, hoping to buy a house in France.  Too many obstacles prevented that dream fulfillment, but I’m not unhappy.  There is satisfaction in knowing that I’ve made the right decision for now.  Jim and I walked the streets remembering when we had been there in years past, pointing to houses and places that were still the same.  We had lunch years ago in a little place in a bend of the main road where trucks fly past at race car pace.  We hoped they wouldn’t collide and take us along as cargo, or worse!  People were still there, but we didn’t dine in the fast lane this time.  We noticed folks in the boulangerie purchasing food for the evening, and suddenly ham quiche with lemon pastries looked very good.When we settled for the night in our inexpensive quarters with Jim in the easy-chair by the door, playing on his tablet, and me sitting cross-legged on the bed playing a movie from Netflix on my laptop, I detected a slight odor from the bathroom.   The slight odor increased to septic tank-gone-mad when Jim opened the door.  A plan was urgently devised that under no circumstances would the door be left open, and the window would be kept open at maximum width until we went to bed when I would likely dream about a stranger’s false teeth next to my water bottle.  I decided that I really didn’t need a shower until we got home the next day.  Oh, the pain one must go through to live the life of luxury for one night in a chateau!Next day with my limp hair lacking a shampoo, we left Hotel Le Pew and traveled to a beautiful location.  Perched high on a hill is the 15th-century Chateau de La Rochepot.  Speaking personally about the position of the chateau, I know it’s high on a hill because I walked to the top of the hill from the parking area only to discover that we couldn’t enter from that side.  We went exactly in that direction years ago!  No one sent a memo about the change of route.  The wrong way often leads to views you would miss otherwise, and our discovery was a wide-range view of the village and distant hills, a pastoral panorama. Huffing and puffing, we found the correct way into the chateau that should not be missed.  During the French Revolution the chateau was partially destroyed, but Colonel Sadi Carnot, the first son of the President of France, carefully restored the castle.  A chapel, guards’ room, kitchen, living room and other rooms are open to tour.  My favorite is the kitchen with its windows for the morning light on one side, and windows with views of the courtyard and its flowers on the other.  A massive fireplace covers one wall and a wall of copper pans caused my heart to beat faster.  Jim and I posed for a photo by the well which is incredibly 72 meters deep, dug through solid rock.  Oh, yes, and the obvious attraction is the colorful, glazed roof tiles.  It’s enough to ignite a passion for vivid colors on my Alabama-French cottage.  Oh, Jim, I have an idea!

I hope you enjoyed the condensed version, like a Reader’s Digest edition of our exciting but short trip to Burgundy.  Honestly, there is much more in the book “A French Opportunity”.

Thanks for coming around. Check later for more photos on Facebook.  Perhaps we will visit Lake Geneva next time.  Must check the agenda.

I enjoy reading your comments.  Have you ever gone the wrong way to a spot and found something special?  Life is the same, isn’t it?  Take care!

Note: I have not included the name of the hotel since I truly do not want to reflect badly on the kind lady who was hospitable after she recovered from the surprise at the stairway.  Yes, it was Jim that shocked her.  Do I detect a trend?  See “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” for another such incident and “Lavender and Stones”.

“Burgundy Memory Lane – Part I” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_6104Chateau living is the life for me.  I proclaimed this sentiment as the title of a chapter in “A French Opportunity” where I lived my dream of luxury in the Chateau de Gilly, an atmospheric hotel in the Burgundy region of France.  The name Gilly comes from the Celtic: Guil, Gwil and Gil which signifies horse, pasture or plain and Ly which means water or river.  Gilly thus designates a land, fertile with lush grass where herds could graze beside the river.  Indeed, the river Vouge flows through the chateau’s park and through the village of Vougeot.  A diversion of the river partially fed a large basin for trout and other fish.  Deep moats now without the flowing water surround the present luxury hotel.  A turbulent history spans from the sixth century to the current peaceful, refined and multi-starred hotel.  A brief version of the history will easily cover three pages of a glossy brochure.IMG_6184A sentimental personal history is written in words and in my memory of a solo journey which I took  after a battle with breast cancer.  Jim who is always supportive agreed that I could travel to France and indulge myself in a trip at my own pace, and I ventured forth smiling all the way.  I landed in Paris as my entry like millions of other travelers.  Then I drove south with stops along the way to Burgundy with my returning final days in Paris.  I can’t say that I would do it now, but I did it then on my own!

When I wandered the streets around the hotel almost eighteen years ago I found a window that touched my heart, and still does to this day.  A large, framed photo of the window hangs in my living room.

Quotation from “A French Opportunity”:  “Mother would love the lace curtains in the cottage across the street.  The white lace panels had interwoven an open Bible for each window and a lamp.  As Psalms 119:105 reads: ‘Your word is a lamp to my foot, and a light to my roadway.’ I believe I will frame a picture of those lace panels for my mother, although I’m not sure where she will put it since her walls are covered with many pictures of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and many other gifts of love.”  I was correct on those thoughts.  The photo finally came back to me after Mama passed away without ever gracing her walls which were filled with her sentimental photos and objects.

Burgundy was not too far for a quick two-day getaway from the rain which was forecast for three days in Samoëns where we were staying for our autumn visit to France (October, 2016).  We packed our bags and arrived late in the afternoon with golden sunlight streaming across the vineyards stretching as far as one could see.  I was once again on the roads I had traveled on my own.  Would it live up to my memories?  Jim and I have visited this area at least twice since my sumptuous chateau treatment, but this would be our first stay at the hotel together.  Would he fall for the place like I did or fail to see its charm?

We arrived at the front desk, and I handed my business cards to the friendly, professional staff.  One of the men immediately looked up my website and my book.  A big smile warmed us with a generous French welcome and an upgrade to the suite above the entry with beautiful views of the gardens below. IMG_6133

While the room was wonderful, I imagine many Americans would quickly remodel the bedroom and bathroom which is far from the modern suite expected in a top hotel in the U.S.  I’m thankful it has not been ruined with too much modern improvement like some of the outlandish decor I’ve seen in other historic hotels.  A good hair dryer would have made my day.  Don’t look too closely, but the pictures tell the bad hair day story.

We went to explore, starting with the lounge which was years ago the medieval kitchen.  Four vaulted traverses are supported by a central octagonal base, and the two gigantic fireplaces makes one wonder which famous guests may have sat before the flames enjoying wine and what interesting conversations bounced off these walls?IMG_6120IMG_6110I was anxious to venture down the stairs to Le Clos Prieur, the dining room and former monk’s cellar.  It was here that I was surprised by three young gentlemen when I was dining ever so regally years ago.  (No, I won’t divulge that secret.  You must read it for yourself in the book.) IMG_6123 Time had stood still.  The dining room was just as I remembered.  Nothing had changed except my face which has a few more wrinkles, and I must admit to carrying around extra pounds.  But, hey, I’m still here, thankfully!

The Cistercian cellar was most likely constructed during the thirteenth century.  Throughout the centuries, the wines were received here by the convert monks and cellar men.  When the hotel group took possession of the Chateau de Gilly in 1987, a layer of 80 cm (2.6 feet) of earth, leaves and branches was discovered covering the floor.   This rubbish had to be excavated to reveal the pillars.  Be sure to check the Small Luxury Hotel website to discover more information on the hotel and restaurant. No less than 15,000 bottles and 600 types of wine are aged in the Chateau’s cellars.

Don’t miss breakfast in the superb Pierre de Nivelle room.  You can enjoy your coffee and croissants and more while admiring the marvelous painted beams overhead. IMG_6149 The colorful beams were restored in 1988 by Joel Oliveres, Veronique Legoux and Elisabeth Evangelisti under the guidance of an architect from the Historic Monuments.IMG_6151-1 The small adjoining room has very interesting paint decoration with two allegories dominated by a picturesque landscape.  A frieze on the beams with “L A” intertwined likely refers to Louis XIII and Anne of Austria.  Unbelievably, over the years paint and plaster was layered over the beauty we can finally enjoy once again after the hard work of restoration.  One of the hotel staff noticed my interest since I was busy capturing with my camera as many details as possible.  She kindly showed a storage room to me where the walls and ceiling were still not completely restored.  Click for larger image of the walls without restoration:

We wandered in the garden after our large, scrumptious breakfast to walk off a few calories and enjoy the new display of captivating, whimsical artist’s work.  IMG_6181

This was a fun introduction that we approved.  We could imagine showing grandson Daniel the characters in the grass among the dandelions and almost hidden in the shrubbery, or perched on the balcony. IMG_6191

We wouldn’t actually need to show the artwork to him since he discovers more than we ever find on our explorations.

 

IMG_6173Jim was impressed with my chateau.  It met his exacting demands: a soft pillow and firm mattress for the night and coffee in the morning.  He isn’t difficult to please.

Next on our memory lane in Burgundy was the city of Beaune and more.  Come back next time for “Burgundy Memory Lane – Part II” with the city of Beaune, a chateau visit and another hotel which is definitely not part of the luxury chain.IMG_6170

Thanks for your kind, encouraging comments.  If you do not currently receive e-mails when a new story is posted, just enter your e-mail above for notification if you would like to do so.

I hope you are fine and enjoying a lovely Spring!  The photo is my “Souvenir de la Malmaison” rose which I planted last year.  IMG_8757

I will join my family from my daddy’s side of the family today for a fish fry by the lake.

Oh, I am looking forward to much laughter and good food!  Take care!  Ya’ll come again.

“Bell-Ringers” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_5760An adorable, sweet-faced gentleman with a big, flowing, white beard, almost hiding his smiling face, was directing two beefy, muscled fellows like he was the wise boss.  Yet, there under the ancient lime tree with its spreading branches he was Heidi’s grandfather down for a visit in the village from high in the Alps.  I wondered what he thought of me.  Maybe he didn’t approve of women wearing pants and tall boots waving a camera around.  Moving away from Heidi’s grandfather, who tugged at my heart more than the handsome men with broad shoulders and beefy legs, I forced my eyes away.  Something was underway, and these men were part of the plans.  I noticed a few chalet-like tiny houses on the perimeter of the square.   With hopeful anticipation, I told husband Jim that the men could be planning a crafts fair.  He dashed my idea with his reply:  “No, they are marking on the pavement like it could be a sporting event, or a motorcycle show.”  I shook my head in total disbelief and voiced as much: “No, not the charming grandfather!  He tends goats and lives in an alpine chalet with waterfalls and flowers in the meadow, a nice peaceful life.”  Jim ruined my image, “Nah, he’s the last hold-out from the hills of the local chapter of Hell’s Angels.

Days later this conversation was forgotten.   Actually, I tried to forget it within minutes of its utterance.  Yet, on a rainy Saturday we found the small parking lot on our side of Samoëns packed with cars which prompted thoughts of discussion about the planning committee in the square.   We opened our umbrellas and rushed in the rain to the boulangerie for our daily baguette and croissants for breakfast.  The back seat of a small car at the edge of the parking lot was crammed full of pink, purple and blue balloons, ready to be shaped into animals for the youngsters.  The balloons would deflate along with dreams of a fun Saturday if the rain kept falling.IMG_5781 Once we reached the square, we saw a line of cows tethered to a chain and sheep in a pen on display.  A young lady was filling a bucket with water for the animals, like everyday life in days of the past.  Picnic tables were set up and food preparation was underway.  I stopped for a photo of the cows, like I wouldn’t see more possibly even around the corner.  Then, I urged Jim to hurry, hurry so we could finish breakfast and not miss anything.

The rain faded away, but the clouds hung around for the festive occasion.  Once we had packed away our buttery croissants and hot coffee, we were fueled for the local fun.  My first stop was for a photo of the clown. IMG_5766

He saw me escaping after a few clicks of the camera and let Jim know that he must buy a balloon for his wife, the cute photographer.   Or, maybe we were paying a price for the photo.  Suddenly, I was the proud owner of a pink and blue balloon creation which didn’t match my ensemble, or my camera action.IMG_5774  A tiny munchkin with a bright orange jacket caught my eye.  Permission was granted by his handsome dad, and the balloon was in the hands of a happy owner.

We wandered through the happy crowd of old and young folks with frisky dogs. IMG_5763

 

Craft work was on display, but not the type I would find at home.  Beautiful cow bells with wide leather straps worked into intricate designs were on display.

IMG_5782Yes, cows wear bells in the fields, perhaps not this pretty, but one of the happiest sounds in the mountains is the ringing of the bells.IMG_5846

Carved woodwork was displayed and the master worker was there working on new pieces.  A well-used pencil and tools were on the work table.  My daddy, a skilled carpenter who had his own business, always had a pencil handy for marking his measurements on the wood and ready for the notebook in his shirt pocket.

Nothing compares to hand-made by a tradesman with love for his work. IMG_5864

Jim found a pretty lady, wearing a bonnet and delicate pink shawl, none of this blue jeans and hoodie stuff like his wife’s casual gear.

Jim’s smile lit up the cloudy day and the delicate lady matched his exuberance with a heart-warming smile in return.IMG_5863

 

 

 

She directed us around to the food where cakes and pies awaited, genuine French baked goods at their best, fresh from the ovens of local cooks.IMG_5777

 

 

 

 

 

All of this was wonderful in itself, but then we were rewarded with an extraordinary show by Les Carlines Des Portes Du Soleil, a group of Franco-Swiss bell-ringers.  IMG_5814The group was created in 1999, bringing together Savoyards, from the Val d’Abondance (we will travel there later in another blog story) and the Valaisans from the Val d’Illiez who perpetuate the climbs and descents in alpine pastures. The steel tufts and bronze bells weigh from 9 to 12 kilos (20 to 27 pounds)IMG_5798Look for the photo where they hold the bells aloft above their heads!  Notice the kind fellow with the neatly trimmed beard, a real Heidi’s grandfather type in my eyes.  I wish I could add the sound and precision of the show for you in the blog story.  I’m so very thankful that we had this wonderful experience and I hope they continue to entertain people with their talent.  I hope you will travel to Samoens to find the alpine beauty and such treasures as this in the future.  Start with Alps Accommodations for your rental.

I’m glad you could join us.  We still have more to come: Lake Geneva, a short jaunt to the Burgundy region, more surrounding villages and shopping!! IMG_5851

Thank you very much for your encouraging comments!  What is your favorite type of festival?  Have you ever seen a bell-ringer show like this?  It was a first for me.  Do you have unusual fairs in your area?

Time for a commercial for my book “A French Opportunity”  –  Just CLICK for the link if you would like to check it out.  Ya’ll come again and thank you!

“Taking the Cures” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_5574Sitting at the breakfast table across from husband Jim in Alabama with biscuits on the table instead of beignets, croissants and baguettes, Jim asked me, “How were your cures yesterday?”  He likes to poke fun at my manicure and pedicure at the salon, calling my retreat the taking of the cures.  Sipping on my coffee, I thought about the nice lady in the salon who painted my toenails a pretty mocha color and then massaged my feet until I was in a state of bliss.   Maybe taking the cures was the right expression.  I always read the glossy magazines with the latest pictures and stories on beauty and style, not that it does me much good, but I like to read anyway.  With a sly grin I told Jim, “I learned something new from one of the beauty magazines at the salon.  Yep, I learned a helpful beauty tip.  I can just shave my feet when I don’t have time to go for the cures.”  That got a quick reaction.  Jim said, “Whoa!! You better not be using my razor to shave your feet!  Besides, I didn’t know you had hairy feet.”  Before he lost it, I said, “Don’t get your blood pressure up.  I didn’t use your razor and I most definitely do NOT have hairy feet!”  The lady in the magazine was saying you could use a razor to shave away dry skin in the shower after the skin softens.  She recommended a sensitive skin razor and going slowly so you don’t shave off a chunk of skin.  I could see that I was over-sharing at the breakfast table when Jim’s face developed a pained expression.IMG_5603Leaving our Alabama breakfast behind and zipping over to France for a blog story cure, I would like to show you some of the beauty we enjoyed at Lake Montriond and the village of Montriond this past October, 2016.   The lake is situated north of Morzine, France at an altitude of 1049m/3442 ft, the third largest lake in Haute-Savoie, surrounded by steep pine-covered escarpments.  A shady path leads all around the lake.  People, young and old, were walking and enjoying the views when we were there.  Believe me, it was cold!IMG_5597For the lake visit, I have a picture story.  (Just click on the images in the gallery below for a larger picture.)  IMG_6573

On the way we met the red polka-dot cow and then the store named Gitem which sounds like the worst of our Alabama slang: “goin’ to the store to “git’em” somthin’ to fix for supper.”  We never have any problem finding distractions wherever we go.

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In the town of Montriond, look for the dragon fountain carved from wood with an edelweiss blossom on its head.  With such an adorable head-ornament the dragon spouts fresh water, not sulfur and fire.

Watch for the beautiful white horse and its young rider.  When I watched the graceful creature clip-clopping uphill, suddenly a huge cement truck approached and blotted my view.  After the loud obstruction cleared the road, I half-expected to see a sad equestrian lump on the asphalt, but nothing was there.  The beautiful horse and rider were gone!  The rider could have stepped into the store, but not the horse!  I still don’t know the answer to the puzzle.   Be amazed at the cute little boy wearing the magenta coat who pedaled his little bicycle all the way around the huge lake. .  Don’t miss Jim being extra careful this time when he meets the group of ladies on the lake pathway.  He didn’t launch into a Foggy Mountain breakdown like the one performed in Morillon.

I say that was unfortunate for the three ladies that Jim didn’t offer to dance by the cold lake since Jim can offer a cure like no other!IMG_5611At this moment, I’m wearing an ankle brace and hoping I will be in fine shape very soon!  No, I haven’t climbed up any waterfalls recently, but I hope there are more lakes and waterfalls in my future.  Thank ya’ll and please come again.

“Umbrellas” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_5905October, 2016 – Drizzling rain fell like it was pouring from a sweet, old granny’s garden watering bucket on our neighborhood in Samoëns.  Low flying clouds scudded past like big boats trawling for chimneys instead of fish, although puddles large enough to support a school of fish were forming at our front door.  None of this was stopping me from seeing the countryside after I had traveled thousands of miles crammed in an airline seat like a chicken in a crate.  Husband Jim was settling into the warm and dry interior of our cozy rental house too much to suit my plans for the day.  I dropped heavy hints that he needed to get moving, or the day would be gone before we knew it.  I wanted to drive over to Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval, a beautiful village a few miles away.   Jim rumbled noises about the rainy weather and nested deeper into the couch upholstery and soft cushions at La Ruche, our charming rental house.

Before I go much further with this rainy travel story, I must explain that apparently Jim’s mother never taught him to wear a rain coat, waterproof shoes, or that he should use an umbrella in bad weather.  His intelligent and patient wife has not improved upon this situation either.  Jim seems to think that he can rush through the rain fast enough that he will not get wet.  If his theory doesn’t work, surprising as it is, he shakes it off like a frisky puppy while I’m embarrassed and fuming rays in his direction, hot enough to dry through to his underwear.

I insisted that we should buy an umbrella for him in case the rain didn’t stop like he predicted with his suddenly acquired meteorology degree.  A quick stop at the grocery store, and I grabbed the only umbrella design on the shelf, a black little number tucked into a plastic sleeve, discreet and masculine enough for any man.  Jim unfurled the sedate little black number so we could walk to the car.  Cute flowery designs and flirty French wording encircled the umbrella cancelling any discreet, don’t-notice-me style.  I stayed quiet hoping he wouldn’t notice and knowing he wouldn’t exchange for my feminine-colored umbrella.  Oh, he noticed alright, and asked: “Do you expect me to slosh around with a teenager’s umbrella?  Why didn’t you buy a matching purse?”  I retorted: “Well, I’m sorry we couldn’t find an umbrella with huge letters saying you are a honcho, he-man capable of leaping buildings in a single bound.” Sounding like a whining teenager he asked, “What do these French words in the flowers say, anyway?”   I didn’t answer.IMG_5907

We left Samoëns behind, traveling prepared for the weather and anxious to see the little village with a population of 800 and bearing an unusual name.  Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval is one of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France which usually stamps a guarantee, seal of approval, for a truly beautiful site with atmosphere and exceptional character.  A short distance before we reached our destination we stopped at the car park to investigate the Gorges des Tines.  IMG_5198A pathway crossing a bridge leads to trails for exploration of the gorges, carved deep into the calcareous rocks by the Giffre River.  The gorges are very narrow, with the narrowest point being only 2 meters (6.5 feet) and the widest at 30 meters (98.4 feet).  The view of the deep gorge from the bridge was difficult to capture since it was very narrow. IMG_5204 We met a family on the bridge with a muddy dog which reminded me of Jim who still didn’t take his umbrella along to explore the gorges. IMG_5886

There was a gorgeous view of the mountains and hamlets toward Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval from the car park despite the clouds smothering some of the vista.

IMG_5195Sixt is a haven for mountain lovers, adventurers, walkers, skiers and mountain bikers.  We knew that we didn’t fit into any of those groups except for a bit of slow-walking.  A large board at the car park posted maps of trails and a few reminders on safety.  I could visualize which category we would land in, literally.

Sixt had enough to draw us with plentiful trails and paths among glorious alpine meadows, abundant waterfalls and a village of picturesque architecture.  The historic village is surrounded by seventeen hamlets including Salvagny, Passy, Le Fay and others which we explored in the sunshine during the following days.

IMG_5226Sixt is named for the Cirque du Fer à Cheval east of the village which, from above, looks like a horseshoe.  Cirque du Fer à Cheval is classified as a Grand Site de France and has more than five hundred thousand visitors each year.  If you are fortunate enough to visit after the snow melts, or during a time of heavy rainfall, remarkable waterfalls cascade from the cliff walls and mountains with an altitude of 3000 meters (9,800 feet).  Clouds and fog covered our view on the first day, but we returned to the Sixt area several times during our stay in Samoens for better views. IMG_5898Cacade du Rouget is a large waterfall found near the end of a road at the south of the village.  The view of the waterfall was far from perfect at the lower position since a natural wall of stone obscured the perfect picture.  Just to the right I saw a pathway that others had taken up to a higher level.  IMG_5196 No notices were posted saying that women eligible for senior discount and the athletic ability of the old lady in a Carol Burnett comedy sketch should not climb to the waterfall.  Rain wasn’t falling, so I took this as a signal of all-clear.  I didn’t have the mountain climbing gear like the couple we met at Aiguille du Midi.  I wore my nylon raincoat with a hood and had my camera underneath the coat, bulging at my middle, appearing like a miracle pregnancy.  IMG_4922 Jim refused to be my Sherpa guide and pack mule saying that he had to stay ready to drive me to the hospital when I fell and slid down the mountain and landed at his feet like a muddy hog, and furthermore it was almost his lunchtime!     All in the name of capturing a magnificent waterfall photo, I cautiously made my way uphill, hoping that each area where I placed my foot was not too slippery.  Reaching the upper level was not extremely difficult, but coming down was a different story with gravity not being on my side.  I finally went down more or less by the seat of my pants, bracing with my arms and lifting to the next position.  I knew a well-padded posterior would be helpful one day!  Jim was watching and shaking his head in his safe and dry position down by the car.  I got back in time for his lunch with no side excursions to the hospital.  Score one for me!  My waterfall photos are merely mediocre and I won’t bore you with the reasons. IMG_5911Back in the village of Sixt we saw a plaque honoring Jacques Balmat, who died nearby while prospecting for gold in 1834.IMG_4885 Balmat, called le Mont Blanc, was a mountaineer, a Savoyard mountain guide and hunter.  His most notable accomplishment is the first ascent of Mont Blanc with the physician Michel-Gabriel Paccard on August 8, 1786.  For this amazing feat, King Victor Amadeus III gave Balmat the honorary title le Mont Blanc.

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Jim was walking along the wet streets under a slight drizzle of rain in moderate comfort with the umbrella which he detested.  I pointed out the rooster on the church tower and on a statue in the square and explained the meaning in my abbreviated version.IMG_4880The Embassy of France published this explanation: “One of the national emblems of France, the Coq Gaulois (the Gallic Rooster) decorated French flags during the Revolution.  It is the symbol of the French people because of the play on words of the Latin gallus meaning Gaul and gallus meaning coq, or rooster.  The rooster has been used as an ornament on church bell towers in France since the early Middle Ages, but at that time it was probably used to symbolize vigilance as roosters are known to crow at the expectation of the sunrise.  The Gallic Rooster has been used for centuries by folk artists as a decorative motif on ceramics or carved and veneered wooden furniture…”

I found another comment in my search saying the rooster is seen as a symbol of gallantry in France, saying if the rooster in the poultry kingdom finds a food source he will always call his hens over to eat before having any himself.

I asked my Alabama Rooster under the flowery umbrella if he was ready for lunch with his favorite hen.

Please come back to see us.  In future posts we will visit the small hamlets around Sixt and share more of this area in the sunlight most of the time.IMG_5915

I love hearing from you.  Just leave a comment below so I can read it along with others.IMG_5229The French word for umbrella is parapluie.  Perhaps you would like to read another rainy story, just CLICK on “Parapluie

“Foggy Mountain Breakdown” – by Debbie Ambrous

img_5071October, 2016 – Our theme song for the drive to Morillon could have been Foggy Mountain Breakdown, the music written by the best known banjo-picker in the world, Earl Scruggs, when I was in diapers.  Whether you know his name or not, you are likely to remember the song as the background for the movie Bonnie and Clyde.  Now, mind you, husband Jim and I were not roving gangsters, but the bluegrass music fit our rambling up, down and around the curving road in the fog with cows appearing in the mist. Bright-colored shutters at windows with trailing red geraniums glowed in the murky fog. img_5073 We could have been in the mountains of North Carolina with our car radio tuned to a country music station, but our true location in fog banks and low clouds was France.  On the road again, like Willie Nelson, we were honing in on Morillon, a one-hour drive from Chamonix, Geneva and Annecy.  Allowing for pit-stops, meandering country music memories and sightings of pastoral beauty, we could be there for a morning visit and return to our rental holiday house in Samoëns for lunch.  That was our plan.

Morillon is in the heart of the Haut Giffre Valley, an authentic village preserved with charm and populated with wooden houses and chalets surrounding the village’s historic church which dates back to the 16th century.  The village consists also of the smaller hamlets, Les Champs and Le Verney.img_5082Jim found a parking place only steps away from the ancient church situated in the center of the village, a much better position for parking compared to our many breathless hikes uphill after parking near the city dump, or something similar in our travels.  The foggy refrain blanketed the mountain views, blocking any pretty backdrops for my photography, except the hazy outlines of distant tiny houses. img_5078 I started at the notice board, the bulletin board outside the church, which posted the going-rates for baptism (free), weddings and funerals.

Since I was already baptized and married at no cost for the services, and surely didn’t want to plan a funeral, I just filed the info for future reference.  Did you know that in France, the legally recognized wedding must take place at the Mairie?

Following the left side of the main street, I walked downhill with Jim on the side with the most colorful buildings.  Jim was up-close and personal with the Alpine traditional buildings painted sunflower-yellow and edged with eye-catching gingerbread trim.  Hearts and flowers decorated the woodwork and windows. img_5097 My camera eyes romanced the scene and found cows painted on a wooden plank over a doorway on my side of the street.  Jim didn’t have all of the good stuff!  While I was busy with my search for the photogenic, on the other side of the street the set-up for a scene suitable for our Foggy Mountain Breakdown theme song was unfolding.  A nice, unsuspecting lady with a long, black ponytail and a hot- pink scarf wrapped around her neck was approaching Jim casually on the sidewalk.  Now, what do you do when you meet a stranger on a narrow sidewalk, especially if the stranger is a lady and you are a gentleman?  Usually, both of the strangers will move aside, keeping eyes averted and avoid bumping into each other.  Perhaps they will say “Pardon”, or “Excuse me”.   Well, that’s ordinary folks, not Jim.  Jim met the lovely lady who was wearing pretty, wedge-heeled shoes.  Of course, I had to check out her shoes even from a distance!  Jim bumbled back and forth in his Sketchers as the two decided which would go right, or left.   He raised his arms and swayed back and forth like he was launching into a do-si-do right there on the sidewalk, and he belted out his personal rendition of the Foggy Mountain Breakdown in a noisy, off-beat performance.  With a face that matched her hot-pink scarf, the good-natured lady burst into laughter. img_5091-1 They both went away chuckling while I kept my face cast down to the sidewalk, quietly walking away, pretending I didn’t know him.  Would you follow the path of non-personal, typical and less colorful conformance?  Or, would you walk on the side with vivid color, silliness, a beat from the norm? img_5094When the lady was safely down the hill, away from her potential do-si-do partner and out of sight, I asked Jim to cross to my quiet side of the street.  We strolled hand-in-hand to a tourist shop and found a gift for our granddaughter Hanna, a small sign perfect for her bedroom, with the wording: Debutante Place.img_5128

Jim bought a postcard that he had promised to send to his buddy Ricky. We found a walking cane with a compass at the top, a perfect souvenir for Jim since I accuse him of having no sense of direction!  The post office and Mairie were just across the street, the colorful side of the road; so we crossed over together.

An ancient fountain was gurgling there near the sidewalk.  I was lured in that direction while Jim was mailing Ricky’s postcard. An elderly gentleman was filling several plastic bottles with the water from the fountain. img_5131 I remember drinking water from a fountain when I was young.  Green moss grew at the edge of my childhood fountain, but the water bubbling up was clear, cold and the sweetest tasting.img_5103  I did not drink any of the water from the beautiful fountain in Morilles since the gentleman was busy.  I didn’t want to interrupt him.  I should have taken my stride from Jim and asked for a taste of that sweet water.  (Earlier, when I first brushed my teeth at the holiday house I noticed that the water actually tasted good!  Incredible!  Ours has so many chemicals added that it tastes awful.)

Before I could think further on the ways of water in France and Alabama, I glanced up into the tree that spread its graceful branches above the ancient fountain.

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There among the golden leaves and attached to the bark of the tall tree trunk was a shocking-pink lizard with indigo polka-dots, sizing up to a few feet in length.   No, it wasn’t a live lizard!  Let’s not go too crazy here.  But why was this neon-colored creature in the tree?  Do they have a party with piñatas and a mariachi band?  Are margaritas with salt and salsa with chips served there under the tree?  This is not Mexico!  What is wrong with this picture?

Truly, I love this whimsy and I love Mexico!

I never knew why the lizard was up the tree.  I didn’t have the nerve to march into the Mairie and ask.  I took the chicken-way out and sent an e-mail to the tourism office.  To this date, I haven’t received a reply.img_5102Hunger pangs signaled time to find the car and head on to our lunch at La Ruche, our holiday rental home.  A short distance from the village of Morillon is one of the hamlets I mentioned earlier.  The front of a large, beautiful rustic home is covered with colorful decoration.  My imagination sees the lady in the vivid pink scarf, who Jim invited to do-si-do, dancing to her own beat in the house with the colorful bric-a-brac. img_6861Ya’ll come back and visit with us again.  Later, I plan to find lots of bric-a-brac, stroll on the colorful side of a few lakes, soak up atmosphere in more villages and follow my heart to Burgundy.  Thanks for your lovely comments of encouragement!  img_6859

Jim loves his old orange Senor Frog’s sweatshirt that we bought in Mexico, but I will not let him pack it for France.  I’ve always said it was too brash for village life in France, but now I stand corrected!

Jim – 1   and Debbie – 0

I was coerced to wear Jim’s loud and proud sweatshirt which I had censored for his trips to France. (The photo was taken today in our backyard with some of my souvenirs from Mexico in the background.)

img_7676-1 In the future, you may see Jim proudly wearing his bright orange sweatshirt on the streets and in the castles of France.  Enjoy reading more of these adventures by checking out (CLICK the link.) the book A French Opportunity.  A big “Merci” and “Thank Ya’ll” to those who purchased a copy!.

img_7693-1 Perhaps you would enjoy reading about some of our adventures in Mexico.  The photo shows Jim with binoculars checking out Lake Chapala with our youngest daughter who is now the Mom of our grandson Daniel.  Daniel would probably like the koala back-back she is wearing.  For the blog story,(if you missed it or want to re-read) Just CLICK to “Mexico from A to Z”

“Ambrous in the Alps” – by Debbie Ambrous

img_4645October, 2016 – On a glorious Sunday when the sun painted smiley faces on the sky, blue as the blossoms on my morning glory vine, husband Jim and I layered winter gear for our exciting trip to ascend to 3,842m/12,602ft.  A lump forms in my throat and a slight shiver shimmies down my spine when I think about it, even now.  I read the tourism brochures, and a few guidebooks, to plan and arrange our trip to Chamonix in the French Alps.  The most astonishing experience listed is The Step into the Void which is virtually a glass box on the side of the mountain at 3,842m/12,602ft.  (I keep repeating the astonishing height to get your attention.)  The advertisement promised 100% thrills guaranteed and 100% safety.  We promised 100% guaranteed that we would not step foot into the glass cage!!  No Way!!  Forget it!!

Modern advancement offers many opportunities for exciting travel.  But think about the hardship of travel hundreds of years ago in this area without the road systems, automobiles with GPS, AC and heating and much more!  I read about the three-month-journey of a group of young people in the summer of the year 1816, written by Mary Shelley.   At the time of the journey she was Mary Godwin, eighteen and pregnant, and her soon-to-be husband Percy Shelley arrived by mule with her at Chamonix in July, 1816.  What were you doing when you were eighteen? Mary described wild and daring tales: “Did I tell you that there are troops of wolves among these mountains?  In the winter they descend into the vallies … and devour everything that they can find out of doors.”  Were you that adventurous?  Would you say: “Mother, may I take off to the unknown?  I could be eaten by wolves, or fall down the mountain, or be covered with an avalanche.  Oh, and by the way, I’m pregnant.”

We arrived in Chamonix and parked our comfortable Citroen, more expensive to feed compared to Mary and Percy’s mules.  My excitement ran high with the beautiful mountains surrounding us and the cable cars passing just above.  Mary (Godwin) Shelley described it best:

“Pinnacles of snow intolerably bright, part of the chain connected with Mont Blanc, shone through the clouds at intervals on high.  I never knew – I never imagined what mountains were before.  The immensity of these aerial summits excited, when they suddenly burst upon the sight, a sentiment of ecstatic wonder, not unallied to madness.  And remember this was all one scene, it all pressed home to our regard and our imagination. Nature was the poet, whose harmony held our spirits more breathless than that of the divinest.”

The cable car station for Aiguille du Midi is in Chamonix, where tickets can be purchased easily off-season, but they should be bought in advance during peak times. img_4594 The cable car soars high above the town to reach the Plan de l’Aiguille (2317 m). img_4595 You can admire the Glacier des Bosson, Mont Blanc, the Aiguille Verte, the Drus and the Aiguilles de Chamonix.   At this level, Jim discovered a new hairstyle when he removed his hat.  Do you think I should send the picture to his hair stylist? 

We missed a grand adventure because it was closed for maintenance.  If you go, don’t miss the ride on the famous little red railway train.  Time will stand still and you will enjoy the vintage ride, climbing the mountainside, rolling through tunnels and over viaducts.   Then you will enter the high mountains at the destination of the famous Montenvers-Mer de Glace glacier.  Click this link if you would like to check for information.  Mary (Godwin) Shelley was the best tourism authority:

“…the immense glacier of Montanvert, fifty miles in extent, occupying a chasm among mountains of inconceivable height, and of forms so pointed and abrupt, that they seem to pierce the sky… masses of ice detach themselves from on high, and rush with a loud dull noise into the vale.

Ms. (Godwin) Shelley put this glacier on the map famously in a different way when she wrote a story that all of you will surely know.  In 1816, when she was in Switzerland sitting by the fire at night, keeping warm while the mules were elsewhere, she was challenged by her friend Lord Byron to write a ghost story.  Mary turned nineteen in August, and she wrote about a scientist who animated a “hideous phantasm” out of, perhaps, parts of a corpse.  Do you have it yet?  Do you know the name of the story? She wrote Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. “The terrifying, pivotal encounter between the scientist Frankenstein and the daemon of his own making takes place on the Mer de Glace, where the creature took refuge from the world that despised him.”  With this Gothic masterpiece, she wrote the glacier into history.  Don’t miss this train!img_4686We saw parasailers launching from the first level, and we regret that we didn’t stay there longer.  We anxiously went aboard the next cable car thinking we would stop on the return, but we were too tired.  High altitude has that effect on your body.img_4663

We went slowly, taking time to adjust.  A few young ones were having more difficulty than we experienced, so we didn’t feel so ancient.  The second cable car took us up to an altitude of 3777m in 10 minutes, above seracs and glaciers.  From this level you can see the tiny glass cage high above where people step into the void.  They look like stick figures suspended in open air! 

Then, we walked through the tunnel cut into the mountain, passing the museum to continue higher.

img_4620img_4657We took the top lift to reach the peak, the highest level.  The dazzling mountains glittered below us at this dizzying height. img_4721 I noticed people were snapping photos of themselves below the sign showing the elevation.  I removed my camera and strap from my neck to ask Jim to do the honors.  Unbelievably, I dropped my camera!  I was in shock.  I stood, breathlessly, with my face as white as the snow, waiting for Jim to examine the camera.  He said the words I wanted to hear, and color came back to my face.   The camera fell and hit on the side, not the lens, which was probably the salvation of my Canon.   How could I miss the photo opportunity of a lifetime with Mont Blanc close enough I felt that I could touch it and  with the endless mountains of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps spread below?img_4717img_4664img_4699People were lining up to enter the room for the 100% safe and 100% thrilling Step into the Void.  I could see the glass cage from the side where excited couples were standing, seemingly on nothing, right there in thin air.  I grabbed a few shots of their excitement.img_4711

Then, lo and behold, Jim got in line for the glass cage that we had 100% guaranteed no way we would ever step foot into!  Like an idiot, I followed his steps.  He assured me:  “Didn’t you read the sign? It is made of three glass plates with each plate 12mm thick and held together with mechanical fasteners that were specially made for the project.  The whole shebang is tested continuously by the Centre Scientifique something or other.  German and French laboratories tested it.”  I answered his scientific, calculation theory: “Do you even know how thick 12mm is?  And, don’t say shebang. It sounds too much like something falling!”  Despite all this, I stayed in line enjoying the photo opportunities.  Why did we go for it?  Maybe we wanted to get our money’s worth since it was part of the ticket.  Everybody else was doing it.  Where have I heard that one before? 

It was our time before we knew it.  We had to put our camera bags and coats in a storage area, and a nice man used my camera to take pictures of the Ambrous in the Alps enjoying an unforgettable experience! img_4741 Our time in the glass cage was over too soon with another couple stepping into the big, floppy shoes.  All visitors must wear the soft shoes over their own shoes.  No, our feet are not that big if you are looking at the photos and wondering! 

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We went through the museum on our return and met a young couple outside the door assembling their mountain climbing gear.  We thought we saw them later on the snowy slopes.

My business card was in a pocket with them for an exhilarating ride!  If you look closely, you will notice that the black dots are people on the massive, frozen precipices of ice and snow.

img_4652I never felt afraid at any level until our trip down on the cable car.  We were in the front with full view of the wide-open expanse as we swung on the cable up to a tower and then down again, moving quickly along to the bottom. img_4778 (Photos were taken through the glass on a moving cable car while I  braced with one hand, so they are understandably blurry.)  The buildings below were spread like a tiny toy town as we sped toward the cable car station.  Maybe I wasn’t truly fearful, but I gasped and swallowed a scream when we went down from the tower!  The lady on the other side did the same with OMG in another language! 

What can I say?  We did it, and it was an adventure of a lifetime.  I want to go again!

Quotes are from the short book (68 pages): “History of Six Weeks’ Tour Through A Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland” (The title is almost as long as the book.)

Please come again.  We have more mountains to climb and aching muscles to prove it.  I do greatly appreciate your encouragement, kind comments and sharing this blog link with others.

Perhaps you would enjoy reading “A French Opportunity” which has many more pages than Mary’s short book of letters, but then again, I can’t boast that I wrote the story of Frankenstein!

“Samoëns” – by Debbie Ambrous

img_5490Heidi in the Alps never had it so good!  A friend accused me of trying to recapture the Alpine world of Heidi, living in a mountain cottage near the goat herds and fields dotted with edelweiss, frolicking to the sound of waterfalls and cowbells.  I defended my travel plans explaining that I would be in a modern house with running water and a wide-screen television; furthermore, what was wrong with having Heidi as role model for my journey?  Heidi had a good heart, helped people feel secure and accept challenges.

Setting the correct GPS for my adventure in France, the location is just across the border from Heidi’s home in the Swiss Alps.  Samoëns, our intended destination, sits in the Northern French Alps, one hour below Geneva, and it is part of the Grand Massif ski domain which consists of five ski resorts: Flaine, Samoëns, Morillon, Sixt and Les Carroz.  With my vision of an idyllic village, I did not want to see tall apartment buildings with concrete as the main material.  Thankfully, Samoëns has maintained its rustic charm and is the only resort in France designated as a historical monument.   img_5379Medieval fountains gurgle beside ancient buildings and its unhurried pace is welcoming.   Understandably, the local residents take pride in their culture and lifestyle.  They feel that it is one of the most beautiful parts of France, and those who take the time to visit here will surely be enriched by the experience.  I found quotes from visitors that said:  “It’s not a resort; it’s a village.  There’s plenty of space, plenty of greenery – and no main roads.”  Another commented, “You immediately become a regular at one of the cafes on the main square.  You greet shopkeepers on the way past.”  Jim and I walked to the boulangerie each day and greeted the flower and vegetable seller who whistled tunes at the top of his lung capacity many mornings when he set up the colorful arrangements.  We shopped and purchased from our entertaining vendor on a beautiful sunny day – a heaping handful of wild mushrooms – an expense worth every euro for the rare enjoyment. img_4450While I’m thinking about the boulangerie, which happens very often, I must recommend Boulangerie Tiffanie which was our regular and the bakery with its tempting pastries and buttery croissants often had lines from the front door.  img_5416The other delicious favorite is La Jaysinia, a must for chocolate lovers!  Thierry Froissard, a top award winner, opened his cake shop after falling in love with Samoëns and La Jaysinia.  He buys local ingredients, and all of his cakes and pastries are home-made.  Are you drooling now? img_5439Eating out is great fun with something for everyone from pizza to fine dining.  Enjoy modern culinary or traditional Savoie dishes.  Reblochon cheese is proudly served with meat from local farms, and my favorite was the local desserts.  Here is a hint from a dairy farmer: “If you buy a reblochon cru, keep it between two plates on the kitchen bench.  If you’re determined to put it in the fridge, take it out three hours before serving.”  You can find cosy French Savoyard atmosphere with stone walls, heavy timbered beams and lovely artwork at the restaurant La Tornalta.  We enjoyed our delicious meal there in the warmth after walking past the rustic front with an antique wooden sleigh.  A young couple at a nearby table dined with their adorable little boy who reminded me of our grandson Daniel when he was younger.img_5443

A group of elderly folks enjoyed tall, delectable, ice cream desserts which I eyed jealously, but I only had room to share cheesecake with Jim when it came time to order.

Market day in Samoëns is on Wednesday.  We were there bright and early in the fog to purchase our vegetables, reblochon cheese, meat, sausage and eggs. A salesman had the adorable, lace curtains with intricate designs seen in many of the farmhouse windows.img_5270

Since I didn’t think about the possibility of finding curtains, I didn’t bring the window size info from my laptop at the rental house.  You might know that he would not be there in the following weeks!  I should have made a bee-line to La Ruche and return with the sizes.  I did find curtains at a modern store, but I’m sure that the vendor with many bolts of lace in the market had prettier design work.

The scenery is incredible, wherever you look.  There is always something else to discover.  Autumn is a wonderful season to be here with cool air and the changing colors.  Summer must be wonderful with all of the outdoor activities.  Don’t think this place is dull since it is a historical monument.  Samoëns is always bustling with activity and has more than you can possibly do!  Here is the winter short list: dog sledding, snowshoeing, Nordic walking, ice climbing, ice skating, hot air ballooning, snowmobiling and paragliding.

Samoëns used to be world famous for its stone masons.  The limestone quarries yield stone with hardness co-efficient of 13 for the skilled stonework.

In 1659, there were so many frahans (the local term for stone masons) that they formed a famous brotherhood and undertook philanthropic missions, caring for the sick and training young apprentices.  Their work as stone masons included commissions by Napoleon and went as far afield as Poland and Louisiana.  There are numerous works of art on Place du Gros Tilleul and in the village streets.img_6823

 

I also enjoyed seeing the many painted murals which are very much a part of the Alpine atmosphere.

img_6801The “Gros Tilleul” (large lime tree) has been described as the one object that epitomizes Samoëns.  Standing in the center of the village, it was planted in 1435, or 1431 or 1438, depending upon the source.  It is remarkable in age and size!  The large lime tree has been immortalized by authors, poet and musicians down through time.

The entrance to the church by Place du Gros Tilleul dates from 1555.  The stoop is decorated with the carving of a snake said to represent healing.  One of the locals took a disliking to the sculpture and lopped the head offimg_5465-1

It was re-carved and remains intact without further incident, so far.  I don’t have a photo of the snake, but I got a few other quirky objects and a beautiful stained glass window.

The Grenette, a sixteenth-century covered market, is on the south side of the square.  There are old bulges on the central pillars which remain since “the mason did not complete his work following a disagreement with the municipality over his contract.”  It seems that politics and business here are like other places in the world. img_5394 I enjoyed seeing the lovely fountain at the edge of the pedestrian-only square, a beautiful reminder of years gone by when the fountain was essential to village life.  I was thankful that it remained essential in Samoens each time we walked through the village. img_5362 Towering over the village is the Criou, the mountain that commands attention wherever you wander in this atmospheric, wonderful town that would meet Heidi’s thumbs up.

Before I close out, I must mention one very important tip.  Check out the shoe store across from the boulangerie!!

Don’t spend your money on shoes before the trip like I did.  Oh my goodness, just look at the pictures.  All of the females, including Heidi, will understand this.  I wanted the red ones, the blue ones, the ones trimmed with fur…

We began with Heidi’s sweet story, and we will end with this child of nature and her good heart.  She read stories to Peter’s blind grandmother and moved her unsociable grandfather to return into the village community.  She inspired millions of youngsters including me!  There is a modern movie adaptation of Heidi titled “Courage Mountain” starring Charlie Sheen, unbelievably, and the lovely Leslie Caron.  It was filmed in France and Austria.

By all means, if you plan a trip to the French Alps, your first CLICK should be to Alps Accommodation.

 

There is more of Samoëns to come including Jaysinia Botanical Garden, a trip to Chamonix for the cable car into the French Alps, nearby villages such as Sixt-fer-a-Cheval, Morillon and further afield to Burgundy and Lake Geneva.  Jim and I hope you return to join us.  Thanks so much!!!

“La Ruche” – by Debbie Ambrous

img_6927La Ruche, the name of the lovely holiday home that we enjoyed this autumn in France, means beehive in French.  The owners found a beehive in the old barn when it was being renovated, and thus the sweet name.  The name my mother chose for me before I was nicknamed Debbie in elementary school is Deborah, which means bee.   Buzzing along to a harmonious connection, I was anxious to see whether my instincts were right about this haven in the French Alps. img_4473A wise proverb says: “Pleasant sayings are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and a healing to the bones.”  Honey is said to have healing properties according to many experts, and the natural, golden food is simply good and refreshing.  We needed an enjoyable get-away from our normal responsibilities and an escape from routine boredom, a place to recharge our batteries and renew our energy.  La Ruche soothed our bones and rewarded us with a comfortable place to rest and marvel at the ever-changing views across the wide-open fields to the cows in the pastures and the mountains beyond.img_4308Rain pelted our rental car and swished the windows as we made our way cautiously from the Lyon airport on expressways, and then to smaller roads that wound through the valleys and the sides of mountains until we arrived in Samoëns, a charming village filled with character.  (More about the village will come later.)  Locating the house wasn’t a problem, and in my opinion it is on the prettiest road in the town, lined with old and new timber houses with flower boxes overflowing with red geraniums and lace curtains with delicate designs in the windows. img_4321img_4329 Gardens with dark, rich soil had zucchini, lettuce and tomatoes.  But that exploration in long walks was yet to come since rain was falling and we had to unload our luggage and settle into the house.  British Airways had failed to deliver Jim’s suitcase with his clothing, toothbrush, shaving stuff and basically everything a man needs to avoid grouchiness, chafing and the appearance of a hermit at the dinner table.   (It was delivered two days later.)  Right away, we were in need of the healing power of honey to soothe away our worries.

Once we entered the code to the lockbox and had our key, we opened the big barn door and interior glass door to enter a home built of wood, including new lumber and other parts of old timber with huge beams.  The smell of wood filled the senses with a natural, pure feel-good serenity.  Childhood memories filled my mind as I unzipped my boots and walked in my socks on the wooden wide-plank floors.  My daddy’s carpentry business was next door to our home when I was a child, with his stock of lumber at the back where I crept up with my dolls to pretend that the layers of pine, oak, birch and cedar were my house.  The smell of wood was always there in the air and on my daddy’s shirt when I hugged him.  But playing on the racks of lumber was forbidden, and he sent me away with a warning most of the time.  There in La Ruche, I just knew that I had found the perfect wooden playhouseimg_4309

Getting down to basics, the master bedroom was downstairs with glass doors across one wall providing a gorgeous view across the fields and access to a terrace.  The second bedroom was on a mezzanine which was toasty warm for the winter and would be especially perfect for children, a great place for young ones to escape and play.  There were privacy screens so adults could easily stay here, also.  There was plenty of storage in the master bedroom and in the entry which had another closet with mirrored sliding doors.  Lighting for reading was perfect and adjustable heating was great since I want a cool bedroom for sleeping.  Our color combination changed from orange to gray and white when the linens were changed, a nice extra provided for the house.

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We had to go upstairs for the bathroom which is located on the main living area.

 

 

The railings to each level are strong, iron bars, none of the flimsy supports often found in rentals.  Brilliant blue tile that shimmers in iridescent color line the power shower enclosed with a glass door.  The washer/dryer combination is hidden away in a cabinet in the bathroom.  One machine does both functions, a real space saver.  A wonderfully cozy towel warmer was beside the shower door, and I added my robe with the towel so I could wrap myself like a pampered child.img_5049The living room has a large sofa which was very comfortable, a wide-screen television on the wall and the essential wood burner for a comfortable evening by the fire.  Jim loved the kitchen which is completely modern with everything he needed.  He is the chef extraordinaire, very demanding and he had no complaints.img_5051img_5053  A huge window had views to the trees with leaves changing to golden colors and a house with gingerbread trim.  The walls facing the fields and mountains had massive glass windows with wood-slats, open for the view, but shielding any harshness.  A small balcony is accessed by a glass door from this side.  Several large, orange cushions were on the floor inside at the glass wall facing the balcony.  When we had the tour from the property manager, she said that people took the cushions to sit on the balcony in good weather.  Knowing the Europeans’ habit of sunbathing topless, I thought this corner could be a private sunning area in the summer.  img_4429

Jim and I kept on all of our clothes and didn’t expose our birthday suits, and no one called passport control to revoke our entry to France for offending the neighborhood farmers and cows.

The sunning didn’t get me into trouble, but I fell into another area of embarrassment.  We had access to a sauna in an old building on the property that required a large, iron key to open the door.  I had never enjoyed this privilege, so I was excited to check it out.  I slipped on my bathing suit and wore leggings and a sweatshirt over it with boots, my only outdoor shoes, on my feet.  Jim and I walked in the dark under the trees, and sensors turned on lights at strategic locations to safely light the way.  The sauna must be wonderful when the weather is icy cold with snow on the ground.  We sat on the bench and enjoyed the heat with Jim tossing water for steam in the room.  Baking on the wooden shelf like a Little Debbie cupcake, I listened to Jim tell about his Finnish mother’s happy times in the sauna and her brisk roll in the snow afterwards.  It was worth listening to his remembrances just for the mental images of my mother-in-law cavorting in the snow.  Since Jim is willing to give an ear to my doll tea party nostalgia, the least I can do is nod and smile at his boyhood memories.  “Pleasant sayings … a healing to the bones.”

When it was time to return to the house, I felt far too hot to put on my leggings, so I pulled on the boots and walked in the dark wearing only my bathing suit.   I thought nothing about walking in the stillness to the front door, but Jim took much longer locking up and turning everything off than I expected. img_6936

There I stood at the front glass door waiting for him to come and unlock.  The heat from the sauna was seeping away from my body and the cold gradually spread across my arms and legs while I was stamping my feet, shivering on the front stoop.  Just as I pulled my old Guess sweatshirt over my head and my eyes peeped over the frayed collar with my head half-hidden, I was flashed with the bright car headlights focused on my bathing suit with the sequined top, boots to my wrinkled knees, white goose-pimply legs and half-on sweatshirt with huge orange and blue GUESS lettering on the front.  I felt the music vibe from the old song “The Streak” by Ray Stevens when he hollered, “Don’t look Ethel!”  But it was too late.  No one called property management.  We were safe.  Oh, well.  What’s a honey bee hive without a few stings?  We had such great fun!

I must give credit to the lovely owners that we had the pleasure of meeting briefly.img_4476  CLICK here to see their other house – Le Baptieux.  My favorite part of this house is the bathtub, which is to die for!  A special “thank you” must go to Hayley at Alps Accommodation, who helped me from the beginning.  Do check them out for a wonderful holiday home with everything you need.  (CLICK here for La Ruche with all of the details and professional photos.  Mine are far from perfect, but I thought you would like to see everything from our viewpoint.)  The Internet worked perfectly, which was a concern for me.  Graham and Gaëlle with Kukipegs Property Services answered promptly all of our questions from the major to the mundane.  They are just down-to-earth and such a sweet couple, just what you need for a perfect holiday.  Thank you! Thank you!!!

Please come back and see us as we share our days in this beautiful corner of the earth –  the Haute-Savoie.  Next time, I want to share some photography and information about Samoëns.  (My story on the lovely holiday home was unsolicited and I received no monetary consideration, therefore, completely unbiased.)

Perhaps you would enjoy having the book “A French Opportunity” on your nightstand. Available in paperback ,or Kindle, at all Amazon websites including France, England, Japan and many others.

“A Crown for Cassis” – by Debbie Ambrous

img_0357-copyThe French Riviera was only a couple of hours away from our rental house near Roussillon where we enjoyed as much of Provence as we could afford in both time and money last autumn.  Today, the first day with a small dip in temperature whispered an end to the heat of summer and created a ripple of excitement for this year’s autumn trip to France.  There’s time for all of that later. For now, I want to tell you about a sweet place on the Mediterranean.  My good friend Gayle B. in the Dordogne whispered a lovely word into my ear – Cassis!  Thank you, Gayle, for sharing this insider information, not a secret destination, but not a top-name vacation spot like Nice, or St. Tropez.  Cassis is between Marseilles and Toulon, a tiny dot on the map with around eight thousand in population which can swell to forty thousand during August since it is an extremely popular summer resort, especially for French and other European vacationers.   img_0628-copyWe were thankful to be in-the-know, and that we chose cool October to arrive and enjoy the relaxing ambience of an ancient, fishing village.  The captivating waterfront with the colorful boats rocking gently in the balmy breeze made us feel comfortable and relaxed from the moment we took our first walk around the harbor.img_0343-copy   Little alleyways and squares invited us further up the hill with paintings on display and laundry hanging to dry from the windows.  A new vista of the harbor and narrow lanes with purple bougainvillea climbing over walls drew us deeper in love with Cassis. img_0371-copyThe beach, Plage de la Grande Mer, where one can order a margarita (not kidding), is bordered to the east by Cap Canaille, a massive stone rampart looming above and into the sea.  The cliffs are the highest maritime cliffs in Europe.  The summit is the Grande Tete with a 394 meter sheer cliff. img_0530-copy Canaille comes from the Latin Canallis Mons which means mountain of the waters, of the aqueducts, or from the Provençal Cap Naĭo, “the mountain that swims, that juts out into the sea.”  I like the last description since the massif is a listed site, a beauty from the ship’s deck, from a tiny perch on a hotel balcony in the early morning, or from the last stroll in the golden glow of sunset.  I promise that you will want to return again and again.img_0418-copyI went back and forth on my hotel selection, wearing out the keyboard with my inquiries and indecision.  I finally went with Le Golfe Hotel on the pedestrian walk, ring-side for the views and atmosphere. img_0336-copy We had a room with a balcony for a budget price and 5-star charm at the end of the lane.  Morning coffee was never better!  Fishermen set up stalls, and vendors brought goods to the restaurants while we savored the relaxation of the picturesque scene.  CLICK photo for larger image:

High on the cliff above the port is the Chateau de Cassis, a privately-owned, luxurious hotel with an unrivaled vantage point.  Once this was a fortress to protect the town from invasion, dating from the thirteenth-century and it remained a military fortress until the late 1800s.  Expect to pay more, but the hotel selection depends on location as well.  Do you want to be above looking down on the pretty village circling the harbor?   Or, would you prefer being at the edge of the water with a short stroll to all of the shops and restaurants?img_0514-copy We signed-up right away for a boat ride past the lighthouse at the tip of the Quai des Moulins to see the calanques with rugged white stone rising high above the turquoise, emerald or indigo waters.  Yes, the color varied depending on the light and location, but always beautiful.  img_0568-copyThe stone of Cassis was used in the construction of the docks in major ports from Algeria to Greece.  It was interesting to learn that the white limestone was also used to create the base of the Statue of Liberty, a gift to the United States from France.img_0578-1-copy  We saw young people scattered on the cliffs as we leisurely wound our way through at least five inlets with a lively bunch of oldsters and youngsters before returning to our little seaside village painted with happy colors and the golden rays of a setting sun.img_0590-copyThen it was time for ice cream! (salted caramel) Husband Jim argued that it would ruin our dinner, but I pointed for his attention that everyone else was breaking the rules.

When in France, do as the Frenchmen!  Games of boule were underway with the clack of balls and careful measurement by the serious men participating.  Ladies were walking their dogs and children rode the carousel.  Gradually folks shifted to the all-important selection of the restaurant for the evening meal.  Cassis is ringed with sidewalk cafes, pizzerias, creperies and ice cream vendors.  Local seafood is the main selection on offer and enjoyed when the sun dips and twinkling lights dot the harbor.

 We were fortunate to be there for the market held twice weekly at Place Baragnon offering food, flowers, chic clothing and jewelry.

I wandered into the public garden to snap photos of the Mairie, a listed historic monument build in 1626 and now housing the offices of the mayor.   I turned after focusing on the historic Hôtel de Ville and ran directly into two large policemen, an unexpected, human, uniformed barricade.  Embarrassed and stumbling around, I adjusted my sunglasses and composure to make my apologies. Rather than being upset with me, they were friendly and offered to help me find anything I needed.  I didn’t ask for them to round-up Jim to join his addled wife.  I knew I could find him sampling cheese in the market.img_0657-copy

Jim insisted that this was a good place to include a redneck joke as a reminder that I’m not sophisticated any day of the week, especially after a run-in with the law!

 

You might be a redneck if you think the French Riviera is a foreign car!

Cassis gets its name from the Roman Carsicis Portus, which means crowned port, referring to the stone peak that looks like a crown.  Cassis deserves to be crowned as the winner in all classes.  If you would like to see the beauty of the Mediterranean in a petite, jewel of a package, go to Cassis!

I have 300+ pictures from our two-night stay in Cassis.  I wish I could share all of them.  Thank you for coming around.  Jim and I are extremely excited to be planning a trip to the French Alps with our flights arranged for only a short time away.  Next time I add a story, it will likely be from France.  Live on the spot reporting!!  I’m looking forward to sharing our adventures in the mountains, by the lakes, possibly a short trip into Switzerland or Italy.  Let’s see how lazy or adventurous we will be.  Wish us safety and new happy experiences, please!  Thank you for your kindness.  Add your e-mail address in upper-right-hand corner to submit for free notification when a new story is posted, so you don’t miss the French Alps, the Provence or our hometown of Opp, Alabama.

Perhaps you would enjoy reading the book A French Opportunity available on KINDLE or paperback.  Just CLICK on the TURNIPS!img_0648-copy

Jim says this is further proof that I’m a redneck since I was excited to see turnips (sorry, just the roots, not the greens) in the Cassis market.

All photography is the property of Debbie Ambrous.