“Sleeping Beauty” – by Debbie Ambrous

s8April 24, 2014 – Château d’Ussé – The grandest approach to the castle is along the narrow lane turning from the road situated high above the Loire River, from the direction of Brehemont where we stayed in a lovely French cottage.  Farms with barns stacked full of hay, and green fields with horses and ducks are down below on one side of the road, while views of the wide river are on the opposite side.  A wise person keeps his eyes on the narrow road, watching for the many bicycles and cars.  Husband Jim was the designated wise person behind the wheel, and I was the roving photographer looking at the beauty flashing by, with no pull-over spot.  I called for a quick left when I saw a perfect combination of stone-built barns, white ducks, chestnut-colored horses and tall green trees in the background.  After Jim did a perfect 180-degree turn with only inches to spare, I clicked and recorded the pastoral beauty.  When I walked to the car, an elderly gentleman rode his bicycle quickly past in the early morning light, smiling and returning my greeting.  It happened so fast that I had no time to adjust my camera, and I didn’t want to offend him either.

I sat quietly in my seat, with no other quick-stop alerts for the designated wise person driver until we stopped at the bridge over the Indre River, which flows below the chateau.  We lingered to enjoy the view, and who should appear but the the gentleman I greeted a few minutes earlier? He wheeled alongside us on his bicycle, pedaling along on his merry way.

He was so nice!  I wished that I had a bicycle to follow him.

He was so nice! I wished that I had a bicycle to follow him.

My camera was ready, and when I raised it for his picture he beamed and waved to me broadly.  He even turned again to wave when he was near the bridge.  I still smile when I think about him.

Welcome to the Château d’Ussé!  It is currently the property of the Duke de Blacas.  The first known owner was a fierce Viking, Gelduin I, who erected a wooden fortress around 1004.  Since Jim’s ancestry is Finnish with Vikings likely in the mix, I’m intrigued by this history.  Jim’s mother Aili was the fiercest, lovable Viking I will ever meet!  I could easily imagine her in the fortified castle.  Her piercing eyes alone could have kept enemies under control and caused the staff to toe the line, not to mention any dreamy-eyed daughters-in-law.  Aili would have perfectly cooked the venison presented by the hunters, and her Finnish baking would have rivaled any French boulangerie.

Now that I’ve paid tribute to my mother-in-law Aili who passed away too many years ago, I feel safe to proceed with the description of the Chateau’s gardens.s7  Hoping not to offend her even after all these years, I tip-toe quietly away and say here on this page in a whisper: “She did not have a green thumb.”   Smiling at this thought, I remember the bright tulips, irises, calla lilies, wisteria, pansies and lilacs in the formal gardens of the chateau that were designed by Le Notre, the famous architect of the gardens of Versailles.

Legend tells that while staying at Chateau d’Ussé, the writer Charles Perrault (17th century) was inspired by the romantic feature of the chateau and wrote the tale of Sleeping Beauty.

The Guard Room:s18

The ceiling is painted in imitation marble and it dates back to the renovations done in the 17th century.  This room contains many of the souvenirs brought back from Count de Blacas’ travels.  The collection of weaponry and oriental objects were brought back in the 19th century from a trip around the world by the Count Stanislas de Blacas, an ancestor of the present owner. The Duke of Blacas (1770-1839) was a friend and adviser to King Louis XVIII and King Charles X. s19 The genealogical family tree of the Duke of Duras, owner of the chateau in 1807 is displayed on the wall.

The Central Gallery:s23

In the 15th century, this was a passageway with arches which opened onto the courtyard.  Here, one can see the Chateau’s finest collection of Flemish tapestries (Brussels), woven in the 18th century by Davis Teniers, a 17th century painter, married to Bruegel’s granddaughter.  They show typical, daily life in Flanders with some bawdy details for that time period.

 

Flemish tapestries - woven in the 18th century.  I was taken with the detail and bright colors depicting ordinary life.

Flemish tapestries – woven in the 18th century. I was taken with the detail and bright colors depicting ordinary life.

s27s28A bust of Louis XIV by Bernini is in the center of the gallery.  The original is in the Palace of Versailles.

The King’s Bedroom:

Under the reign of Louis XIV, some of the larger castles were obliged to prepare rooms for the King.  The original silks on the wall were woven in the 18th century in the factories of Tours, with Chinese patterns.

Some of the well-furnished rooms have wax-work figures with period costumes that bring life to the rooms. - King's Bedroom Salon

Some of the well-furnished rooms have wax-work figures with period costumes that bring life to the rooms. – King’s Bedroom Salon

Canopy bed "a la polonaise" - made fashionable by Louis XIV's wife

Canopy bed “a la polonaise” – made fashionable by Louis XIV’s wife

I have only mentioned a few of my favorite rooms, leaving much for your imagination, and even more for you to see for yourself.  Next, we will meet Sleeping Beauty in the rampart walk, high in the tower above the pretty village.

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Sleeping Beauty can be viewed through large windows in each room around the rampart walk.

Sleeping Beauty can be viewed through large windows in each room around the rampart walk.

On the opposite side, one can view the village, fields and forest.

On the opposite side, one can view the village, fields, river and forest.

I took a short break from writing the blog and joined Jim in the living room where he was eating dry roasted Shur-Fine peanuts from the grocery outlet and watching CNN for his daily dose of news.  I rattled off the gist of the story of the Sleeping Beauty Castle, and he asked, “Now, you are not going to say my mother cast the spell on Sleeping Beauty, are you?”  Hmm, never thought of that!

No, I will not follow a story-line with my mother-in-law in that role.  Although, you might just be surprised at the audacious thing Jim’s brother-in-law John Alwyn did.  He presented a broom with a saddle to Aili as a gift!  He really handed over this outrageous present to her with his big-boy smile, risking life and limb and hoping she would laugh it off.  He is braver, or perhaps more foolish than I am!

At the conclusion of our tour of the chateau, I told Jim that I had just one more picture to take in the garden.  He’s heard me say that one many times!  I wanted a picture of the hard-working gardener in the front garden digging flower bulbs.  Can you imagine the hundreds of pansies and other flowers that he plants?  Think of the sweat and aching muscles after days of digging, hoeing, watering and pruning!  His work, along with the others working in the gardens, produces beautiful results through the entire year.s2

Jim leaned over to see where my Canon was aimed and said with a grin, “Seems like you have a thing for chubby guys!”  My goodness, Jim, you are certainly an observant, designated wise person.

May Aili’s firm Viking stance with generous love continue within this family and the generations to come!

                                                                                            THE END  

 

“Hairstyle by Fidji” – by Debbie Ambrous

Hairstyle by Fidji suitable only for Hell's Kitchen

Hairstyle by Fidji suitable only for Hell’s Kitchen

Tours, France – May 31, 2014:  A day that will go down in hairstyling infamy occurred here with no historic plaque recording the event, and thankfully no pictures!  Jim, the ever helpful husband, was in the budget hotel room watching the world news while I was addressing the more critical issue of what to do with my sopping wet hair.   I steamed and fumed while looking for the hairdryer; it is quite amazing that my hair didn’t dry d’une manière naturelle.   During a commercial, Jim appeared in the doorway to ask a ridiculous question.  “Are you ready to go yet?

Do I look like I’m ready to go?  Never mind!  Where did this hotel hide the hairdryer?”  With a smug look on his face he pointed to an apparatus on the wall.  IMG_3591Eyeing the device, I thought it seemed like something that would be attached to a hospital room wall; any patients in their right minds would hope the contraption would never be used on their personal bodies.  And, oh please, do not show a video of what would happen during the procedure!

Quickly realizing that I needed my glasses to examine the French hairdryer, I said to Jim, “Do something useful, and please find my glasses!”  I know you are smart and don’t need my help, but I will tell you anyway:  “Always have your glasses handy in the bathroom!”  For further instructions on this, I would suggest reading “Umpteenth Second Honeymoon”, if you have not previously perused this gem set once upon a time in Destin, Florida.

Peering through my tri-focals, I saw dangling, looped coils on each side, similar to the coils attached to a plastic bonnet used years ago as a hairdryer.  Pretty ladies stretched the plastic bonnet over their huge curlers and hot air dried their hair while they read fashion magazines. Do you remember the hairdryers with the bonnets and the beehive hairstyles?  You must have told me about it because surely I’m not that old!  I couldn’t have fooled anyone about my age when I stood there in a towel studying the fine print on Fidji the hairdryer via Asia.  In desperation, I yanked one of the coils from the unit.  Jim was back on the sofa watching the news.   What did he care if this thing sucked the hair off my head?  Suddenly, it came alive when the coil was outstretched like an Asian snake with a vacuum cleaner head.  If I stood in front of the commode with the long, white plastic tubing in a straight line, the dryer hummed and blew warm air, not hot!  If I loosened my grip on the loop, it stopped hissing on my helpless hair and died a natural Fidji death.

Notice hat on head, hiding Fidji hair.  Would you wear this wedding gown?

Notice hat on head, hiding Fidji hair. Would you wear this wedding gown?

No, the mirror did not extend to my hairstyling stance by the commode.  No, I do not want to remember what I looked like.  No, Jim never noticed what my hair looked like.

I put a hat on my head and tried to forget my hairstyle by Fidji.

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Who styled her hair?

Who styled her hair?

These bridal shower ladies have the right idea!  Could you share some purple with me?

These bridal shower ladies have the right idea! Could you share some purple with me? – Tours, France

Jim and I spent the night in Tours before taking the train into Paris on our return home.  Tours is a good departure point for visiting the Loire Valley since there is a direct train, the TGV from the CDG airport, and the major car rental offices such as Avis are located at the St Pierre des Corps train station.  You can order your rail tickets in advance on www.Rail Europe.com, or through your favorite travel agent.  Previously, we have rented our car and driven from the CDG airport, but we don’t want to attempt the traffic around Paris, and especially the airport anymore.  Tours is a large city, but still much easier to navigate than Paris.

Ryan Air, the low-cost airline based in London, has round-trip and one-way flights from Tours to Dublin, London, Marrakesh and Marseilles.  We could have flown round-trip to Marseilles on the Mediterranean coast of France for less than $100.00.  I did a quick check today and found a fare of 47 euros round-trip on September dates.   Check the multiple cities within the Ryan Air system since you may find that you can visit many areas for less cost than you would expect after only one flight from the U.S.

The stained glass is notable for its rich, strong colors and for the amazing light filtering through. - located at Cathedral St. Gatien

The stained glass is notable for its rich, strong colors and for the amazing light filtering through.

t5t19When we stayed in Tours, we parked our car at the Best Western hotel on the outskirts of the town and took the city train to the historic center.  We chose this hotel for convenience, comfort and budget, rather than ambiance.   The front desk staff went out of their way to help us, providing information especially on the train which was super clean and modern.   A word of advice, American credit cards are not designed the same as European credit cards.  Quite often, we had problems using ours at machines.  Jim used ATM machines quite easily, so don’t fret about that, but toll booths and other such areas were difficult.  Have euros handy for this, especially coins.

Who is our mystery star?

Who is our mystery star?

In Tours, we saw the beautiful stained glass in Cathedral St. Gatien, and we meandered here and there along the ancient streets.  Then, we settled into seats at a tempting café at the place Plumereau, surrounded by medieval houses, local people and tourists.  We had at least one famous person with a huge diamond stud in his earlobe, just a few tables away from us – signing autographs.  I couldn’t approach him personally, not with my hairstyle by Fidji.

I have an extra special picture saved for last, some very good news!!!!  The sight of Dr Pepper in the window was enough to make a girl’s hair curl with desire.

I FOUND DR PEPPER AT PLACE PLUMERAU!

I FOUND DR PEPPER AT PLACE PLUMEREAU!

Thank you always for joining us!  I am very grateful for the encouragement you have given, and for sharing the website with others.

Just leave a comment below.  It is always very nice to hear from such delightful readers.

Must rush away since it’s 10-2-4 time – Dr Pepper time!

Before I go for my Dr Pepper break, I want to remind some of my local readers about the great entertainment in Opp, Alabama, without a transatlantic flight.  Just CLICK “OPP FEST” to see the fun we got into.

“Think of the Children” – by Debbie Ambrous

d7S’il te plait … Pense à moi! The French words mean: PLEASE THINK OF ME!  This colorful sign near a school in the small village reminded drivers in their cars to be careful, watch and think of the children.  The color-crayon drawings of young ones playing, jumping rope and kicking a ball was a reminder to slow down and watch very carefully since a child could dart into the road at any minute.

BACK TO SCHOOL -  It’s that time of the year!  School is beginning again and parents everywhere will be anxiously seeing their youngsters off for the first day of school, hoping they will be safe and happy.  School supplies, backpacks, new shoes and clothes are bought and ready.  d58No more splashing in the pool all day or riding bikes with friends in the sunshine until they are hot and sweaty all over.  New teachers are ready for the first day of school, hoping all of the students will be safe and happy. S’il te plait … Pense à moi!

d37DANIEL IS BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND – Readers have asked about Daniel, wanting to know when I would show more pictures.  His mom agreed to share her photos, and naturally I am proud to show them off and brag.

Daniel with his mom, Brittany

Daniel with his mom, Brittany

Our grandson Daniel who is sixteen months old will not be ready for school for a few years, but we are reminded of him when we see other children playing and beginning a new school year.

Daniel and his proud dad, Craig

Daniel and his proud dad, Craig

Traveling in France, we remember Daniel often when we hear the laughter of little ones as they chase each other, or skate in the park.  We always think of the future when Daniel might enjoy playing with small sailboats on a pond, or climbing higher and higher on an enormous tree house at Chateau Langeais.

Daniel would have fun like this little boy!

Daniel would have fun like this little boy! – Paris, France

Will he be delighted to look through a telescope to see a wild deer with spreading antlers on a hillside, or to see birds through the lens close-up as they fly in the air?

Jim is down below planning to take Daniel to each level.

Jim is looking up and planning to take Daniel to each level.

 

 

What will he think of Sleeping Beauty in the storybook depiction at Chateau Ussé?

 

d25Which flavors of ice cream will he like?

Will he be excited to see the knights’ shining armor?

 

 

Riding a carriage will be almost like Disneyland.  "Keep your hands and arms inside at all times."

Riding a carriage in Tours will be almost like Disneyland. “Keep your hands and arms inside at all times.”

Which flavor will be Daniel's favorite?

Which flavor will be Daniel’s favorite?

How about a ride on a double-decker carousel?

How about a ride on a double-decker carousel? Tours, France

Riding on flashy cars is always an attraction for young and old males!

Riding on flashy cars is always an attraction for young and old males! Saumur, France

d42d18Farm animals along the narrow country roads are an immediate draw for me.  Will he be anxious to see the horses, cows, ducks and chickens like his silly GranDeb?

"Ya'll slow down now! 10-4"

“Ya’ll slow down now! 10-4″

We just hope that all young ones will be able to learn and play with no hindrance, or harm.   Keep in mind the sign in France, and please, please look out for the children.  S’il te plait … Pense à moi!

I’m off to the kitchen to bake a peach cobbler.  d46Tomorrow I will be mailing a little shirt to a VIP in our family – Daniel!  If you are new to this blog, perhaps you would like to Click and see “All About Daniel” which shows pictures of Daniel when he was only a few weeks old.

d31Thank you for allowing a proud grandmother to brag about her only grandson.   Ya’ll come back!

I imagined Daniel before he was on his way.  Read the book A French Opportunity and you will find me on the front porch of a farmhouse in France hoping for a future grandson.

Daniel gives the book a thumbs up!

Daniel gives the book a thumbs up! CLICK FOR YOUR COPY

I am always so happy to see your comments.  Just write in the reply area below and brag about your grandchildren!

“Sweet Talking in Georgia” – by Debbie Ambrous

Fruit and Vegetable Stand - Warm Springs, Georgia

Fruit and Vegetable Stand – Warm Springs, Georgia

You will not find Georgia in the Michelin Atlas of roadways in France.  Georgia is the friendly neighbor to the east of our home State of Alabama, and Jim and I took a nice, short trip across the border to Atlanta with a stop at Pine Mountain and Warm Springs on our return.  We are constantly turning around, backing up and circling in our travels anyway, so I’m doing the same on the blog and planning to jump back into the French scene after enjoying the roadways of Georgia.

Somewhere near Lagrange, Georgia, we were moving along carefully in the July 4th weekend traffic.  Jim cleared his throat and said in a serious tone, “Uh, it’s time for us to think about where we put the Marta train tickets.”  With no hesitation I said, “I never saw the tickets.”  You will notice that I politely did not say, “YOU had the tickets.  What did YOU do with them?”  I could tell that he was testing the waters, hoping I knew something of their whereabouts.  Worry spread over his face and combined with traffic irritation, yielding a scrunched, scowling face.  No words uttered, but a lot of groaning was brewing in the driver’s seat.  It was time for lunch so I suggested that he stop at the next exit at a steak house for lunch.  The restaurant was nicely decorated with western gear and had comfortable seating.  I was hoping for a nice lunch before we hit the big city of Atlanta.  You will notice that I haven’t mentioned the name of our lunch stop.  For the sake of the story, I will call it the “Wrong Steer” since the food was greasy, flavorless and only a step above roadkill.

Back in the Jeep, Jim was calling to see if he could get a refund on the train tickets.  After the call, I said, “Don’t worry, honey.  We will just buy some more tickets.  It isn’t very much expense.  Don’t feel badly, I forget things all of the time.”  Honestly, I really said all of that.  Wasn’t I the Sweetest Georgia Peach from Alabama?  I only mention this because a guy flatteringly called me by that description years ago.  Definitely not a time to mention that one to Jim during the ticket fiasco!

Once we hit the big city with more one-way streets going the wrong way and most of the street names containing the word Peach.  “Yes, that’s Peachtree Street, and you just passed Peachtree Road.  Which Peach thing do we need to turn on?”  It was sometime when we were riding up and down those roads that I suddenly remembered that I forgot my eye drops and we had to find a pharmacy.  All of my sweet talk paid off!  Jim had to stifle any groans.

Sunset viewed from our hotel room at Atlanta Mid-Town W

Sunset viewed from our hotel room at W Atlanta Mid-Town

We found our hotel, the W Atlanta Mid-Town, a tall, dark-gray building standing proudly like a Heat player visiting from Miami among the other contenders.  We like the W hotels for their good service, casual atmosphere and many amenities.  Pets are welcome.

Lobby - viewed from second floor level

Lobby – viewed from second floor level

Business hotels can be a good buy on weekends unless special events are happening, or holidays.  We have booked a good value room for our anniversary, or as we say “second honeymoon” no matter what number it truly is.  (You may enjoy reading “Umpteenth Second Honeymoon” which has received the most clicks, so far. Click and I hope you enjoy, if you have not seen it previously.)

W Atlanta Mid-Town is near the Margaret Mitchell House (Birthplace of “Gone with the Wind”), Atlanta Botanical Garden, High Museum of Art/Alliance Theater, and with those aforementioned and forgotten Marta passes you can get to almost anything else without worrying about the one-way streets.

Our comfortable room with L-shaped sofa, corner vanity area with magnifying mirror, large walk-in shower, desk workspace and rather strangely a king-size bed with lights underneath.g15  It glowed very pretty in the colorful room creating a modern, contemporary space facing a wall of glass framing a beautiful sunset, and then during the night a glittering show of city lights.  During the night when I had a headache, I got up without turning on any lights, hoping not to disturb Jim.  I looked for my black purse with the Aleve, fumbling on the dark gray carpet and black furniture. Suddenly, I slammed my foot into the desk, and sharp pain attacked my toes and surged to my eyeballs!  Fully expecting to see my white toes on the black carpet, somehow I kept quiet so I wouldn’t disturb Jim.  But Jim still jumped from the bed to my side.  I said, “Why aren’t you lying in bed asleep?  I’m OK!!”  Edging back to his side of the bed like a scolded puppy, he said, “Well, how could I sleep with you practicing a drop-kick for the World Cup on the bedroom furniture?  How did you hit your foot with all of the light shining from under the bed?”  Still holding my mortally wounded foot in my hand, I complained, “Why on earth do they have lights under the bed which we cannot turn off?”  With a lilting, silly voice Jim answered, “Because they’re ro-mannn-tic!”  Gaining strength, I said: “What romance??  Unless the designers planned a sexy mood for dust bunnies, they’re wasting electricity!”

Next day, we found the W hotel has a wonderful restaurant that serves fresh, local food.  TRACE has as its mission: “to create an updated Southern dining experience in the heart of the South by celebrating fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced and foraged from local farm to form healthy, signature dishes.” g3 With a helpful, friendly staff and delicious food, we expect TRACE to have great success.  Cem Vural, the Manager, was friendly and attentive to assure our enjoyment.g4  I especially enjoyed the Summer Pot Pie with Springer Mountain chicken, carrots, mushrooms, peas, potatoes and a flaky buttermilk biscuit crust.  Jim had rave reviews for the Seasonal Meatloaf with pork, cherries, savory herbs and whole grain slaw.  He still wants the recipe for the slaw!  Honestly, the menu is loaded with good stuff to eat at reasonable prices, especially considering this is a large city, business hotel.

We were very happy to have such a nice restaurant right there in the W hotel, and we thank the staff for a very pleasant dining experience.

Another fave: GA Shrimp & Grits

Another fave: GA Shrimp & Grits

 

On our way home, we spent one night near Pine Mountain, Georgia, a very pleasant town with antiques, good restaurants and a wonderful bakery.  While the pretty young lady packaged our pecan, raisin bread, Jim begged her to set up business in Opp.  I thought he would kneel at the altar of bread and ask her to knead dough in our kitchen.

g25g26Don’t miss The Bakery and Café at Rose Cottage since the atmosphere is more than you could ever hope for in a small town with food to match! g18 While you are there see the antique stores: Country Gardens, Sweet Home Antiques and Chanticleer. Visit Dog Gone Good Bargains that benefits the Humane Society of Harris County.  Many more stores line the pretty streets that had beds planted with tall stalks of corn and squash vines, mixed with flowers.

Murals are painted on many of the buildings

Murals are painted on many of the buildings

g33With a healthy amount of good food and shopping out of the way, we turned the Jeep toward Roosevelt’s Little White House.  We wanted to see the museum with its many exhibits of life during the Great Depression era and see much of the history that happened during our parents’ lifetime.  It was hard to imagine a President staying in the house which wasn’t much larger than our home and dying on a small bed in a room much smaller than ours.  FDR went in search of relief from polio to swim the springs’ naturally heated water.  I will not try to expand on all of this history, or provide an extensive review of our visit, but I would suggest that you look at the website and visit if possible.

Near the entry to the house, in a corner, is a wheelchair fashioned from a dining chair.g43  I almost cried when I saw it since it brought back memories from my childhood when my carpenter father did the same for my mother who was seriously ill for a long period of time.  Wheelchairs during that time, and earlier, had large wheels and were nothing like they are today.  My sweet dad built a small wheelchair from a dining chair, easier to move around our house.  I didn’t realize that a President did the same.

We had an enjoyable, late lunch at Mac’s Barbecue, in Warm Springs, Georgia with good prices in a laid-back atmosphere.g50

g55Our last stop was at The Crossroads Store, 6926 Whitesville Road, West Point, GA 31833 at Jones Crossroads with a historical marker.   Look it up! Don’t miss it!  It’s worth dropping by to see the antiques and the setting of the beautiful stone building, almost like a slice of France in Georgia.  I was very sorry that I had to rush.

Charming owners of Crossroads

Charming owners of Crossroads

Well, I’ve written more than usual.  Southerners tend to linger with their conversation and say good-bye at least a half-dozen times before they depart.  Departing, I must give a plug for my book.

Seriously, A French Opportunity is a concoction of Southern humor and French country life which any good person like you would enjoy.

g56CLICK THE DOGGIE to order your copy of the book in paperback or Kindle!

Thank you for visiting!

“Thanks to AARP!” – by Debbie Ambrous

a1The silver-haired lady was seated in the cool, green haven with laptop positioned ready for her thoughts to be entered on the keypad. My blue eyes changed to envious-green when I saw her cozy corner by the languid pool reflecting the tree canopy.  A red cushion in her seat showed she was prepared to stay awhile in the peaceful outdoor-office by the baroque Fontaine de Médicis with its long pond filled with goldfish.a37  (The fountain was built in 1624 for Marie de Médici, but the mythological figures were added much later.)  I did not have a cushion to claim a seat for my creative endeavors.  I did not have the euros to claim a flat in the Luxembourg Quarter as a semi-permanent Parisian either.  Wow!  Wouldn’t that be grand?

Notice that the young man to the right is being observed from above!  I think my dad had the same expression on his face when he saw Jim, but he was wearing more clothes!

Notice that the young man to the right is being observed from above. I think my dad had the same expression on his face when he saw Jim, but Dad was wearing more clothes!

The Jardin du Luxembourg covers 60 acres in the heart of the Left Bank with formal terraces, a large pool that attracts young and old, hundreds of statues, an open-air café and many other beautiful features. a42 When I planned our visit to Paris, I knew I wanted to be near the gardens. .  I tried to be a savvy traveler and book a room close to the area most important on our wish list.     Here is a suggestion to the planners in the family: get a good guidebook with pictures, such as the Eyewitness Travel Guides that show glossy photos, maps and the essential information.  Computers are great for searching prices and some of your planning, but I recommend a good book as your first resource tool.a13

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I patted myself on the back and smiled a big smile of relief when our taxi driver dropped us at the door of Hotel Le Clos Medicis.  True to its advertisement, the hotel was just a few meters from the Jardin du Luxembourg and ideally located between Saint Germain des Prés and the Latin Quarter.  Of course, I did my homework, checking many websites and reading the reviews.  I found the best rates on AARP’s travel website. Off-season or shoulder season will provide the best rates.  Check carefully since a day or two in one direction, or the other, may yield lower rates.  Ask friends, but do your own comparisons for a hotel that will make you happy and create wonderful memories.  After all, most of us don’t go to Paris every weekend.

I would suggest that you never just arrive without reservations at hotels, or you will likely pay the rack rate.  Many years in the past, we ignorantly did this, but it is usually not a smart idea.  Use any discount options you have such as credit cards, loyalty membership etc.  For instance, consider this possibility when arranging your flights. If you have American Airlines frequent flyer miles, there are discounted mileage requirements for those with Citi Cards at: www.aa.com/rma

Back to the check-in at the Hotel Le Clos Medicis, we found a small hotel on a narrow street with an atmospheric lobby and friendly reception at the front desk.  Holding my breath and hoping for the best, we took the tiny elevator to the second floor (first floor in French terminology) and entered our beautiful room with two large windows that opened to view the courtyard below. a21 I thought I wanted a street view, but Adnann the nice young man at the front desk assured me of nice views and a lovely room with this selection.  He was right!  I could see the terraces of old buildings across and imagine what life was like in the apartments.  a22Ladies opened their shutters and windows in the morning and closed in the evening as I did the same.  Our room was large enough, considering the stories I heard about the tiny rooms in Paris!  As you can see from the pictures, it was decorated beautifully.  The carpet with a peacock feather design is not shown in my photos, but it was a perfect accent to the colorful room.  The bathroom was spotlessly clean with good hot water supply, fluffy white towels and very modern.  With this comfort, we could explore the city and come back to the room to cocoon when we were ready, or when we were exhausted to the point of dropping on the street.  More likely the latter!

We went to the boulangerie on our street each morning, and then we walked in the gardens, watching folks rushing to work or jogging. a3 The gardens were a peaceful retreat in the evening to watch the sun go down along with many other people, both old and young.  a10Romance taps on the shoulder whether you have such a notion on the brain, or not.

With rosy skies casting beautiful light on the pond and on the faces of people sitting on benches or chairs, who could resist a few hugs and kisses?

 

a9 Thanks to AARP for discounting a room for two young oldsters!

Click here for the French Market with books to plan your trip.

For armchair traveling and travel planning click here.  Thank you for joining us!

I just finished reading “From Here to Paris” by Cris Hammond.  He says, “I was in my mid-fifties. My hair was graying.  My belly was softening and my feet hurt.  And now I was unemployed.“  Can any of you identify with that crisis?  Check the French Market for this book.  I loved it!  Share the link to A French Opportunity with romantic dreamers, or anyone who loves travel.

 

“Feeding Jim and the Birds” – by Debbie Ambrous

n6The Notre Dame de Paris is recognized around the world as a masterpiece of architecture.  Thanks to Disney’s movie “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” even young children will recognize the famous cathedral.

Of course, we see the architectural beauty of the façade, but what about the framework? See the following excerpt from the Notre Dame de Paris website:

This building has been given the romantic name of “the forest” for many of the beams used to build it, each beam came from a different tree. The structure is made from oak.

The gothic arches required sharply-sloped roofs. Notre-Dame de Paris’s roofs are at a 55° incline. In addition, as framing timber became less common due to deforestation and urban development at the time, it was necessary to use weaker and lighter cutting wood, which made it possible to erect the structure and increase its incline.

The first choir structure was built using wood cut around 1160-1170 (some of these trees could have been 300 to 400 years old, coming from trees planted in the 8th or 9th centuries!!!). This first structure did not last, but the wood was reused in the second structure built in 1220The wood is still there today.

The nave structure was built between 1220 and 1240.  This structure supports a lead roof composed of 1326 tiles, each measuring 5 mm thick, for a total weight of 210,000 kg.”  See the Notre Dame de Paris website for more.

n1A long line of tourists wound its way around the cathedral on this beautiful day at the first of June when Jim and I were among the colorful crowd.  Did we join the tired, waiting, sweating folks with faces of pain resembling the scowling faces sculpted on the nearby bridge?  No, we didn’t trudge along with them since we have previously opted for out-of-season visits with fewer tourists knocking on the massive front doors of Notre Dame.

We mingled with the happy crowd, not in the long line, capturing photos to show folks at home in a Facebook or Twitter message: “Look where I am today!”  Just married, or soon to be married couples, posed in radiant happiness for photographers.  Exuberant, playful, young members of the American Boychoir School were there wearing their bright red sweaters. n7 Sitting on a bench in front of a rose garden, they behaved like typical boys on the loose.  Just as I readied my camera for a photo, two boys stuck fingers into their ears (at least, it wasn’t up their noses) and one of the larger boys tried to push a small one off the bench.  They never even looked my way.  I could report to their mothers that the youngsters were nicely mannered, and they could be proud of the budding young men.

We joined a group of lovely young ladies who had discovered tiny birds in the shrubbery in front of Notre Dame.  A gentleman with bread crumbs showed them how to attract the little birds for a landing and a photo.n15  Jim was once again mingling with the pretty ladies, and I was busy with my camera.  I asked Jim, “Are the odds for a bird in the hand higher at the Notre Dame?”  Jim edged away from the group and replied, “Could be.  You might just find a bird poo decoration on your pretty hat if you don’t get a move-on outta here! Enough of feeding these birds!  I’m hungry. If you aren’t planning on barbecued bird wings by the river, we need to be on a search for a restaurant.”  Watching out for poop on my hat and hoping to satisfy Jim’s growling stomach, we crossed the bridge to check the possibilities.

Atmosphere and ambiance head the list when I’m looking for a place to eat.  Jim’s focus is all about the food and the price.

Take a look at this Lapeyrouse!  Ambiance inside and out, but Jim didn't like the price.

Take a look at Laperouse! Ambiance inside and out, but Jim didn’t like the euros posted on the menu.

n25

n28n18Which one would you chose? A small café near our hotel was our final choice.  We were seated facing a large fountain near the Luxembourg Gardens with my camera finally switched in the off position.  The waiter brought my favorite, a jasmine tea from Mariage Frères, Maison de Thé à Paris depuis 1854 – the perfect way to end the day.

 

CLICK to Shop at the FRENCH MARKET for books, the movie Hunchback at Notre Dame and more!

 

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“The Beauties from Marseilles” – by Debbie Ambrous

You can stop rubbin' your eyes.  That's Jim alright!  Don't that just beat all!

You can stop rubbin’ your eyes. That’s Jim alright! Well, don’t that just beat all!

It seemed like a harmless plan with a low risk factor.  I had only left husband Jim alone in the crowd of tourists near the entrance to the Louvre for a few minutes.  What could possibly happen?  After a brief time alone with the other love of my life, my Canon camera, I turned and found the most unlikely scene.  I felt like Alice in Wonderland, except I had dropped through a hole into Jim’s dreams.  There he was surrounded by gorgeous ladies from Marseilles, who doted on his every slow-spoken, outrageously corny word!  Wake me up, please!!

Read the rest of the story by CLICKING HERE to WWW.ILOVEPARISLIFE.COM 

Message to the lovely ladies from Marseille:  I hope you are still circling around to visit the website A French Opportunity for the story since I promised to include the photos you graciously allowed me to take.  My business cards were gone when I jumped into Jim’s dreams without a proper introduction to his beautiful visitors.  But Mr. P.R. man was ready with hand-written business cards, so we would look like professional idiots, not the ordinary garden-jardin variety.  Thanks for posing with my guy and making his day!  He won’t forget it!

Bicycle for Sale

FOR SALE - A little old man rode it around the circle only once!

FOR SALE – A little old man rode it around the block only once!

Just so you know I’m selling his bicycle.  Then, he won’t up and get it into his head to recreate this scene in the Jardin des Tuileries of Opp, Alabama.

Thanks to Porter, Louise, Bob and the entire group at I Love Paris Life for making me look extra pretty on your website.  I enjoyed every minute of being your guest writer!

If you’re aching for more, just CLICK here for the book – A French Opportunity.

“Diggin’ Holes in France” – by Porter Scott

porter        Welcome our guest writer, Porter Scott!   It was as a student of painting and photography that Porter Scott first began his love affair with Paris. Determined to continue the romance, Porter tried several careers before finding his true niche – renovating and managing furnished rental properties. Now, with over 30 renovations to his credit and an impressive portfolio of rental properties right in the heart of Paris, it should come as no surprise that Porter has developed some clever tactics for dealing with the quirks, foibles and bureaucracy an American will encounter when living in France.

Dig right into his story and write a comment below.  He will understand if you only say: “Hi ya’ll”

Alabama white dogwood in the front yard of Les Lanceroux

Southern U.S. white dogwood in the front yard in France.  Click to see inside this beautiful home lovingly restored by my parents.

While other kids from the East and West Coasts were studying calculus in grade school, I was learning the finer points of how to handle a pick and shovel in the outback of Alabama (not to say that I did not get a good education, nevertheless). I took great pride in my ability to wield a pick as well as any man out there, letting the pick do the work while my back simply gave the necessary thrust and guidance.

Post-hole Digging: Learning the Basics

Another one of the outdoor handyman skills I learned as a boy was how to use a post-hole digger in order to build fences and string barbed wire. When you had a lot of holes to dig, you rented a special, heavy-duty machine, with a huge augur bit, that took two people to handle and hold while it screwed into the ground and dug a nice clean, deep hole. Once dug, all that was left to do was to insert your post and give it a few wallops with a mallet to secure.

Good ol' "Copperhead" post-hole digger

Good ol’ “Copperhead” post-hole digger

Getting hold of the right tool for the job …

On a lesser scale, when you only have a few post holes to dig here and there, you use a manual post-hole digger, which only needs one person to get the job done. For the life of me, I have not been able to find one of these manual contraptions in France in the 30 plus years I have been living here. Finally, a few years back, I decided to ask my mother’s new husband at the time, who was then 81 years old (but spry as could be), to bring me a post- hole digger in his luggage the next time he came over to France. Being an engineer, I knew that he would rise to the challenge.

 So how does one go about getting a post-hole digger into an airplane these days?

Well, first of all, I decided that I did not need the long wooden handles. Those can be found, or made, here in France. That left the metal base mechanism which consists of two narrow, curved shovel-like elements facing one another with a hinge joining them. It may set off the metal detectors in the airplane, but I did not foresee my father-in-law being taken into custody as the first post-hole digger terrorist. In fact, my stepfather not only rose to the challenge, he managed to bring the post-hole digger in its entirety…handles and all!

Me and my post-hole digger - Alabama born and bred!

Me and my post-hole digger – Alabama born, bred and raised!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The days when someone like my own father (back in the 1980’s) could carry in his luggage all kinds of garden tools and other familiar items (including some sapling trees) are probably long gone. To this day, I have a well-worn double-edged swing blade for cutting grass that is probably the only one in the entire country of France.

Beautiful!  Alabama pink dogwood thriving in French soil, thanks to the post-hole diggers

Beautiful! Southern U.S. pink dogwood thriving in French soil, thanks to the post-hole diggers

Every time we get it out to cut weeds and such, the country neighbors start gawking at those crazy Americans…flailing there arms about us just doin’ things differently. We are also probably among the few people in France who have two dogwood trees (native to the southern United States) thriving in our yard, thanks to my father’s desire to put down American roots in France.

Missing the bare necessities…

There are numerous familiar items that Americans have a hard time finding or cannot find when they move to France, or any other country for that matter. For instance, every time I go back to the USA, I stock up on men’s mid-calf dark socks  because I cannot find the quality that I like in France, not to mention the outrageous prices that the French charge for what they think are quality men’s socks. Good quality permanent press shirts are also hard to come by in France. For some reason, the French feel that 100% cotton shirts are the only shirts that are worth buying, so there are almost no comparable permanent press alternatives.  I just wonder who does the ironing for these guys… My wife marvels at the space taken up by all of the socks (winter, summer, and heavy sports socks separated into three categories) that I have in my dresser, or rather, she complains about not having enough space for her clothing. I have still to show her the ten-year-stock of dental floss that I have accumulated (but fortunately, it doesn’t take up much space).

This little lot should take me well into my eighties

This little lot should take me well into my eighties…hopefully I’ll still have some teeth left for flossing at that stage.

Yes, having the best of both worlds, as an American living in France, is an impossible dream; but with foresight, you can at least maintain a stock of imported familiar items that make you feel a little closer to home. Unfortunately, you cannot import many of the less tangible things that you cherish as an American: fundamental values, flexible thinking, entrepreneurial concepts, a different understanding of freedom…

Thankfully, a little American dental floss can go a long way in comforting you. No matter where you are in the world, with just a bit of thin, wax-coated string, you can maintain at least one American standard that you are accustomed to:  good dental hygiene.

Diggin' under my Opp, Alabama dogwood

Diggin’ under my Opp, Alabama dogwood

Debbie’s comments: Thanks to Porter for sharing some of the differences between the U.S. and France, from the ground up to those white, pearly teeth born and raised in Alabama.  No worries.  We will continue sharing the U.S. dental floss with Porter if he needs any.  Uh, I don’t mean actually sharing our used dental floss.  We will sell it to him, or lend it. Or, would we need an international trade agreement? I can see already that we may need to have a meeting in Switzerland on neutral grounds; do the Swiss use dental floss?  Now, how can I get myself out of this fiasco? Anybody know where I can find a good post-hole digger, so I can dig a hole big enough for me to crawl inside and hide?

Just so you will know, I won’t see you here at A French Opportunity next week.  I’m taking a few days off.  Be safe and enjoy!  Thanks for comin’ around to visit us.  Take a look here for the holes that Jim dug in Florida coral rock with chips flyin’ … Kindle has a great sale going on, starting at $5.99.  Grab it while you can.

“Impressions de France” – by Debbie Ambrous

b14Mid-afternoon on a beautiful June day, we were seated on a boat ready to glide down the Seine, craning our necks for the best views of some of the most beautiful architecture in the world.b4  We never took the boat rides in Paris previously, choosing to spend more time in museums and gardens instead.  Expectation was higher with this delightful excursion delayed until a later day.  I will admit that I was influenced by the film shown in Epcot at Disney World in Orlando.  Have you seen the wonderful show “Impressions de France” on the 200-degree screen in the Palais du Cinema?

Once the audience is seated in front of the velvet curtains with ornate trimmings, a French lady in costume addresses the group with a few words in her language and presents the movie.  The curtain slides open to show a waterway in the countryside with deep woods on each side.  The music is gently flowing, and the movement is peaceful, promising the beauty that lies ahead.  Those settled into seats are rewarded with magnificent scenes of France, from Provence to Brittany, and stirring music to accompany every emotion on the screen.  The music alone is grand.  (Ask for a list of the music at the desk outside the theater.)

b9b2Paris is the outstanding finale, just as in our trip to France.  A romantic, young couple is shown standing on a boat for a ride at night with powerful beams of light playing across the ancient buildings and bridges of Paris.  Happiness and glorious hopes for tomorrow wrap the audience into the scene as the music surges.  The young lady with long black hair, wearing a white dress leans close to the handsome young man laughing the laughter of love.  Every time I see her in the movie I think she looks so much like a friend who worked with me many years ago.  She had the same dark hair, dimples in her flawless skin and a deep laugh of contentment.  Maybe I will tell you someday about the Mary Kay makeup party where I was seated next to her.  “Debbie, the eyeliner is too thick.  You really can’t wear that color.  No, not that one either.”  b6 No looking at the mirror on the afternoon of our boat excursion to check my messy makeup; forgetting my image, I enjoyed the ripples of the waves of the river with the bright blue flag flapping in the breeze and announcing our excitement.

It seemed that only sunny days would shine for my friend Patricia, the sweet lady with the beautiful face and happy disposition.  Then, tragically, her husband died in a plane crash.

When the embracing lovers on the Parisian boat at Epcot pass under the bridge into the darkness, I always think of my friend.  I hope she is happy now with her full laugh, deep inside, like music to those around her – wherever she may be.

b16With all of this as a preamble, how could a tourist boat compare?  Where was the musical score with the orchestra soaring at just the right moment?  Floating under the bridges didn’t hold the same excitement.  Hundreds of balloons were not released into the air on cue with the soundtrack.

b7Why did I think these thoughts when Paris was all around me, literally to touch, feel and smell with its own theatrics and special effects?  Do you get caught up in the past instead of being in the present?  Hope I’m not alone.

I looked around at the group of strangers, some seemingly bored and others punching keys on their smart phones instead of observing their surroundings.  I looked down and saw hairy legs.  No, not mine!!  I wore purple leggings with boots to the knee and my flashy gold and silver jacket to celebrate Paris in style. A few of the fellow passengers were standing and staggering around – just like on the bus.  I thought maybe I should move up front and sit near the driver, just to alert him so he didn’t run into anything, like the bus driver.  Now that’s what I call really being in the moment!!

“Powder Express to the Eiffel Tower” – by Debbie Ambrous

powder1Screams!  I was sure that I heard screams, and then along the side of the street I saw young people throwing something.  On top of the tourist bus, I felt a bit of a scare creep along my spine.  I thought I had read too many stories of riots, and viewed too many news clips.  Closer to the scene, I heard laughter and saw a group of students throwing powder (plaster of Paris??) at each other while most of them wore white coats.  Squealing louder since they had an audience, they waved arms in the air and put on a performance including water pistols aimed at us. powder3 Were they art students?  I wished I could jump down and join them with my camera in closer range, if I could protect it from the powder bursts.  If nothing else, I was fully awake then, full of anticipation on the first morning of our Parisian tourist bus tour, ready for whatever came my way next.

Top of the list for us, and surely for anyone visiting Paris, was the Eiffel Tower.  When we had our first good view, everyone rushed to the right side; it is totally a wonder that the bus didn’t tip over sideways! We couldn’t believe we were there at the foot of this famous tower once again.  Many years had passed with several trips to France, but not to the Eiffel Tower.  Ten years ago, we were high above the city together on a cold day in April, hugging each other and thrilled at the view below.  Jim was here with his sister Virginia later and met students from Alabama, but I was not part of that escapade.  It is still unbelievable that they found their way around France and back home again!  Would you like to read more about Jim and Virginia meeting the young man from Slapout, Alabama on the Eiffel Tower? Just take a look for info on the book “A French Opportunity” by clicking here.

powder4A giant tennis ball was suspended between the first and second floor on the tower, paying tribute to the famous international tennis tournament of Roland Garros.  Maria Sharapova celebrated her win with a photo shoot in front of the Eiffel Tower just a few days after we had returned home.  I wish I could have been there on the sidelines with other amateur photographers for this event. 

The line for tickets was long, but not as bad as I had expected.  When we reached the ticket booth, there were two options: all the way to the top for a higher price, or the level just below the top for less.  I insisted, “Why don’t you buy the lower-priced ticket?  That will be gracious-plenty high enough for me?”  I leaned heavy on saving money, hoping to appeal to his cheap-skate blood.  It didn’t work. Jim said, “We have to go to the top!  You will thank me when you get up there!  He had stood high in the Parisian sky with Virginia, but I had missed out since it was too cold and windy when we visited together in early April many years ago.  I didn’t think I had missed anything except the possible scare of my life.  I went with his crazy ticket-buying, thinking I might back-out at the last minute, or cling to him with my head buried in his all-weather jacket.  We ascended to the level below the top, and it was simply grand with the sun shining beautifully on the city below.

Do you recognize the buildings far in the distance at the top, center of the picture?

Do you recognize the buildings far in the distance at the top, center of the picture?

 

Now, even with my shaky hands aiming this photo you probably recognize Sacré-Coeur on Montmartre hill.

Now, even with my shaky hands aiming this photo you probably recognize Sacré-Coeur on Montmartre hill.

I was in heaven, almost, with my camera aimed below.  Yes, definitely below!  I can look below, but forget about looking up when I am at any level above the top of the tool shed.  I saw tourists taking pictures of each other from one level to another, and I nearly lost it, while Jim was not in sight to catch me!  We met two smiling southern ladies who agreed to take our picture to record the moment.powder5 My hair was stuck to my head, probably reacting to my brainwaves and trying to hold my foolish noggin in place. 

Then, Jim excitedly said we should go up the stairway to the elevator for the next level, like a kid ready to jump off the high-dive.  Oh, no!  Strike those thoughts.  My bladder was not ready, and I called for a pit stop.  Jim said he could go, too.  He did, but I didn’t!  The line for the ladies bathroom wrapped around forever, but the men’s had maybe two people in line.  Here’s a bit of tourist advice for the Eiffel Tower that you are likely not to find in tourist brochures, “Go, before you go!”  With my eyeballs floating and fear in my feet, I had to decide whether I would ascend with Mr. Fearless to the top.  I thought about those youngsters in the street, having fun and letting loose to enjoy the moment.  It was my time to rise above with nothing holding me back.  I stepped into the elevator, which by the way was an Otis elevator.  Remember that I work in construction, so I’m always looking to see how things are put together.  Good old, Otis!  Let’s climb to the top, keeping my eyes on Jim who was wearing my Cornerstone jacket, and not looking, or thinking, about what I am doing.  No, that isn’t sky out there, just a pretty shade of blue from a Sherwin Williams paint selection.”  I stepped into the first section which had glass windows, easy enough to just look below and think wide-screen television.  Just above was the challenge!  I hugged the wall until I adjusted, and then my Canon-camera-adrenaline kicked in with my lens stuck through the heavy-grid enclosure that safely keeps people from danger.powder7

When I adjusted to being on top of the world, I focused on the places I would like to settle into for a month or so.

When I adjusted to being on top of the world, I focused on the places I would like to settle into for a month or so.

 powder9powder13

DÔME CHURCH - The gleaming dome cannot be overlooked.  Napoleon lies in the crypt.  His final wishes were to "rest on the banks of the Seine"

DÔME CHURCH – The gleaming dome cannot be overlooked. Napoleon lies in the crypt. His final wishes were to “rest on the banks of the Seine”

I don’t know if it was the weight of my bladder, or the desire to capture the city of Paris below with my camera, but somehow I did conquer the top of the Eiffel Tower!  I still haven’t sent Jim a thank-you note.

Are you dreaming of Paris?  Just click here to see beautiful apartments ready for your visit.  Just take a look!  I have received a gracious invitation to write a story and share pictures for the blog: www.ILoveParisLife.com   Do you think I can handle it?  What subject should I select?  What would you like to see?  More of the street scenes?  What about Luxembourg Gardens?  Our boat ride on the Seine?powder12 As long as they don’t think better of having Jim and me over there on the pages of loving the Paris life, we will be eating biscuits here in Alabama and dusting off the computer for the next time.

I will show more photography on my Facebook later in the week. Thank you very much for your wonderful comments!  If you enjoy the blog and pictures, think about sharing the links with other cool and savvy folks like yourself. You are just the most wonderful folks in the world to us!

All photography is the property of Debbie Ambrous.