“Alpine Balm” – by Debbie Ambrous

A whirlwind tour of vertigo kept me from the keyboard since the slightest movement of my head set the room into the whirling motion of a Cuisinart blender.  Medication finally conquered the inner ear infection, but the unsettling news of hurricanes, floods and earthquakes shook my inner system each day as these catastrophes were reported.  Returning to my simple blog after my last story has not been easy since composing a story of travel seemed insignificant in the face of such pain and upheaval.

Then, I saw among my photos of France from the alpine region the words on a sign by a mountain stream that struck a chord of peace and calm for me.  The sign showed the name: Balme Dessous.  Yes, that’s what I need, a restorative balm for my body and mind.  The dictionary definition of balm is “a fragrant ointment, or preparation used to heal or soothe the skin.”  As I looked at the photo, I remembered the rushing clear water almost aquamarine in color, sparkling fresh and clean and polishing the ebony stones like creations of artwork strewn on the riverbank.

A chapel, or possibly a mountain refuge, was on the opposite bank among the trees with their shimmering gold autumn leaves forming a backdrop like a stage curtain for the dramatic, surging river waters.  Green moss cloaked the trunks in a camouflage pattern, and the woodsy fragrance filled my lungs, soothing like a balm preparation.For the moments when I lingered in the memories from the photo I did feel a sense of well-being, a comfort for some of my personal problems and a resurgence of hope for the many with serious conditions not healed by an ointment, or reflections on a photo.  Yet, there are times when a simple distraction is a coping method, a balm until the real cure arrives.  With those thoughts in mind, I decided that I could write and share photos of peaceful scenes where we can place ourselves safely hidden from harm for at least a short time.

“To Hope” by John Keats

When by my solitary hearth I sit,
And hateful thoughts enwrap my soul in gloom;
When no fair dreams before my “mind’s eye” flit,
And the bare heath of life presents no bloom;
Sweet Hope, ethereal balm upon me shed,
And wave thy silver pinions o’er my head…

O let me think it is not quite in vain
To sigh out sonnets to the midnight air!
Sweet Hope, ethereal balm upon me shed

The history of Balme Dessous is lost for me at the moment.  I searched among my snippets of saved brochures and scanned my travel guidebook to no avail, so for now I hope you will settle on the best I can give about the idyllic place which was a distraction on our way to Sixt-fer-a-Cheval.  Jim and I find out of the way places which are often more charming than our original destination, the ones with the hordes of people filling the streets.  Sixt was not a congested tourist town when we were there, but it is classified as one of Le Plus Beaux Villages of France. You can’t go wrong with a place that Clint Eastwood selected to be secluded away.  The French film director and producer, Gilles Legrand, shot his first two movies in Sixt.  No one on the streets would be impressed with two small-town Alabama residents moseying around their classified village.  We couldn’t even get lost on the few streets on each side of the river! The small hamlets that lined the road leading to the impressive waterfall Cascade du Rouget, especially Salvagny, were our main agenda.  I was taken by the pastoral beauty of the homes, both ancient and new, with cows and sheep in verdant green fields.  Pocket gardens with vegetables and fruit (raspberries-my favorite), so beautiful that one could expect a balm of nutrition from their bounty.

Jim and I left the car by the road, and we strolled like Hansel and Gretel (if you overlook gray hair and a few extra pounds) past the picture-book scenes.  Ancient watering troughs with dates from the 1800’s were along the narrow roads by the clusters of homes with geraniums cascading down to greet us like red streamers along a parade route.

Some of the houses were named to fit the alpine theme, but then we found one named La Mexicaine

Ah, how wonderful!  A Mexican settled there to enjoy the balm of the French Alps.  My heart has a special place for Mexico and the lovely people who welcomed us there in our travels, not to ever forget the many friends we have met since and hope to meet in the future.

They are in our thoughts and prayers as they try to put their lives together again after the major earthquakes.Our day of meandering along the narrow roads was one with low-hanging clouds, but a brilliant blue sky was overhead.  After enjoying the pieces out of this perfect little place, we moved on to the road leading to the Cirque de Sixt-Fer-A-Cheval which is named for the shape of the natural amphitheater, which looks like a horseshoe.  Waterfalls spill from the soaring mountains, and the site draws 500,000 people each year!  The first time we visited the weather was cloudy, overcast and raining at times.  We were the only ones there!  Not one person joined us as we enjoyed the beauty.  While it was an awesome experience in the stillness, having the wide open massive amphitheater to yodel or eat potato chips without sharing, we were anxious to see it without a rain shower faucet following our every slushy step. 

The mountains were a humbling experience and the simple beauty of the old farm buildings along the entry road including a chicken-run was just right for us Alabama folk.We made one good-bye stop in Sixt, hoping to meet up with a film director or a young lady film starlet to match Jim’s short-list of wishes.  Oh, I almost forgot!  Bob Marley was at my side, poking his nose into gardens and sniffing at the aromas drifting from restaurants.  Let me explain.  Jim’s hat was continually drooping and slouching down the back of his head like he had a mass of dreadlocks hidden under the wool

Being a helpful wife and wanting his appearance to be less unkempt, I kept adjusting his hat until I finally gave up and called him “Bob” for the remainder of the time.  Bob kept bumbling at the edge of the road and I caught his profile as proof.   A stroll with Bob without an umbrella was a nice way to remember the town.  The bell tower sounded the chime for the noon hour, an almost sacred occasion in France.  It was time to leave.  I slowly walked to the car knowing I had only a few more days in France.

Now almost a year since those lovely days I only have a few more stories to share from the October/November 2016 visit.  I thought we would return to France this autumn, but we may sit this one out on our garden bench.  But we will plot and plan.  Stay with us and see what happens.  Thank you!

If you are sitting on bench of indecision and would like a nudge to a bucolic vacation, check out Alps Accommodations by clicking here.  La Ruche is our favorite!  You will not be disappointed by their service, the beautiful homes or the location.  Of course you know that location, location, location is all-important.  If you would prefer something the Dordogne in SW France, click to see the beautiful homes here at Le Peyruzel.  You can’t do better.  I know, I have tried others.  If you are longing for the Loire, a very sweet place can be found here.  Click to link for my story, a very true description of the beautiful home.  Clean, preciously beautiful and comfortable!  Wait, now, don’t book when I want to go!

Why not add A French Opportunity to your bookshelf? 

“The Other Geneva” – by Debbie Ambrous

Since the big 50th wedding anniversary announcement people have asked me, “What did you do on your  Golden Anniversary?” I am almost embarrassed to admit the simplicity of our special day when they gush on with flowery words saying it is an amazing achievement and a precious gift, just like gold.   Aww shucks!!  I’m grinning and blushing.  No gold, diamonds, or flowers, were exchanged on the momentous day, but for those folks who are waiting to hear the latest hot spot for celebrations, here is the next trendy place to be: Geneva!  No, I’m not talking about Geneva, Switzerland, with its expansive lake and snow-capped mountains.  That is yesterday’s news, been there, done that.  (Read “On Geneva” by clicking here.)  The town of the moment with notable, celeb visitors is Geneva, Alabama, the other Geneva!

Before you book your flights, or fill your gas tanks to drive on down, let me explain where it is.  Since our hometown of Opp, Alabama, is center of the world for us now, we will start from there.  The capitol of Alabama is Montgomery, which is one hundred miles north of Opp, give or take a few rolls of the tape measure.  Allow for stops along the way to aim your camera for shots of old barns in the fields with cows and bulls growing strong on the hay which you may see in giant rolls in the pastures, seeming like a big breakfast of champions for the livestock. Allow plenty of time to see Opp, the City of Opportunity, and then head on south along highway 52 toward Kinston, and you will be on the 50th Anniversary Trail, named for Jim and Debbie Ambrous.

You might be a redneck if you had to remove a toothpick for the wedding pictures.” – Jeff Foxworthy

An old frame house shaded by massive pecan trees with wide fields spreading behind the fading homestead is alongside the road before the Kinston city limits.  I remember when people lived inside the cobwebbed doors and windows and sat on the front porch.  The lady of the house probably swept the porch clean each day and grew begonias in flower pots and petunias at the front steps.  Now the floor boards are molding and rotting away.  I love old houses.  This one has caught my eye many times when we rushed past without time for a photo opportunity, but on our 50th I knew that Jim would be in an agreeable mood to stop for me.  His good nature didn’t include joining me to traipse around in the July heat.  No, he stayed cool and comfy with the AC blasting in the Jeep and music vibrating his outlook by the country road.  The grass was recently cut with that newly mown smell, and a gray-haired lady was mowing her front yard across the road at a steady pace with not even a glance in my direction.  I carefully looked around for dogs and snakes, a smart idea in old places like this where they could lie in wait to bite my leg off.  I aimed for a shot with my camera from the front and it was fairly adequate picture, but I thought the view from the side would be best.  The grass mowing had been fast and furious with most of the grass uncut and lying sideways on the ground.  I couldn’t see clear enough, so I moved very cautiously in that direction.  Suddenly, I saw a thick rattlesnake moving in the grass!  I could see only the mid-section, thick as a hose on a fire truck, moving in my direction.  I didn’t wait to meet the business-end of the snake before I was leaping airborne with my feet only touching the ground two or three times before I reached the Jeep, out of breath from screaming, “SNAAAAKE!!  The little, old lady across the street kept on her merry way and never looked my way.  Jim’s cool music vibe kept my snake scream outside, so he didn’t know why I was flapping my arms and imitating Usain Bolt.

I’m not sure he believed me until a few days later when we saw a rattlesnake just like the one that scared the living daylights out of me, same size and edition with same markings and speed.  Speaking of speed, Jim was surprised that his wife of 50 years could move that fast!

Snake pit stops are not required if you visit.  There are less scary attractions.  We drove on through Kinston, allowing my nerves to settle before we stopped in Samson.  A friend mentioned sometime ago that the hardware store had an amusing sign advertising armadillo traps; except, the sign wording was: ARMY DILLER TRAPS.  I love to find old, rusty signs or funny signs like that.  However, it seems that I missed this one.  We wandered around the corner and found an old, rusty water tower that seemed to have “50” fading in the rust on the tank.  Look closely at the photo and tell me if you see it.

While I aimed my camera I mentioned to Jim that I felt calmer since I was shooting photos in town, safe from the snakes.  He didn’t help at all when he said, “What makes you think a snake couldn’t be curled up at the bottom of the rusty legs of the tower?”  I found my way to the Jeep, exercising my newly acquired Usain Bolt sprint.

Shortly before our final landing in Geneva, Alabama, the other Geneva, we made a stop-over at an old service station with an original, colorful sign.  Once again I was in the heat unattended by Jim, who kept cool as a watermelon on ice, watching me strut around the big pickups fueling at the pumps.

I found my shots of the sign and an old non-functioning Coca-Cola machine with a rusty chair entwined with weeds by its side.  I thought I was cool and clear to move on out to the Jeep, but a fellow called “Hey” for me to halt for a minute.  Jim motioned that I needed to turn around for the meet and greet.  Talking with folks like this can add interesting history, humor and understanding of local and distant culture.  Except, on this day I didn’t want to linger too long.  The nice fellow told me that his dad installed the gas station sign when he was a kid back in the fifties, and he had been offered top dollar for it.

I was questioned about where I was from, which always happens around here whether you are paying the electricity bill or buying butterbeans, it’s always essential for folks to know where you grew up, went to school and all about your family background.  He was very surprised when I said I was from Opp, likely expecting some out-of-state tourist.  The not-bad-looking fellow gave me a big grin which lit up his ruggedly handsome face, and he said, “If you’re from Opp, how come I never met you?”  I heard Jim rev’ing the Jeep’s engine.

 

Finally, we reached the other Geneva with the antique store I wanted to browse.  Downtown Geneva Antiques, 708 E. Magnolia Street, Geneva, Alabama  I found a doll like one I had when I was very young.  Plastic wasn’t around then.  We knew nothing about electronics and the future plugged-in world.  Jim found a Roy Rogers guitar and told me that his Uncle Andy bought a bright yellow guitar for him in Dean’s Pharmacy in Opp.  The image of him as a little boy with his blonde hair and green eyes filled with happiness for his new guitar was priceless.  Hope you don’t mind if I share a few, cute old photos of Jim, his sister Virginia and his dad.  I couldn’t resist the barefoot cowboy!

My only purchase for the day was a tiny cream pitcher with a golden wheat design, but the store is just brimming full of good buys!  The dinnerware was a grocery store promotion years ago.  Mama probably had the entire set.  I remember setting the table with the white plates with the autumn, golden wheat design.  That is what I love about antique stores, the memories that surface when I see stuff that I had totally forgotten.  I know I am not alone on those thoughts.  Have you bought something on impulse because it brought back poignant memories?I passed up several photo opportunities when we drove through the old town including one of a unique sign.  The sign was for a night spot called Someplace Else, and the wording said the favorite place for entertainment was Someplace Else.  Oh, I understand that feeling completely when I wish I could transport myself out of here at times.  I’m not saying that I don’t love my hometown because I do, but there are times when I wish I could be in the mountains, at the beach or traveling in France!!  Someplace Else!!

Jim and I finished our day at the restaurant Santa Fe Cattle Company in Enterprise, Alabama.  I know it isn’t a typical place for a golden anniversary, but it worked for us with hopes for a celebration in the future someplace else!  The nice staff brought cake and ice cream as a surprise and gathered to sing, not happy anniversary, but instead they sang loudly a big YEE HAW!!

We hope you enjoyed our day of reminiscence, and the trip to the other Geneva.  France is waiting for next time.  Jim and I thank you ever so much for your messages, e-mails and cards for our 50th anniversary! 

I hope I didn’t make too many mistakes in this story since I am recovering from a bit of surgery to my right eye.  That is also the reason it has been longer since my last post.  I hope everything is fine with you and thank you again for traveling along with us!

“Happy 50th Anniversary” – by Debbie Ambrous

Today is our 50th wedding anniversary!  Yes, I admit that Jim and I are that old, well Jim is anyway.  Since he will be reading this, I must confess that I am two months older than he is.  I needed those two months to catch up to speed, put up with him and stay cool and collected with Jim as husband in this fifty-year marriage.   We are very happy, but we have had more than our share of troubles, grief, sadness, worries, pain and anxiety!  Patience, a sense of humor, commitment, hope and solid faith kept us together!   Words cannot express the thanks due to family and friends for their help and love.

Now that you know that we are not perfect, I will go on with the story.  You say I am repeating the obvious??!  With the big 50 approaching, I searched for someplace in the mountains, or by the ocean, that didn’t require a ton of money and wouldn’t be crawling with people.  I was getting nowhere in total exasperation with my anniversary travel search, and I whined to Jim:  “Why did we ever get married in July?”  In bewilderment he said, “I don’t know but if it was a bad idea, it must have been mine!”  Jim apparently subscribes to the theory that it is usually best to confess the truth right away.  His mom did a great job!

(Photo left of the words on the reverse of his graduation photo which Jim gave to me in high school.)

 

 

 

Moms and Dads are not fully appreciated by their children until much, much later.  Our middle daughter sent a Hallmark card with very true sentiments:

Children seldom understand the trials their parent’s face, the dreams deferred, or sacrifices made until one day when they are grown with grown-up choices, too, and realize the debt they can’t repay.”

As for Jim and I, we would only hope for strong children following a path of truth and integrity.  (The photos in the collage are quite old, but full of memories.)Now, about that beautiful, peaceful place for our anniversary, I never found the place!  So, we are saving for another cooler, less crowded and less expensive time.  We did find a fun place to visit this week in Birmingham after a doctor visit – the zoo!  Doesn’t that sound like an ideal place for us?  No, they didn’t chase after us with a butterfly net, thinking we were escaping when we rushed to the car.  But here is a surprise, since we arrived at the end of the day our senior rate was only half of the normal priceI don’t know what we will be doing today on our anniversary, but we will try to find fun even though we can’t fly to Paris, Bordeaux, Marseilles or Montreal.  The story below is a re-post of the second story shown on the French Opportunity website, another “Anniversary” story.  The pictures were somehow lost, so I have added a few.  This month is an anniversary for my blog.  I have now written and posted stories and photographs for FIVE YEARS!  The first story was posted on July 18, 2012.

July 24, 2012 – Sleeping later than usual on Sunday, I found Chef Jim in the kitchen with a hot griddle cooking Belgian waffles.  Butter, Nutella and Bonne Maman raspberry preserves, all favorites of mine, were already on the table along with a folded piece of paper beside my plate.  When we were seated for our superb breakfast with hot coffee on the table, I opened the paper and saw it was a “Happy Anniversary” note he had created with different fonts and colors.

I gushed over his note and artwork, and Jim said: “I was worried that you would think it looked more like a graffiti ransom note and expect it to say, ‘Here’s Jim’s right toe.  Leave all you got by the creek bank if you ever want your Chef back.’”  I promised him that it would be worth it to have his cooking.  I noticed a P.S. on the paper: “It isn’t easy to find a card in this little town of Opp unless it’s your birthday, or you’re feeling sickly or recently died.”  Then I knew why I had the artwork/graffiti paper by my plate instead of the usual Hallmark anniversary greeting.

As if this wasn’t enough for a lady on her anniversary, Jim had promised to tag along for some antiquing in Florala, a short drive down the road south from Opp.  I was on a mission to get blue Mason canning jars for my good friend Elizabeth.  We drove on down in our red Jeep with our air conditioner blasting on our hot anniversary day to: Warehouse Market Mall, 23380 Fifth Avenue, Florala, Alabama

An old washtub planted with yellow flowers welcomed us at the doorway, and homemade birdhouses swung on a post.  A gourd birdhouse painted with blue flowers had the most curb appeal. The storefront seems small, but once inside the displays just go on forever. Bored husbands and children can wait in a seating area and play checkers.

Anniversary present suggestion for Chef Jim:  Honey for my Belgian waffles and buttered biscuits.

I knew the display I wanted, so I moved quickly to the shelves of blue canning jars, some with lids and some without their lids that rusted away, or were lost long ago. I found four with lids for Elizabeth, my friend in Florida, and I called to report the happy news to her right away.

Cobalt blue Milk of Magnesia glass bottles were shining under the shop lights on another shelf along with tiny bright blue Vicks jars.  Yesterday’s medicine bottles are today’s designer accessories.  I thought Elizabeth would like the dark blue bottles, and I was considering some for myself when Jim read my mind and said: “Are you really going to buy Milk of Magnesia bottles?”“I think the bright blue will be pretty on the secretary in the bedroom with the blue toile curtains, I explained.”   I wonder, do they have Milk of Magnesia in France?

 

Jim threatened, “Wait till your mama hears that you paid $5.00 for a Milk of Magnesia bottle!”        “Now, just a minute here!  My mama is not hearing anything about this!  Besides, she would only be puzzled as to why I paid $5.00 for an empty Milk of Magnesia bottle.” 

Thanks for joining us!  We love y’all!

“Quirky and Odd” – by Debbie Ambrous

November, 2016Quirky photo opportunities and odd stories are always on my list when we travel through towns and villages.  I hit the jackpot in Taninges, a small town in the heart of the Giffre valley on the Route des Grandes Alpes north of Cluses, France.  Traveling from Samoëns, at the edge of Taninges, Jim and I found one of the most unusual brocantes we have ever experienced.  Old cable cars lined the rear of the property and the warehouse interior was crammed with oddities and quirky objects with a capital “Q”. Do you need an antique bicycle, a Royal Butterbean jar or a sign for Pile Wonder? What about mounted heads of antelope, water buffalo, boar or pheasant, enough to claim you went on safari?  It’s all there including a creepy-looking, huge ceramic Snow White.

The photos should tell the story, but a visit there could leave your head spinning.

We traveled through Taninges on our way to other areas of interest with frequent stops at their nice, modern grocery on the west side of town.  But the turn at the center of town to the north with a curving, narrow road had the next point of interest for me.  The tourism office information said I should look for the Sainte-Anne chapel and hear the merry tinkling of the 40 bells of the carillon, but there was no mention of Batman on top of a cable car When our car swept along the winding road with the village houses and church below, we were amazed to see the sunlight gleaming on the superhero, protector of Gotham City – Batman!  Taninges has its own Dark Knight, caped crusader at the northern side of town on a red polka-dot cable car.  I wonder if Adam West knew about this.  I grabbed quick shots through the car window and then returned later on foot.  You must thank me for trekking up the hill with no sidewalk!  I stood by the guardrail shooting photos as motorcycles roared uphill. Jim, my famous good guy, stood safely by the barn on the other side waiting to rescue Cat Woman from any danger.  Yeah, you can see that, can’t you?  Signs pointed to the Chartreuse de Mélan. In 1285, Beatrix de Faucigny chose Mélan to found the convent that would house her tomb and that of her son.  She gave the property to a community of Carthusian nuns.  For 500 years the nuns maintained Mélan, but after the turmoil of the Revolution it was turned into a school which continued under other directors until 1806.  In 1923 it became an orphanage which was destroyed by fire in 1967.  The remaining buildings are the church in Gothic style and the adjoining cloisters built in 1530.

The two buildings are strikingly severe with no ornamental carving.  However, the contemporary art fills the surrounding park with quirkiness and oddity, refreshing and uplifting for any traveler. 

I was amused to see the statue with the outstretched hands seeming to greet visitors with a big “Hi” despite the indignity of being cleaned when I was there.

Instantly, I remembered the French movie Bienvenue à Marly-Gomont (The African Doctor) which we watched a few days earlier (movie is available on Netflix, sub-titled in English).  The giant friendly hand of the statue reminded me of the gracious doctor’s wife.  The Congolese doctor, Seyolo Zantoko, had turned down the opportunity to be the physician to the President in his own country.  He wanted to avoid corruption and consequently moved his family to a small French village.   Dr. Zantoko’s wife Anne and the children struggle in the rural village which is lacking the excitement of city life, far from their Paris expectations.  Anne reaches out to the locals with a big smile and friendly greetings and they gape and laugh at her like she has three heads and say in French what translates to “Holy Kamoley” in the sub-titles on our television screen.  Afterward, she rushes around saying “Holy Kamoley” in greetings to everyone, but they continue to stare at her like she just landed from another planet .  The movie was good entertainment and it had some excellent lessons in it as well.  You will feel compassion especially for their children.

The bench built for giants had an even more expansive view, and the skaters reminded us to go easy on the French pastries!More red polka-dots were on display on the street just past the bicyclist with a begonia sweater.  Totally quirky stuff popped up around every corner, but past all of this was a cemetery without entertaining objects.  I was near to tears when I saw an elderly gentleman walking from one grave site to another, no doubt remembering his friends and family.  We found one grave marker for the family Ambroise, which we believe is the name in part of Jim’s ancestry.

 

Taninges is worth a visit for more than the grocery store.  I hope you have an opportunity to find its charm and interesting culture.

However, we never found a way to use the telephone in the center of town.  Let us know if you find any other quirkiness when you visit.

 

 

Keep your hand outstretched in friendliness with a big “Hole Kamoley” or a better greeting wherever you go.  You never know what quirky experiences you may have!

I enjoy hearing from you! Thanks for your comments.  Perhaps you travel with me like Ava does in the morning before her reality begins.  I loved your descriptive message, Ava!

You can read more about France in the book “A French Opportunity” during your warm summer days.  Perhaps you would like to CLICK over to check it out.

“Our Street” – by Debbie Ambrous

October, 2016Our street is an atmospheric lane assigned a road number with no acknowledgement that I have any attachment, much less any claim to mention that it is our street – mine and Jim’s.  I do not need legal papers prepared in triplicate, signed and witnessed to mark this street as mine to share with you and especially, my partner in life, Jim.  The community of homes, people and surrounding vista of fields and mountains still remains as a memory, a road that Jim and I can travel anytime when we say, “Do you remember the ancient wooden wagon by the barn on our street?”  Maybe the street will change in coming years, but I hope not too much. Before I take too many right and left turns, or stops at junctions on our street I will explain the location for you.  If you have read earlier blog stories, you will know about the stunning and comfortable barn remodel called La Ruche in Samoëns, France, where Jim and I spent an idyllic autumn.  We explored the area each day, seeing Mont Blanc, waterfalls and lakes.  No matter how exquisite the scenery on our daily jaunts, we felt happy to return to our street for a walk after dinner, or perhaps we started our day with a meander to see what was happening.  What would we see that we missed on our last walk?  The weather cast a different light on the barns, fields and mountains with misty haze on some mornings and then golden rays in the late afternoon.  Each day had its own special magic.Diamond-shaped pieces of wood framed windows and the balcony of one house.  My daddy, who owned a cabinet business in Alabama, would have appreciated the simplicity of the decoration. He built cornices with scallops and curves for windows when they were popular.  I still have a faded green cornice with a unique design cut into the wooden edges at the window with lace curtains from France in my laundry room.  Styles come and go so fast, but the wooden houses on the street we claimed as ours are standing firm in tradition with watering troughs in the front yard embellished with dates from the 1800’s.  Now, that isn’t something you can pick up at Ikea. A rusty, crumpled sign advertised Formica.  Do you remember when colorful kitchen counter tops everywhere had Formica?  Another style gone away in favor of granite and other new products, but the sign reminds me of my childhood when Daddy had sheets of the material in his shop and samples on chains for ladies to select.  Would they go wild with orange, or classy with fake marble?  I built a Roman amphitheater, using fake marble Formica samples for an eighth-grade class assignment.  Now, after you stop laughing at my grandiose creation, try to imagine it assembled on a piece of plywood, built in tiers with an open field for the gladiators.  You must admit that a small town girl who can build a classic Roman structure from Formica is likely to succeed and go places!  Jim wasn’t in my school class and he didn’t know anything about my contribution to the fall of Rome when he married me, but he says it sure explains a lot about me now.When we walked along our street from La Ruche we kept seeing new places for firewood storage under the long, sloping eaves and other ingenious storage solutions.  We were looking high under the eaves one day and saw an old motorcycle stored with the firewood. 

Benches were near the front door at almost every house, built sturdy to last a long time in the weather.  They looked heavy, probably weighing much more than I do.  No smart comments out there!  I didn’t see a one that I disliked, and I kept wishing with each artisan’s bench that I could take hand-crafted woodwork home with me.

Gardens with the autumn crop of vegetables growing in dark, loamy soil attracted me as much as a candy store. Onions, garlic and zucchini fresh from the garden would be packed with nutrition and delicious.  I wanted to get my hands in the soil to dig and plant.  The flowers trailing from window boxes and arranged along stairways reminded me of my window boxes and flower pots on my Alabama steps, so many that my guests can hardly find a place to climb to my doorway. Hearts were everywhere: cutouts of hearts in the timber framing of houses, hearts carved in barn doors, woven straw hearts, hearts on window curtains and painted red hearts on watering cans. 

How could this not bring a smile to the face of even the toughest character?  Red apples bobbing on trees and the trickle of fountains along the street added to the peacefulness.  We saw more tractors parked near the front door than BMW’s.  Bicycles zipped along the lane with families riding along together.  A gray-headed lady whizzed past and I felt like shouting an encouraging: “Go Granny, Go!” 

 

Roosters, hens, sheep and cows warily kept an eye on us when we said our greetings in English.  Jim had some advice for the cows when he spread a tasty picnic lunch in the sunshine on a lovely day at La Ruche.  The aroma of our delicious food was quickly overtaken by the odor of cow patties drifting our way from the fields.  We stayed at the table as long as we could and hoped the wine would overpower our senses and drown the disgusting odor, but nothing could conquer the stench of the cow’s revenge for my daily photography.  When we stacked our picnic goodies and went through the sliding glass door, Jim had a final word for the cattle: “I’m buying a Sam’s Club-sized package of Imodium for you cows, and then we can have our picnic!

Another couple down the street from us had a lovely picnic spread at their front door when we passed along on our walk.  On the return, I noticed that she was napping on a lounge chair.  Another peaceful memory that I claim for our street

I hope you enjoyed the short stroll with us.  You can visit and claim the peaceful lane for your street.  Just CLICK to Alps Accommodations where they are ever so helpful!!

I have another truly delicious recommendation for you.  We were recently in Columbus, Georgia and found a French bakery that is to die for!!

You will think you went through the front door of a Georgia brick business building and landed in France.  Just below the Eiffel Tower you will find wonderful, flaky croissants and other scrumptious pastries, fresh and perfect.  Did I mention the coffee?  Oh, just get in your car and get on over to My Boulánge, 111 12th Street, Suite 101, Columbus, GA 31901 !!  Special thanks to the owner, Bruno Rizzo, for a beautiful beginning for our morning with pastries and coffee that I wish I could taste every day!

You can read more about travel in France in the book “A French Opportunity”  (Kindle or paper back) during your warm summer days.  Perhaps you would like to CLICK over to check it out.  Thank you for taking the time to come around to visit us.  I love to see your comments!

All recommendations are unsolicited with no payment received for my glowing reports.  All photos are the property of Debbie Ambrous.

“Europe in Florida” – by Debbie Ambrous

May, 2017All things French usually appears on this blog page with only an occasional foray into various themes and subjects.  I believe you will agree that Vizcaya Museum & Gardens is an enchanting, extravagant estate which could grace the shores of the Mediterranean and easily seem part of all things French.  Let’s take a peek inside and outside, but first, allow me to share a little background.

A few weeks ago husband Jim and I took the long way around Florida starting on the east coast and traveling down to Coconut Grove, Florida, our old neighborhood where we enjoyed living for fourteen years among the tropical foliage with peacocks squawking in the trees and strutting down the streets like they owned the neighborhood.   The architecture of the homes varied from small cottages to jaw-dropping gorgeous mansions, with styles ranging from Tudor to Mediterranean.  I loved the walks, bike rides and my personal nest in a wicker chair on the balcony surrounded by brilliant orchids and shaded by a massive flamboyant tree.  I miss my tree house perch and all that flowed around it, the sweet friends that we met and the Cuban food we learned to enjoy with them.  But that was far from the only cuisine we enjoyed since every type food imaginable is there to sample, including a favorite French restaurant, Le Bouchon, which has been described as “Paris in the Palms.”

We drove the streets of our old neighborhood and we found the beautiful homes and the lush gardens remained much the same, but to our disappointment we saw one of the most beautiful, a historic home had been razed to the ground, scraping the beautiful flowers that I admired so many times into a dead, brown heap.  We learned later that a multiplex will be built there, likely modern cube-like construction like several other homes that we saw, painted stark white.  I don’t disapprove of modern construction, but it would be a shame for this unique neighborhood to lose its ambiance.  I knew in advance that where we had lived was being remodeled; I hope for betterment and not any further spoiling of this special place.

Now, I will hush with my complaints and go on with my Europe in Florida theme to share the palatial home and gardens that was only a bike ride from my tree house perch in Coconut Grove.  We escorted friends and family as their personal tour guides many times.  Thanks to our lovely friends Alan and Cathi, we attended a special, lavish gala in the evening, with Vizcaya glittering at its best.  I don’t remember the circumstances but our attendance was a last-minute affair.  I was still working on my makeup and adjusting my long, flouncy organza skirt and silky top, both in midnight black, as Jim drove there and parked.  Nonetheless, I felt like a princess for the evening in the moonlight, strolling where real movie stars, billionaires, the Pope and Presidents stepped with their expensive, designer shoes.

Our visit was in the heat this time in mid-May, wearing cotton casual and in my case a sunhat for an exploration of the dream home and gardens brought to life by the industrialist, James Deering.  Deering enlisted 1,000 workers in 1914 to create this 70-plus room mansion and gardens.  Deering along with his design partner Paul Chalfin scoured Europe for furnishings, antiques and paintings. Gilded panels, carved mantels and fresco ceilings from Tuscany and France appear in the rooms, amazing visitors at every turn.

The Tea Room has sleek marble floors, reflecting a rainbow of light, beaming through stained glass doors, but on the day I visited a group of school students sat on the floor listening to the teacher.  So, I didn’t see the rainbow of color on the marble floors, but I hoped the students absorbed appreciation of what they were privileged to tour and would develop an outlook for conserving beauty like this in the Grove.

I loved all of it from the Breakfast Room with Chinese ceramics and Neapolitan seascapes on the walls to the kitchen with brilliant copper pans.  If you visit, be sure to see the small room with glass cabinets filled with French china.  I have a few pieces, but nothing like this stunning collection.

I must agree with other writers about the mansion and gardens who have said that any trip to Vizcaya would be incomplete without a tour of its Edenic grounds.  Since we visited in the mid-day heat, we searched for shady areas in the gardens.  The Formal Gardens are not unlike Versailles with the mesmerizing, geometric patterns, lush mazes and classical statues, but the unique features of Vizcaya shine through with tropical surroundings of palms, rare orchids and Cuban limestone.

There is a hint of the Miami skyline from the water’s edge and at the highest elevation of the garden.  You will not forget that you are in Florida! 

We found another reminder of Florida in the creeping, crawling, big, ugly kind.  A large iguana was sunning at water’s edge, marking its territory as tourists clicked their cameras at the celebrity of the hour.

My favorite section in the garden is The David A. Klein Orchidarium where rows of vibrant Vandas and rare Cymbidiums dangle overhead.  Wind whipped the blooms when we were there, so it was difficult to get my photography accomplished without blurry images.  I saw people reaching and holding the blooms.  I am proud to say that I did not touch the orchids anymore than I touched the iguana!!We had lunch in the café on the grounds in a cozy setting.  We had Mahi-mahi with fries, and I couldn’t resist a Cuban coconut pastry.  Just for old times’ sake!  Such wonderful memories!

James Deering officially took residence in 1916 with an elaborate ceremony complete with gondolas, cannons and Deering’s friends dressed in Italian peasant costumes.  It is easy to envision this scene at the waterfront, minus the iguana, with gondolas bobbing in the bay and laughing guests celebrating in a grand style.  Deering lived there during the winter months until his death in 1925.  His stay and visit at Vizcaya was too short.  What a remarkable legacy he left behind!I hope you enjoyed our visit to Europe in Florida.  As you can imagine, there is a wealth of history to delve into if you so desire to search further on your own.  I have only tip-toed over the high spots.

Thank you for coming along with us.  Next time I should return to all things French, like usual, unless something special happens!  Take care and I do hope you are enjoying your summer.  I love hearing from you.  Just jot a line below to leave a comment on this story and share your thoughts along with other readers.

You can read more about Coconut Grove and France in the book “A French Opportunity” during your warm summer days maybe in a personal nest like the retreat I had in Florida.

 

Perhaps you would like to CLICK over to check out the book partially composed on this very balcony!

“Abondance or Abundance” – by Debbie Ambrous

October 30, 2016 – The road to Abondance, or Abundance, is narrow and curving like a slinky toy slung out of control.  Or, at least that is the way it appeared on our GPS map in the rental car as a continuous loop of switchbacks spread out before us, with superb scenery all around. Abundance of the real satisfactory kind with heaps of happiness, all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of food, glowing health in every pore of the body and satisfaction of every need seems to be out there off the map in the same manner as our roadway, especially without a good GPSPardon the comparison, but it was just too easy to see that one coming.

Abondance lives up to its name, situated in a splendid position along the banks of a mountain stream with mountains encircling the alpine village.  A towering structure assembled with brightly colored skis and topped with a red cable car carrying a cow welcomed us at the edge of town.  The artistic statue said more than any brochure, setting the scene where skiers and cows are equally welcome in abundance.We were there in the autumn, but it was easy to imagine the snow caps on the summits, the meadows blanked in white and a fire warming us snug and comfy inside one of the charming chalets with lace curtains in the windows.  The town lies in the French Alps just south of Lake Geneva.  The people are referred to as AbondanciersNow, it would be worth living here to be called an Abondancier.  The village is small and quiet with several bars, hotels, restaurants and a lively Sunday morning market which we missed.  They were just clearing away when we arrived.During the 2006-2007 ski season the ski resort in Abondance shut down due to lack of snow, and the town lost money.  However, the resort reopened in 2009 and has remained open since.  Summer attracts visitors with the walking, history and outdoor activities.  Abondance has given its name to a variety of cheese made in the region and a breed of cattle which produces the milk for the AOC label cheese.  A hundred liters (26 ½ gallons) of milk are required to make one cheese that weighs between seven (15 lbs.) and twelve (26 lbs) kilos. I found a recipe which you may like.  No Abondance cheese available?  Why not experiment with a different cheese for a nice dish?   

Berthoud Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced in half
  • 1 lb. Abondance cheese, rind removed, cut into small cubes
  • 4 Tbsp. dry white wine
  • Few drops Madeira wine
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh baguette, for serving, optional
  • Assorted charcuterie, for serving, optional

Directions:

Equipment: 4 small ramekins     Preheat the broiler to low heat; Rub the inside of each ramekin with garlic and then fill the ramekins halfway with the cheese.  Add 1 tablespoon of the white wine and a drop of Madeira to each ramekin.  Sprinkle with pepper.  Place the ramekins on the top shelf of the oven and broil until the cheese is melted and the tops are golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes.

Serve with a fresh baguette and some charcuterie, if desired.

The abundant cows in the Abondance valley stay in the stables in the winter, munching on hay and waiting for the skiers to go home so they can claim the summer pastures in the high mountains.  They must feel the same quality of abundance as the Abondanciers of humankind as they wear their cowbells and graze peacefully in the mountains.  There are forty farms in the Abondance valley producing the yummy cheese and you can buy directly from the farmer, another fun thing to do.

Husband Jim and I didn’t have the cheese recipe while we were in Abondance.  Our lunch menu was much more familiar: hamburger and frites (fries).  While we were waiting at our table another couple near our age had their servings of frites arrive before ours.  My hungry eyes must have shown how anxious I was to dig into lunch because the nice gentleman offered some of his crispy, warm French fries to me.  I declined, but he just insisted.  How could I refuse?  We tried to communicate in English, French and sign language.   I was amused when the lady reached and cleaned her husband’s glasses, smiling and mock scolding him.  We have a reversal of roles in our household.  Jim cleans my glasses and always has eyeglass cleaner with him, even in France.  I recently used the cleaner on ant bites when I didn’t have anything handy in the car.  It worked!Susie, the chef, brought our extra tall hamburgers, packed with good stuff including a fried egg!  Have you ever eaten a hamburger with fried egg?  It was very good.  So, next time you are concocting your hamburger with extras, follow the Susie recipe and add an egg.  Don’t hold back! Add crispy bacon for your own Abondonce Burger, but don’t do this every day or you will be as big as an Abondance cow!  My compliments to Susie, the chef extraordinaire!  She and the couple beside us kept my card.  I do hope they are still looking at the blog to know how special they made our meal in Abondance.

I do hope you keep coming around to the blog!  Where else will you find abundance?  How will you know about hamburgers and fried egg?  How will you know the many uses for eye glass cleaner? There’s more to come.  Although, I do admit to being lazy and enjoying my summer with many other activities and missing a few weeks of blog-writing while I’m having fun.

 

We are ever so proud of our beautiful granddaughter, Hanna, who just graduated from high school.  We traveled to Florida recently to see the graduation and visit with friends there and on the way.

Thanks ever so much for traveling with us.  Ya’ll come back!!   Perhaps you would like to CLICK to check out the book “A French Opportunity” available in paperback and Kindle. 

“On Lake Geneva” – by Debbie Ambrous

Flower-filled streets where we could wander past medieval fourteenth-century fortifications, through either of the two gateways to the castle and its massive square keep flanked by turrets were quite enough to entice us into the car for an hour’s journey from our rental house in Samoëns, France to Yvoire.

The charming, small village of Yvoire is splendidly poised on the shores of Lake Geneva, or Lac Leman if you are searching on a French map.  Views of the crescent-shaped lake spread below the village forming France’s largest lake at 44.7 miles long.  On the map, you will notice the lake is shared with Switzerland.  Fishing boats, elegant restored paddle steamers and sailboats cross the lake which resembles a small sea.  Several lighthouses are along water’s edge, and when the wind gets up possibly causing storms with waves several feet high, these lighthouses are helpful.  Other towns, some with old palaces and thermal spas line the lake.But our destination was the tiny village of Yvoire with a population of 875 inhabitants.  That’s our style.  There was only one problem, heavy fog obscured the view and blanketed much of the beautiful color.  Husband Jim and I were not discouraged since it was early in our trip to France.  Our allotted days were still numerous in our travel bank, like blank checks waiting to be cashed for fun and excitement in future days if this one was ho-hum.  Isn’t that true of life, especially when one is young with many choices?  If one decision doesn’t work out, there’s always time to correct the direction.  When the days dwindle, or the cash in the bank dwindles on the travel journey of life, the way is more hazardous.  Now, how did I wander off on this foggy, dark pathway?Charting a different course, we were happy to see the imposing castle on the shore which is closed to the public, but the exterior wasn’t closed to my camera.  The streets of the ancient village were lined with interesting shops, art galleries and restaurants.  The silver onion-domed Eglise St-Pancrace (14C-19C) crowned the sky brilliantly.  A beautiful stained glass window and a painting of Jesus learning the carpentry trade caught my attention inside.

The Jardin des Cinq Sens was not open when we were there, I’m sorry to say.  The former kitchen garden of the castle has been turned into a reconstruction of a medieval enclosed garden with vegetables and herbs.  Check the website for times and dates.

I found a classy lady on the corner of the street at an intersection by an art gallery with many crystal objects.  The exterior flower boxes were brimming with colorful, crystal flowers.  I had an animated one-sided conversation with the inanimate lady about her bright ensemble, and which diets we currently ignored Around the corner and down the hill, ferries departed to Nyon, but that could wait for a day with sunshine and blue skies.  A thrift store was a few miles away with the doors opening soon, which I planned to enter, but that story is for another dayWe left the lake with the graceful swans and the dogs walking with their owners, enjoying the peacefulness of few visitors, unlike the crowded streets in peak season.  Oh, we are ever so smart, aren’t we?

The un-cashed check in our travel bank with the sunny logo appeared near the end of our trip, and we rushed to spend it like a shopaholic with a travel fixation.  This time, Jim and I were greeted by donkeys in a field near the edge of the parking lot.

Their gaze seemed to say, “Oh, it’s you again!” We had the same vague reaction when we asked for directions at the tourist office. 

 

 

A sign at the bottom of the lane which led from the parking lot had hand-written wording: “Love is not so dead.”  Take courage.  Love is very much alive!  Not all folks are donkeys.

We lapped up the gorgeous views, basking in the sunshine, but the winds whipped the waters and splashed my legs when I walked on the rocks around the sailboats.  I worried about slipping, or damaging my camera, so I went back to dry land where pirates seemed to watch our every move. 

Three young boys darted along the pier with their fishing rods and tackle box.  Oh, I nearly died watching them scramble on the huge boulders by the deep water.

I wondered if their mothers had any idea what they were doing! I realize that my own children did stuff just as scary that I know about, and I hope I never ever know about any other. We wandered around, people-watching, seeing a mother pushing a baby in a stroller and calling to her little boy to hurry up and stop dawdling around.  Two adorable young girls in matching pink jackets rushed along with family.  Up above the street, a young man was in a bucket crane installing new lights along the street.  We checked all of the restaurants and decided on one for our trade, possibly based on the number of bright yellow chrysanthemums lighting the patio and windowsills

There are so many more discoveries on this lake and millions more on the waterways of the world.

I hope my travel bank of potential experiences keeps a good balance for me and my dearest travel companion, Jim.

We may sound like Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda with our way of banter, but we have our version of “On Golden Pond” which we played on Lake Geneva, and hope to continue performing.

I kept saying we would go to Lake Geneva, and now we have.  There’s more to come.  Thanks ever so much for traveling with us.

Ya’ll come back!!

 

Arthur says, “A French Opportunity” is a great lakeside, beach-side and backyard read.  Order a copy quickly!!”  Arthur may be pot-headed, but he knows a good thing when he sees it.

“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

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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.