Epilogue — One Journey Ends, Another Begins

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Although details of this journey may fade from memory over time, I will not forget what made this experience so exceptional. Or, I should say, “who.”

Scott and Alex

Those who know my son, Scott, and daughter-in-law, Alex, know how special they are. I am so proud of them both and feel so lucky to be part of their lives. However, it is one thing to spend family time together on holidays and visits, but to invite me on their annual six-week trip to France … well, that was unbelieveable! I would not have considered such a trip on my own, or extended my time to three months like I did, without their love and support. Thank you Scott and Alex!

Family

Time spent with the Noiret family, especially the grandparents, gave me such a wonderful education on French life (and cuisine). I appreciated their kindness and generosity in doing all they could to make my visit memorable — even making accommodations for me when I took ill. Alex’s father and her siblings welcomed me, unconditionally, which made me feel part of the family. Thank you, my new French family!

I was so pleased to be able to take Scott on a side trip to Lithuania to meet his great-grandmother’s family. They welcomed us with open arms and did all they could to make Scott’s visit memorable, sharing family history and culture. Thank you, our Lithuanian family!

The People of France

When I generalize by saying “people,” I am referring to everyone along the journey who I came in contact with — even if not French. (Including the Lithuanian people.) Whether a waiter, tourist, tram rider, massage therapist, hair stylist, salesperson or British pub owner … they all were part of my trip and experience living in France.

img_5888I have to mention my AirB&B host Jasmin who is a professional musician. What I most appreciate about Jasmin is that he was willing to rent out his place for seven weeks, while others would not. Although he was often on tour and out of the country, he did manage to stop by the first week with a new espresso machine for me!

Before this trip, I had heard French people don’t really like Americans. However, that was not my experience. EVERYONE was so kind and helpful to me. The people are proud of their country and want you to appreciate it as they do. When I had to ask if someone spoke English, often the response was a head shake, “non.” But, as we continued the conversation, they were soon talking in some limited English, just like my limited French! Communication was not a big problem; they appreciated my trying to speak their language. The most common question asked was what I thought of Trump. My facial expression was always easily understood — in any language!

Finally, it is impossible to recognize each person who played a role in this journey (I should have taken more pictures!). Here are just a few of those folks. Merci! A bientôt!

 

 

 

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Final Thoughts on Bordeaux Life

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Visiting Bordeaux and living there are two distinctly different experiences. As tourists, most people spend a limited time in the city and push to see as much as possible in less than a week. When you actually live in the community, you get a different perspective, understanding you shouldn’t really schedule big events every day. Instead, you have shopping and laundry to schedule and need time to just kick back and watch Netflix and CNN.

In the seven weeks I resided in the city, I learned to appreciate some wonderful aspects of my “neighborhood.”

Within my block, there was everything I needed. From the corner Carefour market to the Colorit shop for nails. One of the best French restaurants was just downstairs; L’Escorial is only open from noon to 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Customers “in the know” pack the place at those hours. I was fortunate to hear about it from my British friends.

The Opera Patisserie was my favorite neighborhood stop for coffee and the VERY BEST “fondant chocolat.” Yes, it became addictive and I know in my heart I will never find anything in comparison to it in the U.S. (It may be responsible for a few extra pounds here and there!)

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5F9C56F0-4E4B-4121-AC03-3D5EC7DF6D17Bordeaux is a city of markets, whether farmers, antiques or even books. Just a block south of the apartment, a book fair popped up on a regular basis. It was always interesting to browse through the titles, as well as old record albums. On one morning, I was especially pleased to see Hillary’s book, “Mon histoire,” on sale — only 3 Euros! At a “pop up” antique market, I was thrilled to find several handkerchiefs (which will be added to my fairly large collection).

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I was impressed with the number of residents who choose two-wheeled transportation. The streets are narrow and busy, so bycicles and motorcycles are a popular option to the auto. And, the city makes parking accommodations available for them, everywhere.

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There is so much “hardscape” in the city with blocks of stone buildings, archways and monuments. That’s why it was such a pleasant and welcome surprise to come across Jordin Public Garden in the center of old city Bordeaux. It was created in 1746 on nearly 30 acres of green space and features a pond, children’s playground and small theatre for the “famous” French Guignol Guérin puppet show. Unfortunately, the Natural History Museum on the perimeter of the park was closed for renovation on the day of my visit. Even so, it was so nice to take a break from the busy streets outside and enjoy a walk in the park.

Thanks to the wonderful staff of the Office de Tourisme et des Congrès de Bordeaux Métropole, I experienced so many different adventures in Bordeaux and the surrounding area. They provided me with a wide range of options to customize my visit and truly were my “partner” in helping me make the most of my time there. Even the tourism staff in Bergerac were anxious to help me explore their community.

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My last Bordeaux “adventure” was attending the opening night of l’Opéra de Bordeaux at the magnificent Grand Théâtre (1780). At the intermission of “La vie Parisienne,” which included dancers from le Ballet de l’Opéra de Bordeaux, the audience was invited outside for a dance performance in the historic square. It was a magical evening and the perfect ending to my time in Bordeaux!

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What I Know, Now — Part Three

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Train Travel

Who knew traveling by train could be so easy, efficient and affordable? I didn’t, but I do now. It did take me awhile to feel comfortable with the process and not pressured to find my train’s assigned track when it’s announced only 15 minutes before departure. To Scott, a seasoned traveler in France, it was so simple. I just needed some practice, on my own. Once you’ve mastered it, and your destinations have UBER (which many did) and local bus/tram systems, you don’t really need a car! (However, riding backwards is still strange.)

One bit of advice: pay the extra 8-15 Euros for first class; the charging outlets, tray tables and upholstered reclining seats are worth it!

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In France, “fast food” may be fast, but it has no resemblance to the cuisine of American fast food. And, that’s a good thing. (C’est bon!)

Wash Clothes

Is a wash cloth just an American “thing?” I noticed on my Lithuania trip three years ago (and this summer) there are no wash clothes among the towels offered. In France this summer, it has been similar. (Maybe in most hotels catering to Americans it is not the case.)

What I did notice at the Noiret households were traditional rectangular wash “mittens” with a little loop near one end to hang on a hook next to the sink. (Hand model, Alex Noiret.) I saw them at some of the markets in smaller towns. They are so cute AND functional.

Tiny Sinks

I’ve never seen so many “tiny” sinks (about 6 x 12 inches). The basin will only fit about one of my hands; tight with two. They appear in the tiny toilettes of restaurants and other businesses located in the historical neighborhoods. Perhaps due to limited space in older buildings that were not built for the size of modern bathrooms, plumbing was installed with these small-scale fixtures. However, I noticed them in what we call a “half bath” for guests in the Noiret homes. Even though individual rooms had average-size sinks and toilets, in the hallway there is door to a very tiny space only wide enough for a toilet, one guest and a tiny sink (just like the ones I used in many of the public restrooms. It doesn’t encourage you to spend much time there — but that’s ok.

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Street “Art” of Bordeaux

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Art, in many forms, blots the cityscape of Bordeaux. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to visit the numerous art museums and galleries, you can find an ample selection of creative works on the street.

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One of the first art pieces I noticed when first visiting Bordeaux with Scott was a 23-foot tall cast-iron sculpture of a human head by Jaume Plensa, a Spanish artist and sculptor.

While the Plensa installation draws your immediate attention, the “Naked Men of Bordeaux” may go unnoticed as you move through the crowded streets. British sculpture Antony Gormley exhibited 16 identical bronze statues throughout the city as part of the 2017 Bordeaux Métropole Cultural Season, “Paysages” (Landscapes). Each is about 1,500 pounds and sealed to the ground. It was especially fun to see one at the train station!

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My FAVORITE street art moment was this black and white photo mounted on a fence with the contrast of the bright green landscape of Jordin Public Garden behind it. One of several installations surrounding the park, it seemed so simple, but it took my breath away.

An example of “live” art would have to be these two street performers I see on a pretty regular basis. Always interesting to watch … the people who watch them.

Walking through a quaint little neighborhood, away from the more popular tourist spots, I suddenly noticed I was walking on white lettering. It was intentional and thought-provoking. In my best translation, it said something like, “The journey is part of the dream.” Then, a block farther, another phrase, “Light, illumination, shadows, reflections, color, all these objects are not quite real; they are only visual, like the phantoms of existence.” And the last message, “Renewal, lement.” I’m not sure why these messages appeared, but I appreciated the fact it made me stop and think. Now, that is street (or sidewalk) art!

When Scott and I first arrived in Bordeaux, we took a city tour and our bus drove by this striking blue lion sculpture by Xavier Veilhan at Place Stalingrad. It seemed so out of place. But, what I find so unique about this city is the mixture of new and ancient — in both its architecture and its art.

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In Search of a Castle — Bergerac, Dordogne

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A day-trip to a smaller community in the countryside is what I needed after the hustle and bustle of city life in Bordeaux. Perhaps, I could find a castle to explore before returning home (where we are sorely lacking in castles).

As I researched options, I identified an eastern route along the Dordogne River where there are many lovely little towns, including Sarlat-la-Canéda. It was the “end of the line” for the train, but I learned work on the tracks would only allow me to go half way there — to Bergerac — requiring a bus to go any farther. That’s how destiny determined I would visit Bergerac!

Classified as a town of “Art and History,” Bergerac is a 90-minute train ride from Bordeaux and located on the northern bank of the Dordogne River. The Gare de Bergerac (station) is within a short distance from the center of town. Upon arriving at 8:30 a.m., I walked into town for the Wednesday morning marché held outside the 19th century church, l’église Notre-Dame; its high steeple showed me the way. Since I would not be leaving until late afternoon, purchasing (and carrying all day) fresh produce and meats was not practical. But, I did stop for a petit déjeuner (breakfast) of hot chocolate and a croissant.

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From there, I walked south to the river to take a boat trip, or “gabare” up the river. Although I was provided a binder with narration in English, the guide was helpful in speaking directly to me about some points of interest. It was a wonderful experience to feel the breeze off the water, view the wildlife and enjoy a little peacefulness as we passed by small villages and chateaux along the banks.

img_5439It was easy to negotiate the narrow medieval streets of old town Bergerac in search of the best place for lunch. At the center of old town is the Place Pelissiere, bordered with cafes and restaurants, where I enjoyed an entrecôte (rib steak) lunch and Nutella crepe. I also briefly visited with a couple from Wisconsin sitting at the next table.

At the north end of the square is one of the town’s two statues of Cyrano de Bergerac, a character we all recognize from the play (written in 1897). Although he was real, Cyrano never actually lived in Bergerac; he may never have even visited the town! But, the community embraces the character and his fame.

When I noticed on my map there was a “mini hydro-electric plant” in the neighborhood, I had to go there! Hydropower has been used for producing electricity in France since the end of the 19th century, and advanced in the 1940s as technology improved and the electrical industry was nationalized. Miraculously, when a building was recently demolished, the first power station that supplied the town from 1890 to 1900 was discovered under the ruins. As an Idaho Power retiree, I had to see that!

The Bergerac region has produced quality wines for hundreds of years, including Pecharmant, Saussignac and Monbazillac. The castle, or “château,” I planned to visit also is a winery (so there definitely would be some wine tasting involved).

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The Château de Monbazillac, Dordogne, is a 10-minute taxi ride south of Bergerac (although, I think my taxi driver on the way back to the train station made it in five minutes!). It’s difficult to describe my delight when I saw the castle come into view on the hillside, and then again, when I walked through the stone enclave to see it framed by rows of grape vines. I walked down the pathway with two French couples who asked me to take their photo, then asked where I was from. While in France, I have learned to respond with, “California,” because most don’t know where Idaho is. However, as I clarified I was actually from Boise, Idaho, they became very excited. They had been to Sun Valley on vacation and loved the area; in fact, it had been the topic of discussion over lunch that afternooon!

The renaissance-style castle, a historical monument, dates back to the 16th century and even has a moat. The rooms are decorated as they would have been in those times. I appreciated the evolution of flooring throughout the castle, telling the story of constant change over the centuries.

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I was particularly fascinated by the view from inside the thick stone walls and imagined what it must have been like in those times. There were also art displays and historical exhibits about wine-making in medieval times.

Outside, the panoramic view from that site atop the hill was spectacular. It was interesting to imagine the homes of aristocrats scattered across the landscape below, their families dealing with war, revolution and peasant revolts. But, somehow Monbazillac remained unscathed. The excursion, and day, was complete as I tasted a selection of the château’s wine.

Le Marché des Capucins

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Bouchers, boulangers, poissonniers, charcutiers, volaillers, fromagers, fruits et légumes, chocolatiers, fleuristes and marchands de vin … all under one roof! What could be more perfect? Well … adding restaurants serving food and wine throughout the lunch hour, makes le marché des Capucins especially perfect.

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The most famous market in Bordeaux, its origins go back to 1749, beginning as a weekly market and cattle sale. The name came from the Capuchins, a religious Order of St. Francis (founded in Italy, 1525) who arrived in this Bordeaux district wearing brown robes with a “capuce,” or pointed hood. The “Place des Capucins” became a location where craftsmen settled and generations of shoemakers, carpenters, blacksmiths and other trades flourished. In 1863, the City launched a project to cover the halls, and finally, was able to complete the effort using the remains of two pavilions from the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris. It has received updates over the years, but today, you can still appreciate the history in all that remains.

The Capucins market, only a 5-minute walk from the apartment, is open Tuesday through Sunday at 6 a.m. and closes at 1:30 p.m. except on Saturday and Sunday when it opens a little earlier and closes a bit later. My first visit was on Sunday because I had heard there was a flea market of sorts held at the same time. (But, I now prefer going on a weekday when it is less crowded and with the same wonderful vendors.) I can only buy as much as I can carry in my large reusable shopping bag, so it’s important to have a “plan.” I cruised through the neighborhood of booths and concessions, strategically identifying where best to make my selections before my departure.

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img_4222I decided to first have lunch at the market’s little Tapas restaurant, highly recommended by my British friends. Because it is such a popular place, it was crowded and seating tight. I sat next to Lawrence, a German geologist visiting from Salsberg, Austria, where he works at the university on a project tracking refugee camps with satellite data. It was his last day of a surfing vacation on the west coast and he was catching a train to Paris that afternoon. He and the waitress both assisted me with the process of selecting my meal. There was a wide variety of gourmet tapas, offered buffet-style. You select each item, identifying the price according to the toothpick color (noir, bois, rouge or vert), ranging from 1.50 E to 3.90 E (about $1.79 to $4.65). As you enjoy your meal, you take each toothpick out and place it in a small glass. Your waitress adds up the cost of your meal according to your toothpicks. Brilliant! And, delicious!

Tom Cruise & the Circus

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Yes, Tom Cruise and the circus … both offering a little bit of entertainment during my stay in Bordeaux — each with a little bit of a French twist on what’s familiar.

The Movie Theatre

The nearby ugc theater is a modern and sophistocated entertainment venue, nestled in an ancient block among tiny shops and cafes. From the street, it is unpretentious in comparison to the visually loud mega-plex cinemas in most large American cities.

Entering the lobby, I took a moment to scan the dozen or more current films offered on the marquee when a very nice employee asked if he could assist me. (Oui!) As often is the case, he spoke fluent English and informed me that many of the films were in English with French subtitles. Providing me with a synopsis on a few he recommended, I decided to go with Tom Cruise in “Barry Seal: American Traffic.” How could I go wrong with a Tom Cruise film, right? The young man took me inside and opened a station behind the counter to sell me a ticket; he then gave directions to theater 16, upstairs. (Now, that is excellent customer service!)

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The interior lobby reminded me of a hotel lounge where guests are encouraged to linger awhile and enjoy food and beverages. I tried something new from their “sweets” counter: a “kup” of KitKat balls filled from a dispenser. And, not just a bottle of “still” water, but sparkling water — always an option in France.

The movie was fun, with just one glitch. At the end of the movie, copy appeared on the screen, explaining the fate of certain characters … but the English copy had been replaced with French! Although I tried, I was unable to translate fast enough to know what happened. Fortunately, it is based on a true story, so I can always Google it to find out.

Le Cirque Pinder

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For about a week, I had noticed a lot of “construction” activity on Bordeaux’s Place Des Quinconces, one of the largest city squares in Europe (created, 1820); trailers and mobile homes moved in and a large colorful tent had been erected. The circus was in town! (Sorry about the photos; the light was so bad in the tent!)

img_4940I have been to the circus many times, during my childhood and Scott’s. (And, as an adult, a few shows of Cirque du Soleil.) But this was different. I know there may never again be a circus in the U.S. like the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s “greatest show on earth” which closed in May — after 146 years. I could not pass up the opportunity to see the circus, perhaps one last time, and see it in France where it is considered a national treasure and even supported by the government-funded organization, HorsLesMurs (established by the French Ministry of Culture).

An Englishman introduced the traditional circus to France in the 1770s. And in the 19th century, William Pinder from the UK brought his traveling theater to France where it was transformed into a circus, becoming one of today’s biggest family circuses in France — Cirque Pinder.

I arrived at the Pinder circus tent on a rainy afternoon, so this was the perfect indoor activity. My seat was strategically situated in the center section, but not too close to become part of any clown sketches! It was everything I had expected — from animals to acrobats to showmanship. The audience cheered and laughed and gasped on queue. It all flowed so perfectly, as though the performers had done this show a thousand times — which they probably had.

It was such a pleasure to meet the family sitting next to me: grandmother Chantal, her daughter Samantha and grandson Ferdinand (I hope I got those names right!). Samantha was very proficient in English and Chantel happily chatted with me in the best English she could — which I loved, because she made such an effort! We had fun taking photos and being amazed at the feats performed for our pleasure. (My favorite act was the trained dogs!).

img_5123It’s important to acknowledge that animal rights groups will always be in conflict with the use of animals in the circus. As we left, protesters held up a banner telling us not to applaud the animals. “The circus animal is a slave, open your eyes.” Samantha assured me circus animals in France are very well cared for and not abused. They live a good life. That was a comforting thought.

I am hopeful this tradition of the circus will continue for generations to come, so families can enjoy this experience just as I have over the years and on this day in France.

 

 

 

The Chefs’ Workshop

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You can experience the cuisine of France in any of the French bistros and fine restaurants of the region, but to step into a chef’s kitchen is like stepping into an artist’s workshop. At à L’atelier des Chefs, or “The Chef’s Workshop,” I found my “inner chef” during two classes at this Bordeaux location.

I had searched online for cooking classes and found the workshop’s website. However, it was in French and not easily translated to English. Thinking it would be difficult to talk on the phone about class options with my limited French, I went in search of the shop to check it out. (They have workshops in other major French cities, as well.)

IMG_4781When I arrived, I was fortunate to meet Frederique (who prefers to be called “Fred”) and he spoke fluent English. As an intern specializing in retail and marketing, Fred was helping out at the shop and able to go over the dozens of class offerings to help me select the type of class I wanted — something with classic French cuisine. Of course, the challenge for me would be that all classes are taught in French.

Fred greeted me when I returned on the day of my class, assuring me the chef would try to speak some English, if possible. As my classmates arrived, I was surprised to see four men and just one other woman.

I was pleased to learn they all spoke a little English. One young businessman, Elliott Goi (bottom right), was fluent in English and happily translated for me throughout the evening. (We are now connected on LinkedIn!) Chef Romain Galy and the others joined in with their efforts to translate, as well, making me feel welcome and part of the class. It was a great test of my French comprehension skills as we prepared the following menu:

fullsizerender 9Foie gras de canard poêlé, figues crues et cuites, jus au porto et basilic craquant (pan-fried duck foie gras, raw and cooked figs, port jus and crunchy basil)

img_4752Tournedos de saumon rôti, céleri-rave braisé aux pommes, vinaigrette acidulée (roasted salmon tournedos, braised celeriac with apples, acidulated vinaigrette)

img_4756Tarte au citron caramélisée (caramelized lemon pie)

In some culinary classes I had taken in the U.S., we prepared the menu item and just tasted some of the few portions we had prepared. What was especially nice about this class was that everyone participated in the prep work, cooked along-side the chef and plated their own dishes; we sat together to enjoy each course with a French baguette and glass of wine. (As it should be!) To my surprise, Starbucks coffee was offered afterwards; none of the French students knew it was a U.S. brand!

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The first class was so successful, I had to return for a second outing. This time, four women and three men — including an older couple from Michigan! They also had found the workshop online, but were under the impression it was taught in English. They soon learned it was not necessary … again, because all of our French classmates spoke a little English. And, I was pleased to see Chef Galy back to teach this class, as well. We prepared the following menu:

img_4817Raviole de canard au chèvre frais, simple bouillon de boeuf crémé (duck raviole with fresh goat cheese, creamed beef broth)

IMG_4827Risotto au basilic et picatta de daurade aux poireaux (risotto with basil and picatta of sea bream with leeks)

img_4830Moelleux chocolat, cœur choco-caramel (chocolate cake, choco-caramel heart)

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Another superb ending to a great workshop with my classmates. I felt I had earned the “à L’atelier des Chefs” apron I bought at the shop, which will hang proudly in my U.S. kitchen as a reminder of this unique experience in France. I know I won’t be able to create the masterpieces I dined on at the Le Pressoir d’Argent. However, if I can bring a little bit of French know-how to my cooking, I know my dinner guests and I will appreciate it. Bon Appétit!

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What I Know, Now — part two

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CITY BALCONIES

img_3891Balconies in the city are not for sitting. They are for peering outside for a weather-check, for lovely flowers and for ornate and beautiful esthetics on a two-foot ledge. And on a rainy day, they are magical.

THE DUVET SHEET

It took awhile to figure out the bed sheets. I first noticed the oddity at the St. Germain house. Then, in Pyla and now at the Bordeaux apartment. There is a thin comforter inside a duvet made of sheets sewn together. A fitted sheet goes on the mattress, then the sheet comforter on top. And, large square pillows. Not sure why square, as it is a bit difficult to fit just your head on it without your feet falling off the end of the bed. At the apartment, I use one of the thinner square pillows and fold it in half. Voila! It works!

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SQUARE LIGHT SWITCHES

fullsizerender-46Although the grandparents’ older homes did not have square light switches, most places in the city have them — from restaurants to toilets to my apartment. A large two-inch square light switch is so much easier to find in the dark or somewhere unfamiliar; what a great concept.

“0” FLOOR

img_4651I was so confused at the wine museum when I took the elevator to the “second” floor. When I arrived, it was not the floor I wanted. Something similar happened at Le Grand Hotel. It took a few mistakes to figure it out … What we consider to be the first floor is actually the “0” floor, here. The 1st floor is our second floor. So, if you push a “2” on the elevator panel, you are going to go to what we would consider the third floor. 0, 1, 2 … Again, as I mentioned in “Part One” of what I know, now …once you know, it seems so simple. When you don’t, it can be a surprise! Now, I know.

DRYING RACKS

At Idaho Power, we had a promotion to encourage customers to use drying racks instead of electric clothes dryers. Since I’ve been here, I haven’t seen a dryer; I know there must be some here, but I haven’t seen them. Madame Noiret used a drying rack and I have one at the apartment.

And, both locations have the same small washing machines. I assume smaller loads are washed — just enough to fit on a drying rack!

A FEW THINGS I’M NOT THRILLED ABOUT

Unisex public toilets. I have to admit I’m not comfortable going into the toilet and finding men standing there with me at the sink, waiting for a stall. However, I do appreciate that this resolves the issue of long lines at the women’s restroom and none at the men’s! Fortunately, not all restrooms are unisex.

Smoking. It seems to be socially acceptable here. In the United States, we have become accustomed to smoke-free air. Although smoking is not allowed inside restaurants, retail establishments and public buildings, it is permitted outside those same businesses. So, if you plan to dine at an outside cafe, it’s best to scan (or sniff) the scene to identify where there might be smoke. Even so, there is no guarentee smoke won’t seep in after you have ordered. I’ve had to become accustomed to a little bit of smoke in the air.

American commercialism. I cannot describe how absolutely disappointed I was when I saw the branding of American companies in Paris, Bordeaux and elsewhere in historic French  neighborhoods — and in the most unusual places. I can accept seeing American brands on the more modern roadways, but to be exploring ancient streets and suddenly a Subway, Starbucks or McDonald’s logo appears, impacting my pristine view … it’s just not right! (I did go into a Starbucks, just to see if it was the same as in the states, and it was except for some of the food items.)

I have to close with this photo of the Porte d’Aquitaine monument at the Place de la Victoire. This great archway is the south entrance to my neighborhood and Rue Saint-Catherine. Right next to it, you can see the golden arches of McDonald’s.

The British in Bordeaux

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Are you British? That’s often the reaction I get when the French hear me speak a bit of English. They can’t seem to distinguish between English and American accents. I suppose it’s somewhat similar to our difficulty in distinguishing Australian accents from English. And, because of the history and proximity to England, it is a logical first guess. There are many British tourists here, as well as long-time residents. I’ve learned to look for the English flag on the badges of staff in the tourism office and at the top of French websites that offer the translated sites. There is never an American flag.

On a tiny plaza, just one short block from my apartment, are a couple bars and a creperia. I had noticed, on most days around 3 p.m., tables, chairs and umbrellas appear outside the HMS Victory English Pub and customers flock to this favorite watering hole. I suspected this might be the rowdy bunch making noise outside my window at 3 a.m. Or, perhaps, music from the bands?

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My curiosity got the best of me and I wandered over as I was returning from buying groceries. I approached a poster with the band schedule when a woman at a table said something to me in French. As I hesitated, she spoke in English and said there was something leaking from my grocery bag. From the drips on the ground, her friend suspected it was the container of cream, so she ran inside to get some plastic to cover it.

Meanwhile, Julie (pictured above, next to me) introduced herself with a strong British accent, inviting me to sit and visit. She and the other girl, Roxanne, were so kind; they are both employed at the pub and were happy to help. (I learned Julie had moved here from England more than 12 years ago.) We visited and I agreed to come back later to have a drink with Julie, as she would be there with friends celebrating a birthday.

When I returned, she immediately welcomed me and made introductions to about 20 of her friends and co-workers enjoying a “happy hour” before the birthday dinner. I had the pleasure of meeting John and Sara (pictured above, center), owners of this pub and two others in Bordeaux. The family-owned businesses include The Houses of Parliament and The Market Tavern. John ran into the bar to get me a complimentary glass of wine and I found them to be absolutely delightful.

They told me their staff is like family, they all speak English and if I need anything during my stay here, I should go over to the pub and tell them I am a friend of John and Sara’s. Just knowing there is such kind, caring, English-speaking people next door is … well, just so comforting. They assured me the noise at 3 a.m. is coming from street performers, not the bands inside the pub.

The following week, I met Julie for lunch at one of her favorite steak restaurants, which I agree is excellent. While there, we ran into two of her friends, Rose and Bob from Scotland. Of course, from there, we joined them for drinks at the Houses of Parliament just a few blocks away. Again, Julie introduced me to the staff there, including Alex, who took very good care of us.

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Later in the week, I explored antique shops on Rue Notre Dame, thanks to directions from Sara. Shops in the U.S. may have items that are decades old, but here … well, we are talking more like centuries old! It was so much fun and always a good idea to get recommendations from the”locals.”

fullsizerender-35I had asked Julie if she had a recommendation for a massage therapist and learned that was her profession in England, but there are complications with the specialty here in France (something about having to be classified as a “beautician”). However, thanks to her referral, I was able to get an appointment with Natacha, the owner of Spa Zodiac, who is fantastic (if you happen to need a massage in Bordeaux!). Her sign says, “Beauty is a promise of happiness.” I left very happy and feeling quite beautiful!

Thank you, my new British friends!

France, The Next Chapter