Every morning at 7 a.m. the church bells ring down in the village of Prats du Perigord, the echoes are permeable as the sky is clear and frost grips the land, remaining polar until the sun rises to loosen the ribbons of sleep. Then formations emerge through the orange and blue, awaking the kaleidoscope of day.
It’s February but It feels more like spring, more like what March would feel like in my former city of Portland, Oregon. There is no rain in sight for the coming days. The garden (jardin) centers are coming alive and the locals are even threatening to cut the grass. It is still technically winter but no one has apparently informed the inhabitants of Southwest France; except for those who still had their Christmas decorations up until the end of January.
Here we remain unconcerned about the protests in Paris, the insistence that raising the retirement age to 64 is certainly the end of civilization as we know it, and many of the French insist they will be too old to enjoy their golden years. France has the lowest retirement age in all of Europe, and they enjoy some of the best systems such as their healthcare, but it certainly doesn’t come for free. Paris has been in a gridlock for weeks now as the unions take to the streets and halt services such as le metro (Mon dieu!!).
One of the highlights of our continuing integration is that we finally figured out how to use the car wash – this was accomplished by spying on the local population: Unlike the system in the US where you pay and then drive through, here, you drive up to the wash itself, make sure you are secure against “bump ” that triggers the green light, exit your car and the pay at the kiosk. We were wondering why people were lounging around the waiting area while their car was being washed. The system is rather clever as the mechanism runs back and forth over your car while it remains stationary. No more fun of driving through! We now have a clean car💖
We decided it was time for another side trip to visit the local sites – this time we ventured to the medevial city of Belvès, spending the afternoon wandering around and then settling in for a cup of coffee. Much is still closed up and we are wait in great anticipation when the cafe and shop owners start to open up and their wares spill out into the streets.
As we forge new relationships, we found ourselves spending a post-Valentines Day brunch at our friend’s lovely country house (once again), indulging in her local dishes, learning the French way of dining and surveying the garden with ideas for the impending spring.
We continue our daily french language studies complemented by a weekly visit to Monpazier (which we discovered was part of the set of Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” and is now a set for a french film) for a more interactive lesson. We have cultivated some new acquaintances and are becoming a local at a cafe that sports a fair amount of American retro art deco-like posters that makes me feel right at home.
We hadn’t ventured much into the fast food arena here and then much to my horror: Krispy Kreme and Popeye’s announced they will be opening up their fast food joints here in France. I was never a fan of Kristy Kreme, and well the patisseries are to die for here😍 so do the math! Yet, McDonald’s is seriously popular in France, especially with the youth. Upon further research they source all their food locally, it’s organic and they are highly regulated by the EU meaning sans the preservatives, hormones etc….so a bit better than the overprocessed American version. But still! But we got curious and had to check it out and the food tastes much less processed than in the states; even the salads are something you would find in a nice bistro. While they do drive-through, the french are fond of their two hour lunch and you will find them lounging at the local McDonalds while they are being served their food in recyclable containers – even the french fries come in a signature McDonald’s plastic molded cup!
Another hurdle we finally overcame was the opening of our French bank account at BNP Paribas. It was a welcome relief as all the French government systems require this and setting up our house for the electrical, heating etc. requires an account as well. While this came as a welcome relief we still hadn’t seen our bank cards for a couple of weeks. I called our agent’s office and got her assistant who spoke a little english but managed to navigate me through the phone app to get a message to her. Alas, this is France and our agent profusely apologized saying the drugs from her dental appointment caused her to somehow lose her memory. We were running low on Euros and don’t like using our American credit cards as we get dinged with the current conversion depending on the strength of the dollar. We can however do direct transfers from our bank to certain retailers, more so at point-of-sale rather than online so we have been able to maneuver around our current handicap – at least for now.
As we were in Bergerac it was the perfect day to meander the historic town center, accompanied by Cyrano himself. We will be spending more time here with friends, shopping, enjoying cafe chats and long walks along the river.
Our cards finally arrived in a few days and I was able to go on a bit of a shopping spree as we had furniture we needed delivered to the new digs.
March 1st marked the closing of our house followed by the appointment with the local office to enroll in the French Healthcare system. Once we get their version of a social security number (not to be confused with the American version), which is used specifically for healthcare, we will be issued our Carte Vitale and be able to finally set up an appointment with a general practitioner. This will get us into the network of specialists we are eager to connect with.
We will miss the hikes through the woods and green spaces of Prats du Perigord, surrounded by working farms, the horses, donkey, dogs and goose (just one!). Our initial immersion into France has been as equally lovely as it has been frustrating; the difference is the latter is temporary while the former will be an enduring experience for the rest of our lives.
The weather turned cold again, with heavy frost and even a dusting of snow but nothing compared to what the west coast of the United States was enduring. Reflecting on our situation this time last year, I realized we could have been stuck in Portland or in Santa Rosa as we wouldn’t have been able to get through to the Alabama Hills in California with our RV. Back in the 70’s I remember one storm that blasted through Southern California and for the first time you could see the mountains – we had a small respite from the horrific Los Angeles smog of that era.
The day of our signing finally arrived and we powered through it at the Notaire in Villereal with no incident and were handed our keys. Voila! We owned a house in France!
Yet we couldn’t go play at the house as we had an hour drive for our healthcare appointment, and we had to finish packing up and cleaning up the gite. That took up Thursday and Friday and then we finally arrived for good on Saturday morning; it was early and crispy cold, but here, the landscape sweeps you along its sensual curves to deposit you at its doorstep, ignoring your protests. The sun was also very accomodating; it decided there would be no contest as it emerged to celebrate this glorious day.
After years of dreaming, copious amounts of planning, being in a constant state of (and many times exhausting) transition for a year….we had finally arrived. More to come on our homeowner experience.
After managing some delivery faux pas (like a bed), we settled in for our first night and even managed to get the Wi-Fi going, averting a potential disaster🙄
I awoke early on Sunday, and as I walked down the hallway I could hear the crowing of a rooster, the national symbol of France.
It’s amazing to think we have only been in France for a little over two months! It started off with such a whirlwind of activity in our attempts to get ramped up quickly – driven partly by mitigating expenses related to car and gite rentals. We had literally been all over the place in 2022; our RV trip through US and Canada including a break in Hawaii, then onto France, then onto the UK for holidays. Though it has been a profoundly great adventure, we are looking forward to a more stationary lifestyle in 2023😍
The exciting news is we signed the sales agreement for our house! We are hoping to take possession by the end of February or beginning of March. The shipper has also informed us that our household goods are scheduled to be delivered at the beginning of April. We are excited about the prospect of getting settled in🏡
In the meantime we are catching up with new friends, taking long walks, working on our french lessons including the rather involved process of getting a license, and of course further exploring our new surroundings.
On Bob’s birthday we attended the truffle festival or “Truffle Fete” in Sarlat. The majority of attendees were sporting a glass of wine and partaking in the “street food” where local chefs whipped together culinary delights using the famed black truffle found in the Perigord region. It was a cold but clear day – the French are hardy people and endured long lines and outdoor dining to enjoy this rather indulgent event. It is a great social gathering for the area, evidenced by the groups of friends huddled around the wine barrels.
This exploration resulted in a weekend of culinary experimentation that included fabulous omelets and linguini with white cream sauce and shaved truffle. We of course acquired a “Truffle Shaver” that is also great for shaving hard cheeses and chocolate.
I also did the very French thing of driving to the local boulangerie in St. Pompon (a small lovely village not far from us) to acquire a banquette for dinner as we wanted a fresh one (of course!!). Much of rural France shuts down on Sundays – even the major stores are only open until around noon. Many of the smaller stores are closed on Monday as well so you have to plan accordingly. As it was Sunday, I needed to get to the boulangerie before noon. St. Pompon was virtuallydevoid of people when I arrived; I think the only activity is Sunday services but even that seems pretty thin.
The French keep their Christmas lights up for the first few weeks of January and when we found ourselves driving back in the dark, we were delighted by the light festivals we encountered; the local villages take pride in the festival accomplishments!
Later in the week we ventured off to Villeneuve sur Lot to take advantage of the bi-annual sales in France. Here they hold them twice a year to move inventory that is marked down but not allowed to go below the price they purchased it for. It’s not like they don’t have sales, but this is when they really blow through their inventory.
Our realtor had referred us over to some great bilingual contacts at local appliance and furniture stores in Villeneuve sur Lot who would allow us to buy now and then ship when we get into the house.
Since we couldn’t bring our American appliances and of course, the larger ones were out of the question, we bought a good quality washer and dryer, a small “cabinet” or upright freezer with pull out drawers!!!!! I really hated sorting through our chest freezer back in Portland…. We also bought an air fryer, food processor, LG Smart TV (a really nice one to enhance our viewing experience!) and a temporary platform bed and mattress to transfer to the gite when our stuff arrives from the US. With the new (yet seriously old) house we are doing a much needed reboot of everything that should last us for quite a while.
On our way back to the gite, we drove through torrential rain that turned to slush and then to snow. We got home just in time as the snow was just starting to stick to the back roads. We lit the fire and watched the snow come down in an ethereal waltz. We woke the next morning to bright blue skies and several inches of snow. We saw the local farmers plowing the backroads as they are not managed by the transportation division who were focusing on the main roads.
We took a delightful walk with the snow lighting up the already arresting landscape.
We have been keeping moderately busy. I’m still processing my surroundings; there are days when it’s clear and beautiful and I walk along the insanely quiet country trails and roads – only occasionally interrupted by a passing car. The area is mostly deciduous, but there are copses of large beautiful pine trees, reminiscent of cedar with their draping bows. The smell of pine permeates the air as I stroll by – reminding me of the Pacific Northwest.
Anywhere we drive there are chateaus and farms; even on days of inclement weather, especially when the fog clings to the lowlands, we are surrounded by an other-worldly mural. It seems more like a time warp as we meander through the ancient communes, some so small they don’t even have a boulangerie!
When we pass by crumbling buildings and walls, we often wonder how old they are and did they house farm animals? Have these same pastures been tended for centuries?
Then we take an alternative backroad and find ourselves approaching a thriving metropolis of grand buildings, cathedrals and cobblestone streets that beg to be explored. Then a chateau emerges in all its glory.
We took an afternoon to explore one such structure – Castelnaud – a huge castle harking back to the 12th century.
We had floated by it when canoeing down the Dordogne in 2020; it is constructed at a towering height, emerging from the cliff itself. It is a true medieval marvel complete with a museum displaying armor, weapons and the “vogue” fashion of the day. With its sigils buffeting the wind, and the towers overlooking the breathtaking Dordogne valley, you are taken back to a time of chevaliers (knights in shining armor) and princesses.
One of the things I love about retiring, besides the freedom, is being able to sleep in. We are both early birds but the idea of not being on a compressed time schedule and rushing to catch the bus or light rail, and then enduring a long day at work – which then required an additional hour commute – is a blessing I embrace with gratitude daily.
Upon reflection, when we were in the RV, we were always on the go; we could sleep in but typically had to pack up in a few hours and head out to our next destination. Now it seems we are spending more time “putzing” around, working on our house plans, studying and attending french lessons and other items necessary for our French integration.
It is not without its challenges as we work to enroll ourselves into the national healthcare system and work on our driving licenses, and being otherwise impatient to get into our news digs. And we finally connected with a local bank in Bergerac; BNP Paribas who is opening up accounts for us (we were referred through an American contact we met through our network). We are still waiting, yes waiting for months, for HSBC to open our account; they hadn’t processed our paperwork from October, resulting in us having to resend the information. We have been told that was all they needed and will let us know when it’s done being processed; they will then send the documents to the branch in Bordeaux. Sigh.
You hear many Americans lamenting about finding a bank who will take them; the FACTA rules are such that reporting can be a burden that many reps at French banks do not want to take on.
To further occupy our time,we have also been spending time in local cities that are not far from us to get a feel of the place; the bistros, shopping areas and green spaces that run along the many rivers. We visited “Mr. Bricolage” which is actually the French version of Home Depot! It’s fascinating walking through the tool sections and seeing name brands such as Stanley, Black and Decker and Ryobi, then discovering the eccentricities of how the French do things such as lots of vinyl material for making your own window blinds. We will need to make our own fly screens here as the windows open inward so you can reach the shutters to block the light on hot days. Our new house has some blinds installed already so we can be less reliant on the external shutters if needed; but while the French don’t mind flies in their house, we are not so accommodating!
We hope to be in our house within the next 4-5 weeks – stay tuned!
It has been a year since I officially retired from the workforce. After 48 years it came as a welcome relief. Yet, there were several challenges ahead that included selling off furniture and appliances we did not need for our relocation to France, and prepping the house for sale. We had lived in St. John’s for 22 years in our lovingly renovated 1923 Craftsman Bungalow. Anyone who has gone through this transition can understand the emotional ups and downs associated with relinquishing the nostalgia of time spent in a place you have dedicated so much of your life to.
We then set out for what would be a 27,000 mile long journey through the US and Canada, all of which is chronicled on my blog.
I have compiled a slideshow highlighting our travels: We are often asked “what was your favorite place?” It’s not something that can be answered easily – the national parks, monuments and sites we visited were all incomparable; they are unique unto themselves and I urge everyone to travel to as much of North America as they can. You will realize the conundrum of that question when you see where we have been!
One of our more significant stays was on Oahu where I was able to trace my father’s WWII legacy from the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki Beach to Pearl Harbor: I dedicated a special write up on my blog for those interested!
Part of the challenge also included selling our house – we managed to close while we were on the road in Canada, signing the final papers in Fairbanks, AK right before the market started to cool down; we counted our blessings on the timing!
At the end of September, after months of being on the road we were able to take a breather upon our return to Portland. We had a bit of a fretful wait while waiting for our French long-stay Visas. Fortunately, we had given ourselves enough time for the French to do their processing which allowed us enough elbow room to wind down our life in the U.S.; visiting friends, family and familiar haunts…and bidding our final farewells.
We landed in France mid-November and got ourselves settled in a gite, traversed the Dordogne until we landed on a lovely Colombage house in Lot et Garonne (about two hours from Bordeaux). We then set out to spend the holidays with family in the UK where we celebrated and English-style Christmas with family and spent time hiking through Malvern with its beautiful priory and countryside.
We also visited famous sites such as Stratford on Avon, the home of William Shakespeare and its amazing holiday lights.
Finally, on New Year’s Eve, we motored around the English countryside in Kathryn’s Mini. We ended 2022 with a traditional cream tea followed by fish and chips – wrapping up the year in an authentically British manner!
Wishing everyone a Happy New Year and wonderful 2023!!
Heading into the holiday season, we were invited to a lovely Christmas brunch by a couple Bob had met on Facebook; Cathrine is French and married to an Australian – Aiden. We arrived at their lovely country estate north of Bergerac complete with a gate and additional parking. It turned out to be a bit of soirée including Brits and an American couple. Once we had our hors d’oeuvres of Foie Gras (homemade we were informed), we settled around a long table in a traditional farmhouse kitchen sporting a cavernous fireplace with a large leg of ham curing nearby to complete the effect. Catherine had set the table with a holiday flair, including two hot plates at each end. These “hot plates” turned out to be “raclettes” – a traditional dish from Switzerland that not only had a hot plate for grilling or warming, but a subterranean feature with small trays to add slices of cheese for melting. Once the cheese melted – the tray is removed and the cheese oozes onto your plate a bit like a modified fondue; over bread, potatoes or whatever your heart desires. This turned out to be an enjoyable interactive experience! A bit like playing with your food along with great conversations.
We bonded with Sarah and Brian (recent transplants from Los Angeles), Basil and Gil (pronounced Jill) Irish and Australian, and then two Dutch expats.
Catherine then topped off the meal with a clever dessert of meringue covered ice cream.
Aiden showed me around their pool area as we were collecting ideas and advice on putting a pool in our new home.
Catherine had also offered up her services in case we needed to be bailed out of a bind; she speaks six languages! She had been the CEO of a local textiles company and is quite the fireball.
It turned out to be quite the lovely introduction to a new network that Bob and I were really excited about.
A few days later we ventured to Eymet (known as a sort of British enclave) to the Saturday market. It had gotten near freezing and I don’t know how the vendors managed to stay warm. Eymet doesn’t just have the charming market, it also has several stores that cater to the local British population. We picked up “back bacon” and other British goodies to add to our pantry – Bob was in his element. We also ran into Gil which was a welcome treat as she pointed us to the British shop and butcher.
We warmed ourselves in a local cafe with our “deux cafe au lait, sil vous plait” that are smaller portions and more flavorful than anything you can find at Starbucks.
We headed back to the car (now driving our lovely Hybrid and learning how to use the eco-mode) with our bounty.
Now that we were in a “waiting period” for until we could take possession of our house, we filled our days with daily hikes around the hood though during the days the hunters were out we proceeded with caution; they are allowed to hunt from roughly September to February on Sundays and Wednesdays. We would see them trundling down the road in their bright orange vests and also gathered out and about with their hunting dogs. We have seen deer, they are smaller than their American brethren, and apparently wild boar is big on the menu as well as rabbit and pheasant.
We’ve heard the shots not far from our hiking trails and it’s especially important to maintain situational awareness after lunch when they’ve had a “few” and sometimes don’t always follow the boundary rules. When I’ve heard shots not far away I usually hoof it back to the gite.
Hunting is also referred to as the “chasse” and they have signs posted for areas along the country roads where you can park. There is a real problem with the increase of wild boar in this area of France and the government even comes in to reduce their numbers. For those interested in doing game hunting, they even have special tours!
Part of the charm of our everyday existence includes being greeted by the owners’ dogs, especially the lovely German Sheperd. Sometimes they all show up along with the waddling goose that apparently doesn’t like to be left out of all the excitement. As we approach the gite, we joke in anticipation of our greeting committee.
Some mornings we hear the horses…and the donkey and even they come occasionally to greet us, especially, it seems, when the weather is sunny.
Life in the French countryside has proven to be insanely quiet, bordering on dull if it weren’t for the surrounding beauty of the woods and countryside. This transition is proving to be somewhat of a challenge as our muscle memory is used to so much overstimulation, exacerbated by constantly being on the move, it is now at a tug-of-war; trying to reconcile unaccustomed sensory that despairs to be overloaded.
I remind myself that this is what I had dreamed of and recount the reasons of why I am grateful for having arrived at this moment. Things will be less tedious once we are in the new house and getting ourselves established.
Now that we were upon the holiday season we decided to attend the Sarlat Joyeux Fete, or Christmas Festival. The weather had dipped into the 20’s and 30’s so while the festival was gorgeous it was a bit cold. We discovered none of the restaurants open until 7:00 – a unwritten code we finally realized which, as we remind ourselves, is appropriately European. We finally got settled and warmed up in La Petit Bistro with pasta and duck served with a flourish of truffle and followed by a simple gateau of apple with chantilly cream and a warming glass of Armagnac – one of the most ancient and healthy aperitifs in the world. As upscale as this sounds, it’s standard fare here and reasonably priced.
It was a dark and clear night and the roads back to the gite were virtually deserted – we saw four cars in total on our thirty minute commute. We also discovered a very clever act of engineering in our car; the high beams come on automatically then dim when a car passes or we enter a village. The European cars all have automatic dimming on their vehicles in general so you are not blinded by the obscene level of headlight we have experienced in US. We keep marveling at the ingenuity of this feature every time we go out after dark.
One clear evening we stepped outside and could see the Milky Way in all its glory; the advantage of living in rural France where you have a smattering of hamlets and the larger towns are far enough away to afford you the spectacle of dark skies.
To further occupy our time we do a fair amount of walking and working out, reading, watching TV, practicing our French and making occasional trips to the nearby villages to run errands or explore. Fortunately Eymet has a comprehensive book store that is like a mini “Powells” where we found a bounty of used English-language books to our liking.
We then received our forty page escrow papers….in French and thank god for Google translate! We were able to review the docs in English and return with any questions. So far so good. In France they do what is called a “diagnostic.” This is essentially the same as the home inspection in the US. It is very comprehensive and even includes the contractors they had used for termite control (as you can imagine this is an issue with these century old homes in Europe). We can continue to use the same services. The property taxes are obscenely low – typically less than one thousand dollars per year and the utilities are pretty reasonable. All in all the place is in good shape with the renovations performed as recently as 2017 with a ten year guarantee.
The only concern we have is what is called “clay swelling.” With climate change the clay dries out during droughts and creates structural issues on homes. While we are in an area that is vulnerable to this issue, there haven’t been any yet that have directly affected our property. The homeowners insurance now treats this as a natural disaster and there is government funding to those structures that have been severely impacted. Otherwise we are not vulnerable to forest fires, earthquakes or floods.
We then took advantage of the current exchange rate and got our cash funds converted to Euros so we can transfer needed funds when it comes time to sign the papers in January. We use “Wise” to transfer our funds and it has worked great – especially since HSBC is taking interminably long to get our French bank account open.
We finished our Christmas shopping in Sarlat, stopping by the local cafe for a warmers – and well….all the chantilly crème was irresistible.
On 21 December we headed to Toulouse to fly to the UK. The Toulouse airport is second only to CDG which is great for us as we can catch flights to anywhere in Europe for cheap from there. After what seemed like several delays and train changes we made it to the UK where we will be spending the holidays in the charming Malvern Hills area.
Kathryn had the house decorated sans the tree: They had delayed purchasing the Christmas Tree until we arrived so we set out the next day to the local tree lot. The trees here are incredibly lush and similar to the Norfolk Pines in the U.S. We reminisced about earlier Christmas Tree expeditions while they were visiting in the US – though Oliver is much bigger now!
We decorated the tree with National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation playing in the background. It was lovely to unpack Christmas decorations that we had sent them over the years.
During the week we strolled to the stores to pick up some necessities, gave the dog (Ferguson) good long walks and got ourselves settled in. I assisted Kathryn with the Christmas dinner shopping; though the store was crowded the checkout was rather quick! Later as we sat around the dinner table we caught up on our adventures, reverting to our familiar humorous anecdotes.
On Christmas Eve Bob and I strolled through downtown Malvern with its shops residing in old English storefronts; as the day was partly cloudy we enjoyed the accompanying views across the valley. I helped Kathryn with the Christmas dinner prep and also mulled some wine while we spent the remainder of the day watching Christmas movies in their lovely conservatory being warmed by the fire.
We arrived in Seattle and landed at the funky downtown Kimpton Hotel. It was a good location as we were walking distance to Pike’s Market and the Piers. The hotel sports military style paintings ranging from Jimmy Hendricks to Kelsey Grammar and free wine tasting for happy hour.
So much had changed since I last visited the waterfront; the viaduct was no longer and much of the area has been modernized, but the smell and feel of the area is eternal; the play of smoked salmon on my senses and the elixir of big sky, the bay, the stir of oceanic breezes that are unmistakably Seattle.
We spent Sunday afternoon on the Seattle Waterfront catching up with my brother and sister-in-law, Duane and MaryJo, and browsing through some of my childhood haunts such as “Ye Old Curiosity Shop” down at the pier.
We then had lunch at the Edgewater where we were married back in 1996! We scored a table with a view; the sun shot diamonds across the bay with Mt. Rainier’s unmistakable silhouette in the background.
The following day, which was our final full day in the U.S., was spent visiting with the Leingangs who treated us to lunch at the Athenian. We then traced the “Sleepless in Seattle” nostalgia as we wandered through the Pike’s Place Market. We were blessed to have fantastic weather and views of the Olympics across the bay.
Back at the hotel, we packed up our bags (too many, but we were relocating after all!) and headed for the Crowne Plaza at SeaTac, performing one final sort of our “stuff.” This was followed by a trip to Redmond for a farewell dinner with Duane and MaryJo; a wonderful home cooked meal of pork stew and cornbread to send us off. We bid our final farewells, which would be our last in the U.S. with the understanding they would come and visit us in France.
It was all so very bittersweet.
We drove back through downtown Seattle with its iconic skyline, lit up like a constellation against the night sky – the Space Needle refusing to be overshadowed by the unrelenting progress.
It has been a great way to end our residency in the States; I was born in Seattle and would be departing to another life from there.
The next morning we headed for the airport, where our plane was unfortunately delayed but it didn’t really matter; we had a direct flight to Paris and plenty of time to get to Orleans for our first night stay.
The flight was delightful as we had upgraded to Delta Comfort and it wasn’t too full. When we landed, we breezed through passport control to get our Visas stamped and voila! We are now feet down in our new country.
We picked up our luggage (lots of bags so that was an experience by itself), but did not need to stop in customs which was rather odd, and the airport wasn’t crowded at all. As we waited for our luggage, we swapped out our SIM cards which got us immediately onto the French cell “Orange” network, then proceeded to Avis which was across the street (all so simple!!). We took off for Orleans, just south of Paris. As it turned out the navigation in the Peugeot we rented was tragically incompetent and had us meandering through the back streets of Paris instead of taking their “freeways.” After an hour of sheer frustration we popped up Google Maps and we were soon on our way; glad to be out of the Parisian gridlock where it seemed the traffic signs were simply a suggestion.
Orleans is the home of Joan of Arc sporting a large statue in a rather posh square. It had been raining and the street lights reflected a painterly glow against the historically crafted buildings. This area is the hub of Orleans and was pristine with an upscale flair to it. Much to my surprise, they were setting up for Christmas and lovely displays in the works. I had thought they didn’t start any Christmas activities until a few weeks before.
As we were tired, we settled in for a simple meal of stew and then registered our visas online that as is customary. The French system wasn’t entirely clear but we powered through it; we are now officially residents – not yet permanent but that’s our eventual goal. We soon found ourselves fast asleep around 9:00.
The next morning we strolled around the gorgeous avenues but were anxious to get to our BNB in the Dordogne; it would be a seven hour drive. After a few hours on the road we stopped off in Limoges (yes – home of the famous ceramics) where we started seeing all the culinary delights such as truffles and Foie Gras courtesy of the verdant Dordogne Valley. When we reached the valley, the roads began to unfold into the dreamlike landscape with stone farmhouses and the occasional chateau – the countryside we had been pining for.
We stopped by the supermarket (Carrefour) in Sarlat to pick up necessary items; it’s difficult not to linger as grocery shopping in France is a whole new experience! But had been a long day and we at least had some necessities for the BNB (called a “gite” in France).
We reached our gite, just outside the small hamlet of Prats du Perigord, and were greeted by the lovely Aurelia who spoke little English so we reverted to our very practiced sign language. The gite was a converted tobacco barn; much like the last one we stayed in last September. It had all the amenities we could hope for plus two bedrooms – one we would be using for storage that would also double as our “kitchen pantry” for the goods we had shipped from the US via special carrier.
I had been working with realtors for several weeks prior to our arrival and we had our first viewing on Friday – the next day! The house we visited was lovely; a classic French Country home complete with a pool in the peaceful countryside – the problem was that it needed way too much work as the owners had “let it go” and the roof was in desperate need of repair. Repairing roofs in France is not cheap and no small feat; these are tiled roofs specific to the region – you can’t just slap on the usual roofing materials you see in the U.S. Some of the quotes we had seen were upwards to 60,000 euros.
We departed the viewing and went to the Leclerc Hypermarket – think of it as one of the larger Fred Meyer’s but with better food options😍 Including two long mind-boggling refrigerator rows dedicated to yogurt. The wine and alcohol section takes up a good fifth of the area (of course!). Many of the options are organic and the vegetable section is a display of commercial and locally grown produce.
We found the “Demi-lait” which is their version of half and half – organic and creamy – just lovely.
The baking area was an array of fresh baguettes (the basis of the French diet) and an incredible display of artfully crafted tarts and donuts – or as they say in New Orleans “beignets.” They even had a boutique tea section that had Lapsang Souchong which is difficult to find in the markets in the U.S.
What a delight it all was!
But when we tried to check out we got an earful from the cashier that thankfully a bilingual customer clarified that we weren’t allowed to take our small rolling cart through the checkout area; ah ha!! So no one will steal them I guess, but this area was pretty middle class and we hadn’t seen any homeless at all. They also have a clever system where you have to put euros in to “rent” a large shopping cart – when you return it it gives you the euros back.
The French are very conservative if not downright chic even when running simple errands. It was a lot like Japan; no sweat pants or sportswear – usually jeans and a jacket and in many cases well matched leggings and sweaters. And a lovely scarf.
After that experience we decided to torture ourselves further – we then decided to venture out to a home goods store which was a hodge-podge of crafts mixed in with furniture and decorating. We found some Christmas paper hoping to ship items back home if we can ever find boxes and figure out the postal system here.
We then stumbled into “Boulanger” that was next door (curiosity kills the cat) that turned out to be an appliance store with a lovely KitchenAid Artisan Mixer on a Black Friday sale – bingo! This was our first new edition for our forever-home; and a handy appliance for making bread in the meantime.
We headed back through La Roque Gageac (where the homes are built into the cliffs) which was practically shuttered as it was the end of the tourist season, but it was achingly lovely just the same. We are looking forward to hikes and picnicking in this area come spring and summer!
We survived our drive back to the BNB, having had some experiences with the manic French drivers who are thankfully not too much in abundance on the otherwise quiet country roads.
Thankfully Saturday was a break day and we headed to the Sarlat Saturday Market where we indulged in some Foie Gras, picked up vegetables and duck (duck is like chicken in France, lower fat and healthier!). We had coffee at a bar near the historic center where they were playing American rock music. Whatever the French say about Americans, our influence is everywhere – much like the French influence in America.
We spent Sunday getting organized and exploring the neighborhood. We heard the church bells go off as we meandered around the village. We were still adjusting to the dark and the quiet; something we rarely experienced even when we were traveling in our RV.
We spent most of the following week motoring for hours all over the Dordogne looking for houses. Though we marveled at the countryside we were getting understandably exhausted. On Thursday morning (Thanksgiving Day) we visited a home that based on the photos we weren’t entirely set on. It was a bit further south in the Lot et Garonne but still part of the Dordogne Valley.
When we arrived we were completely taken with the architecture which is known as “Colombage.” It had an English Tudor feel to it but with whitewash throughout. These are known as “timber homes” with a unique style; very light and airy. The house is a few miles outside the “Beaux Village” of Villereal known for its Saturday Market that has been around for centuries. This area also boasts some of the largest assortment of stunning villages and is a half hour to Bergerac which is a main hub for getting major appliances, furniture, groceries et.al and has a small airport for local flights. Just far enough away to not be disturbed by any city hub-bub.
We are also just southeast of Bordeaux as an alternate flying route and we will look forward to exploring🍷
More info on the region for those wanting to know:
The main house has 4 bedrooms and two bathrooms, one with a tub (yeah!), the huge dining room/lounge also called a “Sejour.” The kitchen is new but we will need to retrofit into our own style. There is a cellar that holds the oil heating (hoping to change that as well but it’s pretty prevalent wherever you go).
The property encompasses nearly an acre surrounded by farmland that rotates sunflowers and wheat…I try to imagine sitting on the terrace overlooking fields of sunflowers. The country road is quiet and dark – except for the occasional truck and mad driver. We would need to install a pool which is well within our budget.
The veranda is east facing so we get the morning sun and the afternoon shade as we anticipate it getting hot in the summertime which is standard for this region.
The gite is a beautifully converted barn – what an added and stunning bonus. We left with a lot to think about.
We had planned to roast a duck for Thanksgiving (our first away from the states), but wound up in the Sarlat Renault dealership, buying a lovely Renault Captur Hybrid and didn’t get back home until late. We went with a new build that was sitting on a lot not far away as the used models weren’t much cheaper, and the other dealers weren’t as accommodating. We scored as I had been pining for one with gold accents and voila! It magically appeared.
The purchasing process involved a go-between interpreter/sales agent as the primary agent, the charming Enzo, didn’t speak much English. Adam, our interpreter liked practicing his English so we were extremely lucky. This went back and forth for two hours until we finally got the papers signed and agreed on a delivery date. Our next step was to get the funds transferred from the US to the Renault bank via international transfer. This became rather involved as Bank of America required two factor identity and we had just switched our phones over to France. Bob popped his Verizon SIM back into his phone so we could muddle through the process.
On our way home we discussed the house and asked to see it again on Friday.
For dinner we settled on a simple salad and FaceTime with Duane and MaryJo. We were visibly exhausted but happy to connect with relatives on such an important holiday.
On Friday we ventured back to the prospective house and after further viewing, photographing and discussion we decided this really was the place for us. All the boxes checked off and most everything fell into place on our wish list (not everything like a water well for example, but we can manage around that and add a pool). Luckily, the Mairie was in (the local mayor) and we reviewed our plans with them by way of our French-speaking realtor. He confirmed no problem on the pool and additional solar panels as well as a carport – we were ready to rock. We made the offer that afternoon and it was accepted and signed over the weekend. We got such a deal on it as the owner had bought another property and needed the proceeds to move. We had the added benefit that homes in this region outside the heavily touristed areas can sit on the market for months even during a hot real estate market.
The process will take a while as we need clearance from the local agricultural committee that they don’t wish to buy the property; we are located in farming territory and it’s highly regulated. Then we go through the usual French process using a “notaire,” much like an escrow agent that may got a bit speedier as we are paying cash. The realtor let us know that we could actually obtain possession of the house by the end of January which would be a delight.
What a week it had been!! We purchased a car and a home, all meeting and or exceeding our expectations😍
On Saturday, we did some more reconnaissance of the area not far from our forever-home, including the lovely Saturday Market in Villereal where we sat and had coffee – watching the world go by. There are no drive-through Starbucks or the like here; you basically sit down for a chat and respite at the cafes. On a sunny day people just bundle up as the preference is to sit outdoors. When the sun is out it becomes pleasantly warm.
The next challenge was getting our funds moved into Euros. On Monday and we had the accounts prepped and by Thursday Morgan Stanley had our funds in an international account ready for conversion to Euros at our signal. In the meantime we will keep an eye out for the fluctuating dollar to work in our favor.
For the car purchase we wound up using an international transfer service known as WISE, but it takes a few days for the transfers to push through and they sometimes ask for more backup info. The money arrived in time to the Renault dealership for us to pick up our new baby on Friday. Whew!!
Additionally, once we get our French HSBC checkbook and cards (we have been waiting for six weeks) then we will eventually shut down B of A as it’s too much of a hassle managing funds overseas; they do not allow international phone numbers for two-factor ID which makes navigating their systems that much more difficult.
In the meantime we can set up direct debits through WISE to pay for incidentals through euros so we can manage the exchange rate as the dollar possibly weakens.
Sigh…we now had time to check out the area around our gite by way of the “groomed” trails sporting old farmhouses and châteaus. Such a different pace and environment from our haunts in Portland.
On a sunny day on Friday December 1 we collected our new wheels, headed to Bergerac to drop off the rental and kicked around the city for a few hours; celebrating our good fortune at finding our new forever home as well.
In the meantime, our other challenges included the switch from Amazon US to France. We finally got it transferred but we were required to buy the French Prime membership and then let our US membership expire. Somehow this messed up the app on our phones and it started to show up as Amazon India (it’s these quirky things that you spend your time troubleshooting). After deleting and reinstalling the app we were back in the French app – which does not have English as an option😂. Even the translation options choke on some of the pages. Then we get on and off French speaking US programming on our Prime Video.
But we concluded that it’s a great way to get to learn your French – when your forced to do shopping in a foreign language!
Then to add to this goat rodeo, I kept getting notifications from Amazon that our shipments had been delayed or aborted. It turns out they use La Poste (which would make sense as that is the primary French postal service) but we were mystified that our goods were sitting literally five miles away and they couldn’t seem to find the gite.
Then miraculously… Mon Dieu!!! Amazon showed up with all of our goods at once; I suspect they delay and consolidate shipments in remote areas to economize on trips. It was like Christmas (but not really but just as exciting) as we opened the boxes and retrieved items we couldn’t find locally – things like calcium supplements, psyllium powder, meat thermometer and a new blender that was cheaper on Amazon than at the local appliance stores🤷♀️
Alas, after all this international intrigue, we were now entering the “dead zone” going from a frantic pace to “what do we do today” 😒
Well…there is still plenty to do: Make new friends (in progress), work out, hike, do our French lessons, make healthy meals with our new appliances, go on day trips to cool-looking villages, explore the local markets, figure out how the Captur works using a French car manual — things like that. Oh yeah, and I have to go to battle at La Poste to navigate their overseas shipping system – I needed to fill out an online customs form apparently – assuming you can find it which I eventually did and then you need to visit the post office and see if you got it right or if they throw you another curve.
Suffice it to say, even though we have made exceptional progress on our goals thus far, navigating some of the quirks in France can be understandably exhausting – as we were warned!
For those familiar with my past know that I’ve had a difficult life and I think it prepared me to meet these challenges; turning adversity to my advantage – if I can survive what I have then I can get through these current challenges. I am equally grateful that I am getting established in a new dream life – more than I could have ever hoped for.
Likewise, I’m thankful for the downtime – it’s been a particularly busy year that we will close out with family in the UK🇬🇧
A long post for a long goodbye. After living in Portland, Oregon since 1994 we bid our final farewell. Despite the scars of recent years, this city has an enduring charm; it is a lovely place to behold and the Oregon landscapes are unparalleled.
We started off the next leg of our transition by putting BigB into storage, feeling fortunate to land Debbie and Mike’s beautiful home again with a separate apartment downstairs; they were away on vacation so the timing was perfect and we got to take care of their gorgeous kitties. We spent the first weekend divesting BigB of all our “stuff” as we had a buyer looking at her on Monday. That turned out to be more than we bargained for; we wound up with several boxes packed up in our friend’s garage. To top off this challenge, we needed to pull items we would need for interim time in France; what we called the “transition box.” We had to think through our situation; after we buy a house in France it will take about three months for our things to be shipped over; we can’t store our container in France as it’s expensive and they will also charge us duty. So we are taking a few necessities with us; fortunately we have no appliances to worry about and can buy all new when we get there. While we’ll be living rather minimalistic for a while, we can start getting things done around the new property.
After we purged and did the final cleaning on BigB, we drove her down to Dundee where we met a pleasant woman by the name of Robin who fell in love with the rig. She had her “RV Guy” inspect her and she came through with flying colors. Robin wrote us a check for a down payment and will collect BigB towards the end of October when she is back from Costa Rica.
We were elated to have found a good home for the RV, especially to someone who had plenty of experience RVing and who would take good care of her.
We headed back and finished sorting through all our “stuff” as we needed to clear out the garage before our friends got back from vacation; we were essentially blocking their cars! Fortunately the weather was warm and the seasonal rains hadn’t yet arrived.
After we went through the laborious process of sifting through our things, we took the boxes back to the rig for storage. Fortunately the RV storage facility is close to Chipman (our international shippers).
While all this was happening our Long Term French Visa’s arrived – quicker than we had figured and we breathed a sigh of relief! We had in the back of our minds that with the French bureaucracy being what it is, that we may have slipped up somewhere. Now we had to wrap our heads around the idea that this was for real!!!
I visited my dear friend Rolia from Liberia who had a lovely African style birthday party! She is a local celebrity who is known as the “Dancing Lady” and is seen frequently at Blazer games and performances with her African Children’s Dance Troupe.
We then had a lovely dinner with my Chinese friend Lin and her family who I also went on a subsequent hike with later in the week. We were also treated to a fabulous curry dinner with dear friends Jim and KC, Terrence and Ashlee and her parents in Lake Oswego – it’s been a bit of moveable feast!
Between all the grazing, Bob and I continued to wrap up our final doctor visits and prescriptions to hold us over until we roll over into the French healthcare system; this included getting the latest Covid booster and flu shot. We apply for our Carte de Sejour post arrival and we should have our medical cards in about three months. This allows us to roll into the French healthcare system – we still need to get top off insurance for the 30% they won’t cover until we are Permanente residents, but even with that it is generally cheaper than the U.S. with better medical coverage.
We also had to take BigB in for repairs in Sandy, Oregon and decided to visit Timberline Lodge up on Mt. Hood since it was on the way. It was busier than we thought and there were plenty of hikers on the mountain; we even saw a few with heavy backpacks ready to do some overnight camping on the Pacific Crest Trail. The temperature was insanely perfect, but tragically Mt. Hood was mostly devoid of snow; we usually come up to Timberline for snowshoeing and it was a revelatory experience to see all the exposed hiking trails. For those not in the know, the exterior of Timberline Lodge was featured in the movie “The Shining” with Jack Nicholson; that gives you an idea of how much snow piles up around the Lodge. It is stunning when they’ve had a fresh coating of powder and the weather clears – it truly defines a winter wonderland.
On our way back we took the route through Hood River and down the Columbia Gorge. We stopped at Multnomah Falls for coffee and to take in the scenery. Because we have lived here since 1994 we had never bothered to pick up any souvenirs; well we got magnets at Mt. Hood and one for the falls to complete our collection!
The last piece of heavy lifting was completing the setup of our French HSBC Account that required a visit to Seattle on October 14 to sign off on the paperwork. It’s not that simple to just go to France and open up an account; the US international tax laws are such that the French banks don’t want to do any reporting on these bothersome American tax requirements. We had heard that other Americans had set their accounts up in the U.S. with HSBC (who don’t have an issue with the tax reporting). Once we power through this one last challenge, we will be able to seamlessly draw our funds from the US to France which is important as we need to buy a car right away and put down earnest money on a house.
I had to collect paperwork from my brother as we are using his address for residency purposes, so logistically it turned out to be a lot of running around as he lives in Redmond. We then completed our paperwork in downtown Seattle that turned out to be a pretty seamless process. Thank God! But now we wait for several weeks – argh.
After completing the paperwork, we booked into our hotel and relaxed; this was the last piece of the elaborate puzzle that was our transition to France. I had also gotten news from Chipman – our international shipper – that they had found my misplaced luggage we had instructed them to set aside for us when we returned to Portland.
We had a lovely dinner with my bother and sister-in-law and visited their new kittens that were – of course – adorable. MaryJo (my sister-in-law) made a great statement: “It has taken a village to get you guys to France.” What a perfect way to describe this whole adventure!
Upon returning to Portland, we departed our friend’s house and relocated to an Airbnb in St. John’s – our old hood. The rent was cheaper than other areas, and we we were in walking distance to town including a theater and restaurants.
We busied ourselves with further purging and organizing on what we needed to consume from the RV and pack for one final drop off to Chipman. When Robin returned from Costa Rica we dropped BigB off; it was a misty farewell as we pondered the epic journey she had taken us on.
We spent an afternoon visiting friends Kevin and Chris out by Camas, Washington and got in some kayaking- the water levels were amazingly low😩
We then paid a final visit to the St. John’s Farmer’s Market before they closed down for the season. I always loved the flowers and collected them weekly during the spring, summer and then glorious dahlias in the fall.
Back to the final housekeeping; we set about getting our marriage and birth certificates translated to French in anticipation of them requiring these documents for various reasons as we established ourselves as permanent residents. We also got our international driver’s licenses that are good for a year once we arrive; we will need to have our official French licenses before they expire.
We then found the equivalent of Carmax in France so we will be able to get a slightly used Renault Captur Hybrid SUV not long after we arrive (thank god as the car rental fees are steep). We decided on this model to keep the gas prices down and as they are manufactured locally keeping the cost of ownership low. They are pretty vehicles.
We purchased an Amazon Firestick and a VPN (NORD VPN) so we can continue to watch our favorite streaming channels; the VPN will give us a U.S. IP address. This VPN works better with the Amazon Firestick and we have been using it with no problems so far. We won’t retire our ROKU but it will be require the VPN to be installed on the router so we will wait until we get settled in our new home.
I also got a SIM card for France that covers Europe and even texting to the U.S. – it’s through the French Orange network in France and we simply need to swap cards when we land in Paris and we’re off to the races with a new number.
We filled our time catching up with friends and also visited one of our favorite haunts: The Portland Japanese Gardens. I used to be a photo member there and it was nice to just bide my time without any distractions; walking around in a zen-like trance, enjoying all the beauty these gardens have to offer; it has been hailed as the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan. We stopped in the Umami Cafe for tea pairings and some Miso. The Roasted Green Tea (Hojicha) is absolutely to die for and the best I’ve had since we were in Japan. Though I order it off Amazon, it never seems to taste like the type I had in Kyoto.
We then headed off to the coast and were welcomed with a beautiful day. We browsed though Astoria and then onto Cannon Beach – one of my favorite coastal towns with galleries and an array of shops complete with a walk along the famous Haystack Rock.
Fall arrived with a bang including a washed-out Halloween; we had planned to walk around the neighborhood and enjoy the kitsch and kids trick-or treating, but found ourselves huddling into our dry abode instead.
One afternoon I walked to the St. John’s bridge during a break in the weather; there wasn’t a soul to be had in Cathedral Park – it was as if this moment was set aside especially for me. I was given the space to contemplate the passage of time and all I had endured up to this moment. This time I felt an epic balance as the flaming maples protested the graying horizon and I felt at peace – it was a resolute peace. I took in the view of the cascading portal and the massive pylons that many times descended into the fog of the unknown. This is a place I have immortalized on film – before photography was tsunamied by the digital era.
Then came the grand idea of tattoos – I have wanted one for years and now was my chance. Then Bob decided he wanted one too.
I settled on Ganesh, with the Aum symbol in a Mandala. The image was poetically rendered on the back of my arm that will supposedly be less prone to wrinkles. I have a fondness for elephants having logged over 160 miles on these lovely pachyderms through India and Nepal. Ganesh symbolizes the removal of obstacles and I have carried him with me throughout my journeys. For me, this move to France is a chance to reboot spiritually; I am no longer constrained by anyone else’s idea of what or who I should be. There has already been a lot of unraveling from my cult conditioning and surrounding myself in a beautiful countryside and immersing myself in a rural culture that celebrates life as art will be – I hope – a transcending experience.
Then the fall storms arrived with a bang, whipping the trees to and fro, scratching the surface with a desire to break in – it’s gotten pretty loud. It reminds me of Wuthering Heights though I don’t know what restless spirit such as Cathy would want to be bothering with me. I’ve been bothered enough already!
And then the inevitable happened and the power went out; the place we are staying is all electric including the induction stove so we were pretty much stranded with our devices running out of battery. Since the power wasn’t set to be back on four or five hours we decided to hit the local pub for some grub. The cider flights turned out to be pretty big!
The power eventually came back on and the weather cleared the next day so we headed to the coast with our friend Rolia. We visited the Bronze Gallery in Cannon Beach not realizing that they had sold actual bronzes of Rolia in the past; asI mentioned earlier, she is a bit of local celebrity and is known as the “PDX Dancing Lady,” – artists including myself have been enamored with her beauty.
I bought a couple of stunning pendants from Robert Rogers – they reminded me of Bill Worrell’s work and when I mentioned this to him he said he was a good friend of Bill’s up until he passed on. Robert was apparently showing his pieces at the Worrell Gallery in Santa Fe but I somehow missed those – I’m grateful I made the connection here in Oregon. Serendipity – what a small world!!
We then chowed down on seafood and topped of the day with ice cream. It turned out to be a fabulous day all around.
As we headed into our final week, we explored local sites such as the Lan Su Chinese gardens that was inspired by the famous Chinese Gardens in Suzhou; we had visited China back in 2005 and this ancient wonder is a site to behold; canals run through the city and it’s been called the “Venice of China.”
We were otherwise filling days with long walks, visiting friends, dealing with French real estate agents, catching up on movies at an actual theater, getting haircuts and pedicures. Oh, and surviving three power outages in St. John’s.
We spent a fair amount of time looking at French real estate in the Dordogne. I soon realized that the French system is pretty different from the American one; there is no one aggregate system such as MLS like we have here in the states. As a result you need to dig around different sites and engage realtors so you have a fighting chance to get what you want.
Thus far I have four agents and seven properties scheduled for viewing once we arrive. It is going to be quite the adventure finding a dream home and it will be like Christmas when all of our goods finally arrive at their final destination!
After what seemed liked forever, the day of our departure finally arrived; we loaded our bags and bid a bittersweet farewell to Oregon as we drove across the Interstate Bridge into Washington one last time.
We will spend our final days in the U.S. in Seattle visiting my brother and sister-in-law before boarding our flight to Paris on November 15th.
As I contemplate the intense sweep of change we have experienced throughout this year, and the commentary from our friends who admire our ambitious goals and travels, I reflect on a concept I learned in Japan:
Mono No Aware
Appreciate the moment, because the beauty experienced in it will never be the same. It will pass. It will end. And that is okay because as life changes, new beauty, perhaps of a different kind, will arrive. Every season the cherry blossoms die. But every year, they come back to, once again, coat the streets in their ethereal and incomparable demise.
We arrived in Santa Rosa, mooch-docking off our friend Peter who has been a west coast mainstay throughout this journey. It was a busy time as we had deep cleaning to do on the rig, readying it for prospective buyers back in Portland. The weather was hot but mellowed out after a few days.
On a foggy Sunday morning we woke up before dawn (we haven’t done that since we retired 😜), and headed for Old World Vineyards Winery to partake in the annual harvest and crush. It was cold! After being briefed on how to harvest grapes we headed out to the heart of the Russian River Valley to their vineyard next to the famous Gallo Estates. We parked up in a lovely grove of Redwoods with another fifteen or so folks along with the extremely industrious LatinX workers, got our gloves and clippers and walked through an apple orchard into the vines.
The size of the clusters were amazing. Unfortunately, due to the recent storms that had pummeled us on Highway 1, some of the larger clusters inside the vines had molded. I spent time surgically removing these offenders, and the smell of the rot was certainly pervasive – in a wine grape sort of way. After a couple of hours the sun began to break, and the hills and forests began to open up. Being Sunday, and that we were out in the vineyards, it was pretty peaceful.
The LatinX were like machines, plowing through the vines with precision. They ranged from young to middle-aged. I can’t fathom them doing this all day; we witnessed them picking the crops, mostly strawberries as we motored up from Santa Cruz.
Being at ground zero at these agricultural centers is seriously eye-opening. It’s not something you witness on a regular tour and you gain such an appreciation for the horrendous amount of thought and work that brings food to our tables.
At Old World Wines the process is organic and they age the wine in neutral barrels. After finishing up and peeling off layers of clothing, we journeyed back to the winery for a great Mexican lunch; we had huge burritos!! The weather had warmed into the high 60’s with a pleasant breeze and inviting sun. We tasted a few vintages processed from the same vines we had just picked; we opted for the Rose’ and Merlot – so tasty and Bob can drink both!
After getting slightly buzzed from the tastings, they set up the containers so we could do some good old fashioned crushing! Well, it was an interesting experience that was purely performative; the grapes were cold as we had picked the grapes after they had been sitting in fifty-degree weather most of the night. But we crushed all the same so we can honestly say we did the heavy lifting of what goes into wine making🍷🍇
After working since the crack of dawn for several hours; stooping, bending and twisting, we wound up flaking out for the rest of the afternoon. I was fine with that as Monday was a big day and we need to prep emotionally for the upcoming French Visa Interview.
On Monday we toodled down to San Francisco, passing over the Golden Gate Bridge that was emerging from the fog. The bridge was symbolic in a way, as we passed from this stage of our life to another. We arrived in plenty of time for our appointments with HSBC (for opening up a US and French Bank Account) and then off to the Visa Processing Center.
After finishing a smooth transaction with the bank, we grabbed a quick snack and then headed for the Visa Center – it’s actually VFS Global; they act as a broker for the French Consulate. We were crammed into a small room with other applicants, some ranging from Portugal to the Netherlands and awaited our turn. The desks that the processing agents sat at were tiny with only room for one chair and Bob had no choice but to stand behind me. We gave them more documentation than what was required partly because we had been given advice for the helpline and other blogs on what to expect. I was glad for it as other folks hadn’t made photo copies of their passport pages or thought their travel insurance would cover the requirements (it doesn’t – you have to pay for the more expensive coverage such as Cigna for actual full health insurance) resulting in denial of their application at the get-go. We breathed a sigh of relief as the agent took our fingerprints and photos and we were on our way.
We had one last dinner with Peter that evening, packed up the RV and bid a fond farewell; he had been a much-needed stop for us as we approached the end of our trip.
We set out for McKinleyville the next morning, past the now dry rolling hills that were a lush green the last time we passed through here.
We decided to stop at, you guessed it, our favorite spot, the Founders Grove in the Redwoods National Forest, for tea.
This was Grogu’s third time in the Redwoods; for Shoeless and Bob Jr. it was the first. Grogu has been with us on this entire journey, having lost Dave at the Grand Canyon😥
We were lucky to find an RV leaving as we arrived and gladly slid into their slot. We stepped outside with our tea and soaked in the atmosphere; I fantasized of having a log cabin with a large porch nestled in this grove, where I would sit for hours, in a tranquil respite, listening to their stories.
We had been there in late winter and early spring when it was cold and damp; it was now early fall, with sentimental shafts of light breaking through an emperious embrace. The dry, temperate air filled my lungs; the forest perfume swelled around me that I longed to capture in a forever memory. The drying needles softened our footfalls as we got lost in our revelry. And we literally got turned around! But you didn’t find us complaining as we meandered through the grove, swiveling our heads to and fro as we finally made our way back to the rig.
Memories don’t define the Redwoods very well; I still find myself in awe as they emerge from the forest proper, an astonishing contrast to human frailty. They are not defined simply by a singular grove, but by an ancient ecosystem that lies deep in the heart of us all. Here we become true-to-nature, if even for a fleeting moment in time. I am glad they have been preserved for all to explore, and that they inspire the human race of their importance; that they will continue to endure for centuries to come.
We can only hope.
The next day, we left the Widow White RV Park and headed for the coast. I wouldn’t recommend this park, it is a bit rundown and you only pay in cash, but it sufficed for a quick overnight, and heck, it seems like we’ve run the gamut on this journey!
We journeyed through the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, it was rainy and misty which only added to the atmosphere. The weather finally broke, revealing stellar blue skies along Northern California and Southern Oregon Coast. The wind wasn’t as fierce as it was in the spring and the temperature was certainly manageable.
We hooked up at the Turtle Bay RV Resort at Gold Beach in the same spot we had in the spring. We took a leisurely walk along the beach with its thundering surf, a stark contrast to what was hitting Florida. We felt so fortunate that the weather cooperated during our trip; we were concerned about hurricanes as we headed south, but August was void of any activity which was pretty unprecedented.
We watched in horror as Ian decimated south western Florida where some of my relatives live (who are now safe), but I can’t imagine what people will have to deal with in the aftermath as they pick up the pieces. If we saw that sucker coming across our path, we would have aborted and avoided the Gulf Coast altogether on our way back to New Mexico.
While we ogle at the treasures Mother Nature has blessed us with, she will equally remind us of her wrath – striking a balance we humans continue to disrupt.
I slept hard, I suppose from the beach walk and ocean air.
We took a morning stroll on the beach, it was calm and devoid of any people; only our tracks were apparent in the sand.
When I looked back, I thought about our adventures, even with so much planning, we didn’t know what to expect, grateful that it turned out so well.
We packed up and headed for Waldport; our last night in the rig🥲😘. Yeah, it’s an inanimate object, but she has taken us through such an incomparable epic adventure it will be hard saying goodbye.
We then headed up the coast via the 101 – one of my favorite haunts; the mist was thick and the coastal pines emerged like crooked wizards, bent and twisted, savaged by the merciless coastal winds. The oceanic fog created a cataract over the mind’s eye, causing one to take the winding curves with caution.
Then we approached Cape Perpetua – even the name evokes a sense of romanticism. The immensity of this place isn’t truly captured with names such as “Devil’s Churn,” or “Cook’s Chasm.” These conventions are an attempt to classify something that needs to be experienced first-hand; and one must get soaked to truly experience its wrath. If Poseidon could spit fire he would have done so, content to have unburdened himself in the process of creation, then soaking his masterpiece with a thundering tidal wave.
When not smothered by the approaching tide, Thors Well sits in obscurity until such a time as the tide breaches its edges before sliding into oblivion. Get too close and you could become one with Davy Jones’ Locker. The Well is an anomaly that requires a fair amount of patience and photographic skill to capture. I have, back when I was a more serious photographer, spent time wrestling this beast through my lens; I did not come away particularly dry, but was victorious all the same.
We passed through Florence where I spent many summers with my extended family at nearby Mercer Lake. I wanted one last A&W fix at the classic drive-in on the main drag and I was not disappointed. After gorging ourselves one last time, we landed in Waldport at the KOA with a nice view of the bridge.
The fog came and went, but at least the rain dissipated and allowed us to get out for a walk. Then we settled in for our final night in BigB.
We woke to an elixir of coastal perfume mixed with dense forest; you breathe it in but you can’t get enough – if it was a drug I would be an addict! This sensory combination I have not yet experienced anywhere else and will be missed.
We had traveled 27,318 miles since February 20th, through snow, heat, frost heaves and flooding to witness some of the most stunning landscapes in North America.
We finished our stint in Arizona with an overnight in Lake Havasu overlooking the London Bridge. We stayed at a hotel once again due to the heat. Lake Havasu really does look like an oasis in the desert, populated mostly by retirees as we soon discovered. The water levels were quite good considering it was fed by the Colorado River which seems to be under constant threat due to drought. The London Bridge is quite something when you think that it was reconstructed brick by brick at this location.
We woke up to a toasty 82 degrees and decided to get out for a walk early. We strolled along the esplanade as the sun rose, passing a touching tribute to the queen and other gift shops and restaurants.
The next morning we headed out to Barstow; there isn’t much in this area and the Mojave National Reserve had been flooded out by monsoons (much like Death Valley) so we couldn’t swing by there for a look-see. I did find a feature near Barstow called the Rainbow Basin with colorful rock formations that reminded me of the Artist Palette in Death Valley. We decided that would be a fun geological adventure to hike, but we soon discovered that that road had been flooded out as well🌊
We decided to pack it in and went to the hotel. We had plenty to do with prepping BigB for sale, and other logistics related to our impending move to France.
The next morning we embarked to Bakersfield where we would spend the night at the Orange Grove RV Park. We stopped by a rest stop to clown around the Joshua Trees, and then drove through Tehachapi which was now brown, quite the contrast of the rolling green hills of our spring jaunt through this region.
Our stop over in Bakersfield this time was a bit different from our stay in the spring when we were surrounded by the heady scent of orange blossoms; there were now oranges on the trees, mostly green, and the temperature was a manageable 83 degrees.
I sat amongst the orange trees until the sun faded, enveloped by the cooling breeze – there were no ponds here to reflect upon, only what I had brought with me as I pondered the last legs of our trip; the thunderstorms I was so fond of that came in multiples while in Sedona, were now behind me.
The last strokes of the summer sun was now slipping past the fading fields, no longer in sway as we cross over from the solstice to the equinox of charitable memories. In the aftermath of a desert glow, my pupils, thankfully, no longer felt fazed by the sun. I watched the breeze as it ran its fingers through the trees, teasing the leaves as they turned to gold. The idea of autumn was upon us.
The next day we arrived at the California coast, specifically Morro Bay. I hadn’t seen my leggings and sweatshirts since we boondocked across the Columbia Icefields in mid-June. Thinking back on the early stage of this adventure it seems so long ago! We were staying at a small RV Park, it was more like a space attached to an Airbnb that had a cabin and across from that full hookups for our rig.
It was rather cold and windy as we went for an evening walk on the beach; I can never inhale enough of the effervescent Pacific breeze. We built a fire and roasted marshmallows then slumbered in the dark and quiet, only interrupted by the occasional calls of the nearby seals and then an owl.
The next morning we strolled along the beach and then stopped in the cove next to Morrow Rock where the sea otters 🦦 hung out. We watched them for about an hour, ensconced in their rituals. The rangers had set up scopes so we could see them closer. One of them had a baby on her belly – they are the most charming sea creatures!!!
We then turned our attention to the birders who were watching the Peregrine Falcons on the nearby Morro Rock – a beautifully stunning site.
We headed down the Embarcadero that had restaurants and shops dotted along the waterfront. It was a perfectly sunny day, hovering in the low to mid-sixties that made for such a treat after months of intense heat and humidity. We picked up a few souvenirs and then did some food shopping. We wound up walking several miles!
After relaxing back at the rig, one of Bob’s ex-coworkers picked us and gave us a tour then we have a great seafood pub dinner on the bay. It was a great end to a perfect day.
The next morning we headed out to Highway 1 to Big Sur and Carmel-By-The-Sea.
What we didn’t realize was the storm system that had hit California a few days ago had spun around and we were getting hammered as we drove the curvaceous wonders of the coastal highway. When we stopped at a viewpoint for tea, the rig was literally swaying due to the gusts.
When we hit the road again we watched as a Class C in front of us was spraying water every which way as it hit the vehicle, the driver struggling to stay on the road; we could empathize with his plight.
We made it to Carmel just in time for a respite from the storm. We encountered some gusts and a few passing showers, but otherwise we were able to browse this charming city for a few hours. The architecture was a cross between English Tudor with spanish influences.
It was busy, and there were some boutique shops hugging the big box stores that looked rather meek; I guessed that Carmel has a city code on the type of facades that were allowed. Thankfully this helped with a more authentic ambience.
In the afternoon, when we reached the KOA the rain had let up enough for us to get BigB set up, and we huddled for the evening as more storms were forecast. As the night drew to a close, we slumbered under the passing showers churning up from the coast. We woke to low clouds and then the blue sky opened up in all its glory. It was in the sixties and very comfortable, and the air smelled of eucalyptus and pine, courtesy of Mother Nature.
That afternoon we went to the beach, reading and watching surfers skate upon the waves. I observed the Pelicans diving for fish and the Curlews swirling in unison up, between and over the imperious waves. It made for a relaxing afternoon, the arresting clouds with occasional sun breaks. We were fortunate the storms were gone and we were able to laze in comfortable tempatures on a virtually empty beach.
When we returned, our side of the RV Park had emptied out and we sat in serenity by the fire with little wind, no bugs and other encumbrances we had so often encountered, especially in Canada and the east coast. We didn’t know when we would experience another classic American campfire since the Oregon Coast was beginning to recede into fall, beckoning the rain and cooler temperatures.
I roasted what would probably be my last marshmallows. One became a casualty of the fire, but I was not be dissuaded as I still had half a bag. S’mores are one of my fond childhood memories that I recapture from time to time. It can become quite the religion; weaponized with custom forged tongs for the very purpose of roasting the perfect marshmallow. Part of the experience is to find the right convection in an open fire, and as is the case with all wild things, one must be patient.
For those of us who revel in solitude, it was quite the treat to be on the California Coast lazing in the receding sun of the evening with only our low playing music, the surf and the organic sounds of wildlife.
We only have a few more nights in the rig, just overnight stops as we journey up the Oregon Coast. It’s a nostalgic thing to think we have traveled over 26k since May 9. So many of our experiences seem like an eternity ago. And the thought we will be leaving America on our migration to France is now upon us, literally week’s away. After years of dreaming and planning the stresses of this new and exciting reality are now taking hold.
While we were heading for Zion, Bob received news that the queen had died. Being British it was an emotional moment and we, like so many others, processed the information for days to come. I posted a separate tribute on my blog to commemorate this legendary monarch.
We decided to travel through the back roads of Navajo land in northern Arizona, with the Vermillion Cliffs to the left, passing by Lake Powell, etched into the orange and peach sandstone, though you could tell the water levels were quite low. The terrain into Zion was a prelude of what was to come; we passed through the Paria wilderness, home of the famous “Wave” where we sadly were not able to pick up a permit during the lottery. As we reached the Grand Escalante Staircase a fierce thunderstorm was rolling in that gave us a good drench but not flooding.
When we arrived at the east side of Zion, the landscape turned into pink and apricot ridges, complimented by haystacks sculpted by the elements; you could still see what looked like ancient lava flow.
When we reached the entrance to the park, we were issued the tunnel pass as we were within the limits to pass through (check the Zion NPS site for requirements and instructions) – we waited while the kind and humorous Park Ranger arranged our passage. We were the only vehicle going through at that time, I suppose it was later in the day.
If we thought what we had seen so far was astounding, we were certainly in for a treat when we passed through the tunnel.
The effect is the same as witnessing places like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite for the first time; it’s sometimes hard to believe such marvels exist for real.
We got settled into the Holiday Inn Express in Springdale for the evening. Later we watched the full moon rise over the peaks outside our window; everywhere we looked there were lovely views of Zion.
The next day we took the shuttle from Springdale to the Visitor Center where we picked up the Zion Shuttle to different spots around the park where you can hike. We decided to do the Narrows, which is world renowned and we were accompanied by a fair stream of foreign tourists. We walked via a well-groomed path to the riverbed and started wading through the knee deep water. I took my hiking poles as you can’t see the rocks and it’s easy to lose your balance. We zigzagged from one “shore” to the other. We were wearing hiking boots that we weren’t worried about getting soaked – I was thankful for that! We saw people in sliders and other types of shoes that would not give you the support needed; the current could be quite strong in spots and the rocks were precarious. We meandered, albeit slowly, through this wetland of a enthralling slot canyon. Since it is cooler due to the canyon being mostly in the shade and being in the water I certainly didn’t feel dehydrated. In the end we did eight miles🥾
When we finished we took the shuttle back to the village, jumping off to marvel at the scenery and hopefully spot a condor or two. We decided to have a nice pub lunch at the visitor center – we had earned it! When we got back to the hotel, we put our feet up until we could muster the energy to check out the downtown area and grab a gelato. Zion isn’t really big and we didn’t take too much time, checking out the usual shops and a few galleries. The shuttle system is great and it’s really easy to get around.
We left the next day, delighted that we were going back through the tunnel and we could do more touring as we left the park, backtracking through the Grand Escalante Stair Case and Lake Powell.
Like those other stupendous places we have visited so far on our journey, Zion must be experienced; it is truly in a class all by itself.
We made our way to Sedona, a bit worried about the flash flood warnings and we saw some dandies on our weather app radar; lo and behold we wound up behind a long line heading into Flagstaff, and after about a half hour we managed to get through the flooded part of Highway 89, slick with mud but fortunately we are a high profile vehicle. It was a different story on the other side as the road was completely flooded out and would take hours to get cleared out- we saw the long line of folks stuck coming the other way. These storms are not to be trifled with!
It was pouring heavily as we came into Sedona and we got to our site to wait out the storm before heading to the market to pick up supplies.
As we learned, the weather app can say it’s a clear day then boom…in an hour you hear the thunder and then the rain starts. One just crept up on us as I am writing this – it’s getting closer and the thunder is starting to crack and I can hear the rain on the awning. Oddly these storms in Sedona haven’t kicked up a lot of wind.
The next day proved to be warm and dry and we decided to promenade downtown Sedona. Many of the shopkeepers were commenting that it is now the slow season and were slashing prices. There were a fair amount of tourists but not as packed as when we were there in the spring. It was nice to have elbow room to explore where we liked, in no rush and dining al fresco watching the world go by.
The following day we picked up a rental car so we could hike Devil’s Bridge. It was warm and I was struggling a bit to get up the ridge as the sun was extremely intense and it probably would have been a good idea to have started earlier. After drinking electrolytes and downing a protein bar, I sat in the shade on the ridge overlooking the canyon, glad I had made the effort.
We stopped by Exposures Gallery on the way back so I could ogle the artwork that was way out of my budget range when I spotted a Worrell; they are one of the main galleries representing his work and usually have an entire room filled with his creations – all found was a single wall; he died recently and there had been a run on his work… I found one of his smaller wall sculptures relinquished by his daughter that was available for sale at a reasonable price!
The sculpture is a bronze called “Greet the Sun”. The etching on the back affected me deeply in the same way the sculpture did. Knowing how fleeting life is, and having endured so much, I told myself “I can do this, I can afford this.” This piece spoke to me so strongly it was as if Worrell’s spirit itself said “this is meant for you.” I never had a piece of art give me such a high; it literally brought tears to my eyes.
James, one of the Gallery employees, passionately explained to me every detail of the piece and how a remote cave painting provided the inspiration for his work: The shield depicting protection, the staff for defense, the patina animal skin symbol of a shaman, and the symbols of journey etched into his tunic.
This piece, though small, will remind me of the expanse of the spiritual journey I am currently on.
We spent the rest of the afternoon doing laundry which was fine; an aggressive storm cell came through; thunder, lightning-wrath-of-god type stuff that drove us indoors. After it dissipated we motored through the drenched streets, the sweet smell of the after-storm and cooling temperatures was downright intoxicating. We dined at the El Rincon Restaurante in the lovely Tlaquepaque Village. I had a Navajo Pizza which is like having a green chili enchilada spread over some seriously deep fried Fry Bread. That and a flavorful margarita closed out our epic experience in Sedona. We spent a somewhat restless night being battered by more storms, thundering overhead as we huddled in the wake of the unrelenting tempests.
As many who have visited know, Sedona is a New Age center due to the theory of vortexes that promote well-being. I cannot speak to that, but the atmosphere in this rarified space is like no other; the scenery, the intensity of alpine skies – you feel like you are floating on the very thunderheads that form in the distance, highlighting the rustic red buttes, encircled by the blue-green vegas that are embedded into the fabric of Sedona itself. Even the seemingly apocalyptic storms that pass through enhance the experience, insisting that balance must be maintained. The contrasting landscapes of Sedona tell the tales that while we populate this land, we cannot fully claim it; Mother Nature reminds us of her presence when she mercilessly washes all who stand in her way down the unforgiving arroyos and onto oblivion.
We left Georgia and headed south to Florida. I had discovered what they call tree canopies and we decided to take a drive off of Old Centerville Road that leads into Tallahassee – upon arrival we discovered it was unpaved so decided not to do the whole road. Regardless, it was quite beautiful with huge oaks sporting the long bearded moss that we discovered while traveling through Georgia.
We also passed more blackwater swamps on the side of the road, some of them had huge denuded cypress stumps that looked like the Baobab Trees in South Africa.
As we had time we scheduled a desperately needed pedicure – thankfully the stars aligned and our feet now look glorious!
We stopped by one of our friend’s house (an Adidas employee) to pick up some sportswear we had ordered. We had to cut the visit short as Bob had tested positive for Covid as a result of our exposure in Charleston – he is fortunately asymptomatic, but we want to be prudent on where we are hanging out though in this region of the country they seem pretty cavalier about masking.
We overnighted at a hotel that had a kitchen so all in all it turned out pretty well and we were able to keep to ourselves. The next day we set out for the Gulf Shores KOA; it rained most of the day as we were getting the remnants of the tropical storm that had pounded Texas and New Mexico. We were getting flood alerts but the rain wasn’t any worse than what he had experienced in Oregon and we got to our destination safely.
We woke up to the thunder of the Blue Angels practicing nearby: This is where they are stationed and there is a subculture that caters to their notoriety including street names and eateries.
We spent the day exploring Pensacola; I was on the prowl for some pink flamingo kitsch and we discovered that this area was a bit of a Hawaiian spin-off with Tiki bars and paraphernalia – I found it quite amusing! We lunched at the Shrimp Basket and I had my first Shrimp and Grits. It was like polenta with a creole spin and it was quite good🍤
Having satisfied our cravings we poked around a bit more – it’s off-season and I can imagine this place buzzing when the weather is a bit cooler. The humidity makes me feel like I’m drunk, and I have been getting my exercise at the hotel gyms or resort swimming pools. Otherwise any minor exertion outdoors leaves me drenched in sweat.
Per the local weather people this has been the least active August for weather events since 1982 – this has bode well for us as I was worried we would be driven north by storms but we are lucky, bearing only the occasional thunderstorms and humidity.
We headed out the next day to New Orleans (NOLA)! I was excited to visit the Angela King Gallery as I was looking into getting an original Anne Bachelier. We left the Gulf Shores early to catch the gallery while it was still open as they closed at 5:00 on Saturday. We parked on the outskirts of the French Quarter and walked into town. When we arrived, and much to my disappointment, they had a sign on the door that they were closed until August 30th. There was nothing listed on the website. I emailed the owner about my discontent, though as it stood I would not be seeing the real paintings anytime soon. We then walked down Bourbon Street and did not find much in the way of traditional jazz, but there were plenty of loud bands playing rock and roll and punk. It was still quite busy considering this is the slowest month for New Orleans tourism, and there was a perpetual haze of pot smoke on this strip that was even worse than downtown Portland! This is definitely a spot for the marginally clothed party crowd.
We were still hoping to catch an authentic jazz bar and after talking to a proprietor of one of the local shops she said we need to go down to Frenchman Street. Upon further research we found that these were the clubs we were looking for and decided to save those for the next day, catching the bands as the city grew dark.
We went into the shops around Jackson Square and perused the artists displaying their street crafts much like you see in Paris. We promenaded for a while, marveling at some of the architecture and amusing ourselves at a voodoo shop though I couldn’t find much that actually inspired me. We stopped by a small cafe to get some lunch; the poke with a Cajun twist was surprisingly good and Bob decided to try a beignet and became immediately addicted.
Unfortunately the famous Cafe Du Monde had a huge line outside so we decided to try and catch it another time but we at least had a beignet fix😍
We finished meandering through the streets and as it had been a long day, we set out to the New Orleans KOA and relaxed for the rest of the evening.
Bob decided to book a swamp tour on an air boat for the following afternoon and grab some lunch prior to the trip. We stopped at the recommended restaurant next to the bayou and I had crawfish crepes that were fantastic. What I love about Creole cuisine is that it’s spicy, but not obscenely so, and has a very definite taste; having had my fair share of West African food the spices were familiar. Here we really got the Louisiana vibe, especially as the thunder rumbled nearby.
We boarded the airboat piloted by Danny, a Louisiana native with a thick drawl. It was one of the smaller vehicles that could go fast which beat the other overcrowded boats. We skimmed past houses built over the bayou on stilts that were for rent then headed into the swamp with its lovely water lillies, egrets and herons.
Danny hit the accelerator and we torpedoed at warp speed through the wetlands. When we slowed down, I noticed something coming through the water, skimming just above the surface; it was an alligator heading straight for the boat. In fact, everywhere we went they would come toward us, some would submerge as we got closure but otherwise they were pretty nonchalant. They ranged from 5 – 8 feet long and though not as big as the Cayman in Guyana, they could still do plenty of damage to a human.
We stopped by one of the houses that was set on the bayou that had been devastated by Katrina then partially resurrected – the structure was now sound but there was still a fair amount of debris. Here Danny showed us a massive “garden spider” that was black and yellow that freaked out the gals sitting behind us. He then presented a baby alligator that if you hold it by the neck, it won’t bite you.
We went further down the bayou and Danny stopped looking for his “buddy.” A large alligator appeared and he started feeding him marshmallows. This beast had apparently been through a lot: He had been injured by a boat and had a chunk taken out of his side by another alligator, yet he healed and was happily swirling around the boat while Danny continued to entice him with more marshmallows.
I almost prefer to call these ecosystems wetlands, rather than swamps, as the latter gives you a sense of something sinister and they are quite beautiful despite the idea there is wildlife in the water that can eat you.
We headed back at warp speed until we got to the stilt homes and motored slowly back to the dock. We then headed back to the French Quarter, parking on the outskirts hoping that no one would notice our RV; we had heard stories about break ins, though there were expensive cars in the vicinity so figured we would be fine.
We walked through the neighborhoods and eventually stopped by Cafe Du Monde for the chicory roasted coffee and more beignets and more site seeing. We then had a dinner at Muriel’s which is a stately restaurant built in the 1700’s by the French and eventually passed onto many different owners until it became the establishment it is today. I had my first taste of Turtle Soup and then Drum Fish and it was all so very good. It was starting to get dark so we headed out Frenchmen Street as the quarter started to ignite the gas lights. It was Sunday night and the cruise ship crowds had apparently left. It wasn’t crowded at all and some of the streets we strolled along were empty with the houses beautifully lit up with enticing court yards tucked behind wrought iron gates.
The French-influenced iron work on the balconies and facades is what makes New Orleans architecture so distinctive and many have taken pride in keeping their homes restored. It was humid, but not to the level of obscene, so I wasn’t on the verge of passing out. We could hear the jazz drifting down the streets, riding along the vapors of Louisiana cuisine as we approached Frenchmen Street.
The street itself is surprisingly cozy – meaning it isn’t a sprawl of clubs and eateries. Tucked into these smaller venues are the Spotted Cat which was pretty much standing room only, but is renowned for its hip NOLA jazz, and just down the street is Marigny’s that was belting out some fabulous more traditional jazz. Marigny’s is also a cafe, and wasn’t crowded at all, which I found delightful but somewhat perplexing; perhaps due to it being Sunday and at the end of August. Here we fulfilled our fantasy of live New Orleans jazz, sipping on whiskey at a table with plenty of elbow room.
After getting our jazz fix, we strolled through more quiet neighborhoods and onto Bourbon Street where the insanity spilled out in all its neon splendor (if that’s what you want to call it, though it didn’t quite fit the vision I had when I think of Bourbon Street).
Sadly New Orleans was a major hub of slave trading or in reality, human trafficking, even after slavery was abolished. The Creole cuisine comes from the blending of French and West African cultures that becomes apparent as you immerse yourself in its delights. Add to that the Venetian influence on Mardi Gras and you have yourself an intoxicating elixir that permeates throughout the cafes, clubs, celebrations and architecture.
But what brings the community together is the love of music, specifically jazz that evolved over the decades, creating a legendary hub for the Black community that has transcended into world-wide fame. It was such a delight to partake in this indelible slice of Americana.