What fun to be a tourist for a weekend in our own hometown! We packed in the fun, enjoying time with Anne's brother Ross and his wife Sherrie....from awe-inspiring Great Falls Park
, with the powerful Potomac River thundering over the rocks, to home-made ice cream at Thelma's country store.
The fun continued on Sunday, with an alfresco lunch at Patisserie Poupon in Georgetown, then a wander through the beautiful and peaceful gardens of Tudor Place
We ended the day with a picnic at Wolf Trap Farm Park
, listening to the "President's Own" Marine Band as the sun went down...a medley of tunes from The Music Man
, Kirk's favorite musical, and rousing performances of Copland's Billy the Kid
and a powerful 1812 Overture, cannons and all. The huge crowd, larger than I ever remember seeing at Wolf Trap, jumped to their feet and clapped along with Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever", which preceded the first of the summer's fireworks in the adjacent meadow.
One of the things we missed when returning home from Europe was stepping out the door of our house and walking to a cafe, restaurant, or bakery. That prompted a move from our single-family home in the middle of a typical housing development, to a townhouse within walking distance of Lake Anne in Reston, Virginia. Even before moving in, we became regulars at Lake Anne Coffee House, enjoying the lakeside ambience in the good weather, and the cozy sitting area inside in the winter months.
Saturdays are a real favorite, with an open air farmer's market from May through October, and a jazz combo at the coffee shop.
Today we walked around the lake with visiting family, then sat and enjoyed a delicious café cubano and the music of Mykle Lyons and trio.
Another lovely mention of Music and Markets tours today - courtesy of Karen Fawcett, founder of Bonjour Paris
. Karen writes, regarding a recent reader get together in Washington, DC:
" What occurred to me during the luncheon was, I bet this group could not only have discussed France but in addition, conducted a lot of business together. Because this is Washington, there were more than a fair percentage of lawyers. There was a travel agent who, if she had wanted, could have distributed cards. Anne and Kirk Woodyard, who have started Music & Markets Tours
since we first met via Bonjour Paris, discreetly described their tours which are nothing less than first-rate."
In addition to Bonjour Paris, Karen's write-up appears in the weekly column she writes for Joe Brancatelli's subscriber-only business traveler letter JoeSentMe.com
By the way, our lunch at Petits Plats
was a delicious taste of France right here in Washington!
Amalfi Melodies, courtesy of Dream of Italy
As we're busily planning for our early July Music and Markets
tour to Amalfi, I was pleasantly surprised to read about the Amalfi Coast Music Festival and the tour in the latest blog
from Dream Of Italy.
Kathy McCabe, founder of Dream of Italy
, is a long-time friend who excels at seeking out the very best of Italy, and sharing it with her readers.
Grazie, Kathy, for recognizing us as we follow the music
We were salivating because we could see the beignet (sweet pastry like a doughnut but without the hole - stuffed with chocolate, apple, lemon or other yummy fillings) shop was open. But the shop keeper told us they only make beignets when there are lots of people on the beach. They put fresh, hot beignets on trays and carry them up and down the beach calling out "Beignet, beignet!". I don’t know why snow cones and cold drinks haven’t caught on here for the beach sellers, but beignets are all we see sold on most beaches.
We had a coffee in the town center by the lava stone obelisk with a rooster on top. Vic explained that like our US eagle, the rooster is the national symbol of France.
We drove up toward Sète driving through Marseillan Plage (Marseillan Beach). Vic commented that there’s nothing sadder looking than a beach town on a rainy day. We had another seafood quayside lunch at Le Petit Pécheur (The Little Fisherman). Six more huitres and another bottle of Picpoul de Pinet. Why would anybody want to live in another part of France? I get the feeling that Vic is starting to wonder the same thing.
We came back and introduced Vic to Annie so she’d know him when he comes back for a visit. She had us all sit down at her table for a glass of local Muscat, the predominate white wine of the Languedoc. Vic headed home and Anne made a fabulous lardons
(thick cubes of smoked bacon) salad. Though we’re not leaving until Wednesday, we’re already getting the departure fever. The symptoms are cleaning up certain rooms and not entering them again,
V is for Victory - and Vic!
While we were walking the streets of Pézenas, Vic Kramer, a dear friend, called from his villa near Vaision La Romaine in Provence. He’d just flown in the day before from Washington DC, and after a longer-than-usual trip from Paris to Provence, took a long beauty nap, and returned our call to him when he awakened.
When we asked him if he could come see us right away, he said he could and was here by 7:30 PM. We’ve been trying for two years to get him and his wife Karen Fawcett, of http://www.bonjourparis.com/
to visit us in Vias, but there had always been some schedule conflict. We only had salad fixings in the fridge so we ordered a pizza and stayed up until 11:30 talking.
Monday, May 8 is Victory Day, a national holiday celebrating the cease fire agreed to in Rheims in 1945. We strolled to the center of town with Vic and saw a crowd of veterans with tri-color sashes and flags in front of the Mairie
(Town Hall). They were getting in position for a parade to the war memorial statue in front of the church. Without any musical instruments, they began slowly marching with their families following respectfully. They all marched back after awhile for a memorial aperitif with the mayor.
We followed signs inland to Pézenas’s foire de brocante et antiquités
(antiques and bric-a-brac fair). Vendors spread their wares on the sidewalk and street and were joined by others who appeared to have emptied their garages, barns, and attics. We successfully resisted all temptations to buy some things we needed for the house as well as the multitude of interesting things that we don’t need and that would just junk up the house. Having an empty mini-van and being 16 kilomètres from Vias did, however, make all that resisting difficult.
Hymns and Oysters
The International Chapel, an English language church service, is at 8 Rue St. Maur across the street from Le CORUM, the main convention center in Montpellier. IBM employees, American wives of French men, British people, and other English speakers gathered in a first floor office of an apartment building. We met a young Californian mother of three named Linda who had driven there from Pézenas. She said that in her town with a large English speaking enclave, there was no English evangelical church and that this one in Montpellier was the closest one to her.
We took the slow road home instead of the A9 expressway so we could stop in Mèze, on the Bassin de Thau, a salt-water lake separated from the Mediterranean by a wide strip of sand, for a seafood harbor-side lunch.
L’Ambre Marine served a 12.50€ menu with fresh, plump huitres
(oysters) – the best I’ve ever had, and a choice of grilled dorade
or grilled lotte
(monkfish). All the meats, fish, and side dishes are grilled over a woodburning fire and come to the table with a smoky aroma. The half potato and a mixed vegetable dish called forestière
made with zucchini, broccoli, haricot vert
(green beans), and mushrooms are cooked in a skillet over the flames. This was all made more enjoyable by the most agreeable weather, the pleasant couples strolling hand in hand down the docks, and the local white wine, Picpoul de Pinet, that goes perfectly with seafood.
Before noon, we made a visit to the Domaine Preignes-le-Vieux. Our guests last week, the Sugermeyers, showed us photos they’d taken there on a tour of the place and recommended the wine and the domaine to us. There are many explanatory placards describing the campus which includes a chateau built in 1202 of volcanic stone. The estate began growing wine in 804 AD and was called Villa Preixanum by the Romans.
Séverine, our guide, remembered the Sugermeyers from last week, as she conducted the tastings and the tour of the barns full of giant oak kegs and stainless steel vats. The tasting room is in the old blacksmith shop with the huge bellows still hanging from the ceiling. They made shoes for the horses that powered all the plows until they switched to tractors and other gas powered machinery in the 1950s. The old 10 foot tall kegs are now mostly for show since they’ve long since become saturated with wine and no longer imbue the wine with the flavor of oak. They use cheaper, smaller oak kegs now and sell them for 30 euros after one year of storing white and two storing red. The Vic family’s domaine comprises 150 hectares and produces 1 million bottles per year.
We drove back up to Clermont L’Hérault for the Fete du Touailles
that we saw advertised on over-street banners on Thursday when we went to the Lac du Salagou. We had asked several of our Viassoise friends what touailles
were but other that a guess that it may be a specialty to that specific region, no one knew. But we bravely went anyway and asked a vendor there, from whom we bought a canvas 9 bottle bag, who said it just means all the stores that want to can bring stuff out into the street and sell from the sidewalks. A bar was barbequing sausages on sticks. The chef would wrap each sausage in a hot dog bun, pull the stick out and hand one to each customer. We walked all the way up to the church, peeped inside and went back to the car another way. Stopped at the Hyper U for more supplies, then home.
Anne made a dinner of ingredients from the Vias marché
– roasted chicken, young spring artichokes, and asparagus.
Market Day in Vias
Today I slept until almost 10 AM without even trying - maybe I'm now adjusted to euro-time. Anne went to the weekly market in the church parking lot and it was as crowded as a mid-summer Saturday. Already northern Europeans are spending long weekends in the south. It’s also the last weekend of a two-week vacance
from school. I called Robert Luger of the International Chapel in Montpellier to get directions for tomorrow’s evangelical church service.
We talked to a friend from Virginia on the way home. He his wife and daughter "Princess Anna", are in Paris and the Loire valley for Anna’s first birthday.
We also stopped a couple of times for poppy pictures, olive and iris pictures, grape trunk firewood, and fragrant yellow geniey
(broom) for the table.
Annie came over and we had pizza from the new pizza shop and I made a fire in the cheminée out of the grape trunks.
Long after the restaurant closed, we finally got to Aigne and found the little covered walkway leading to the circular lane that goes around the village. It leads to the church and the centre which is surrounded by ateliers for sculptors and painters. We chatted with a stone sculptor who had carved gargoyles into the existing stones holding up the front of his building. He had items for sale inside too, but what an advertisement! Just turn the stones surrounding the front door into fantastic growling animals.
Minerve (photo above) is the most crowded of any town we’ve visited on this trip, and walking over the bridge to the town, there’s a river bed on the right, but looking off the bridge railing to the left, there’s just farmland. Leaning way out over the railing on the right, we could see the river comes out of the limestone cliff near the base of the bridge. The river once came around but over time it cut straight through the limestone. Simon de Montfort couldn’t get to this town with cliffs on all sides and surrounded by rivers, but his army of 7,000 had no problem figuring out how the 400 inside got their water and thirsted them out in just a few weeks. He let the non-Cathars go but hacked up and burned over 100 confirmed dualists.
What's in the road ahead?
Alain brought a book to show us titled Vias et les Viassois
by Henri Vitumi. In a diagram showing Repartition en ilots
inVias in 1823, rue Racine is the dividing line between two ilots, Ile Valade
and Ile Albat
; and adjacent to the south is Ile Chivaud
. The entire quartier
may have been made up of several ilot
but named for the biggest one. He also brought a comic book-type hardback book named L’Herault dans L’Histoire
. We need to add both to our Vias library.
Our realtor told us that we have a long-term renter for the studio! We’ve asked them to email us when something happens – like a renter leaves or a new one comes. We’ve even emailed them to ask if anything is going on while it’s not occupied. But the only way we get information is when we notice that that no funds have been deposited or after awhile funds are deposited. Also, if we go there face to face and ask, they tell us.
Expecting to get connected to the internet, Anne went to HexaConnect to find out he’s having trouble with France Telecom – maybe no connectivity until Tuesday. So we drove to Agde to discover the internet place is for rent. The vendor next door pointed several blocks down the street to another place.
We walked down through the arcade of the town hall and past the huge black lava-stone church to the tourist information office to pick up brochures of events for our guests this summer. Then decided to follow the Agde map to take the back way to the internet shop, where we answered our email.
More exploring of this wonderful part of France - on the way to Minerve, known for its Cathar history, as well as for increasingly good wine, we made lunch reservations by phone at the sole restaurant in the tiny hamlet of Aigne but they said they didn’t really want to serve us after 1:15. We can make it if we don’’t get lost or have any other kind of delay. But below Beziers, we made a wrong turn and had to go through Colombiers. Then sitting in a road work traffic jam we took several pictures of what we thought in the distance was Montady – a little village creeping up a steep slope to a tall tower at the top.
We made a simultaneous decision to go find out what town that was and to not eat lunch in Aigne – the delays had put us past their serving time. We climbed up to the Restaurant du Tour on the ramparts of Montady. Reading the tourist placard beside the road while waiting for our meal we started putting together several puzzle pieces. These pie-shaped farms we were looking down on from the north in Montady were the same ones tourists look down on from the southwest at the Oppidum d’Ensérune – the Etang (lake) de Montady that dried up in 1247 and was converted to farmland after drainage ditches directed the leftover water toward the center. Now the farms fit between the wedges as the ditches radiate from the center. The Canal du Midi passes through a tunnel just south of the old lake. Incredibly, a railroad tunnel built in 1855 takes trains under
the canal tunnel which was built in 1667.
Adventures with a Water Heater
We got home quickly, and after Yannick wrestled the 100 pound or so cylinder into the courtyard, he started figuring out how he’d get it up the spiral staircase to the third floor. "Ce n'est pas possible
" (It’s impossible) he announced (this happens to be a favorite phrase in France), then stared at the windows on the third floor but came up with no ideas for getting the old one out or the new one up to the third floor.
“How about this?” I offered a 30 foot coil of blue plastic rope I’d bought to move the IKEA armoire up there. We tied it to the bracket on the heater then put it back in the box and ran the rope out a hole in the top. He ran upstairs and I tossed him the rope. He began pulling while I guided the water heater over and up the outside stairs for the final vertical hoist. I pushed it as far as I could from below and dashed up the stars to help him pull from the top. Anne held it from below to keep it from going back to the floor while I ran up the inside stairs. I ended up on the roof of the Chambre trying to get a hand under it to make it a little lighter and to get it out away from the wall and the bouganvilla. We ultimately wrestled it through the window and he hung it and connected the water and electricity to it while I cut out more of the dead bouganvilla from my perch on the roof. While all this was going on, I discovered more signs of life in the extremities of the longest vine, so I was glad I didn’t cut it down from below.
Alain came over for aperitifs at 7:30 while Yannick was leaving. They seemed to know one another and chatted while we put the old heater in the back of the truck. Alain went with us to Casa Pepe in Agde, an authentic seafood restaurant with 10 tables. We sat next to a great photo poster of all the local fish, so Alain could tell us about everything on the menu by pointing to its photo on the poster. We had homemade glace – chocolate sherbet and a salty caramel ice cream before returning to Vias.
He’d told us that rue Racine had been there during the 12 and 1300s but that was before the streets were named. Mail was addressed to the family name and located by quartier. Our quarter was named Ile (island) Chivaud after the family with the biggest house in the quartier on what is now rue Voltaire, built by a wealthy family whose descendants now live in Montpellier. They come in the summer to live in Vias. He’d been in this house’s tower when he was nine years old and he pointed out that you could see it when approaching Vias from the plage
(beach). He also pointed out several garage doors that had an old metal disc on them signifying the owners belonged to the association of vignerons in 1907 during the Vigneron Revolt.
Exploring our corner of France
Vias, France, Got up and made a French press full of the colombian coffee from Toulouse torrefaction
. It always smells so much better than it tastes. Tried plugging in the reading lamp we got in February into different plugs and touching it all over. Sounds deviant but it’s a touch dimmer and if it doesn’t work, one must assume one hasn’t yet touched it where it wants to be touched. Anne thought it might be the bulb and suggested I check it out as she was going out the door with the little key to check the mailbox. As I was exclaiming, “There’s no bulb in here!” She was opening the mail and said, “There may be one in this envelope.” Sure enough, our Parisian guests from February had taken the bulb out to replace it and had mailed us one with a note saying they couldn’t find one around here but knew just where to find one in Paris. How nice! We’ll use their packaging to find a replacement to add to the box of 10 or 15 different bulbs for the diverse lights and lamps here.
After calling Yannick, the electrician, and finding out he’d bought the water heater and would call this afternoon when he got off work to let us know when he could install it, we took the advice of Kassem, the internet shop keeper, to go north to walk around Lake Salagou. It took about 25 minutes to get there and we were surprised to see it was surrounded by dark brownish red soil.
Even more remarkable were the non-red stones and boulders scattered all over the surface. We walked around part of the lake then headed uphill on the north side to get a better view. There was little activity on the man-made lake but a marina power boat went out and retrieved some errant paddleboats, chained them together and brought the back to the harbor.
Drove back the long way through Moureze, strolled through the village and looked into the Cirque de Moureze, a highly eroded area with long vertical towers of stone sticking up. There are hikes into the Cirque, but we had hiked enough just getting there. We considered getting some serious walking shoes just to leave here and use for exploring. Drove west to Bedarieux, then south to Beziers and about ten minutes from Vias, Yannick called from our front door saying he was waiting with the water heater in his truck.
How did you FIND this place?
A question we're often asked about our home-away-from-home in the south of France.
Well, it's a story that began years ago, with our music-related travels to Europe, and we'll fill you in through upcoming entries in "Following the Music."
Meanwhile - the latest by Kirk from France:
Got a call at our home in the States from guests at our place in France last week saying there was no hot water.
Called a local electrician who came over and got it working but said the heater needed to be replaced and that it is dangerous. So since I’m between jobs and Anne could rearrange her schedule we used some frequent flyer miles to take an Air France flight to Toulouse by way of Paris.
I’d been wondering if we’d have to cut back on time in Europe since work is slower now, and I need to be on site and available should an opportunity to work arise. So instead of the feeling of "here we go again like last year", it was more, "Ah, I didn’t know whether I’d be doing this again or not" so everything was treasured.
When I went to the restroom on the plane, I even got a dreadful thought that I may be addicted to the smell in the restroom of the airplane - horrible as that is.
So we got the two aisle seats in the 3-seat middle section of the last row, Row 48. And it was nice that AF offered us wine with our dinner, a gesture that United stopped over a year ago. It was also nice that they had a connecting flight to Toulouse from Paris. With United, we’d have to go to Brussels or Frankfurt to get to Barcelona (3 hours from Vias) or Marseilles (2 hours from Vias).
The pilot welcomed us to La Ville Rose and we decided to get a salad at a sidewalk café in Toulouse instead of finding the fastest way to Vias.
So we got the most helpful directions from the National Car Rental agent that we’ve ever gotten in France (about the normal level of friendliness as in Italy) and headed for the Parking Victor Hugo on the Place Victor Hugo. Learned too late from the machine that raises the arm that if you want to pay by CB (credit card), you do NOT take a ticket, rather just insert your CB. I suppose when you leave, you reinsert it and it calculates what you owe and charges you for it. But I’d already hit the button for a ticket so we had to pay cash at the caisse.
There were three artisanal chocolatiers between the parking lot and the main square, and we hadn’t heard that Toulouse was known for homemade chocolate. I also noticed a strong smell of coffee when we got out of the parking stairway and on to the sidewalk.
We strolled through the central park although there were warnings of violent swaying of tree branches. The wind was extremely stiff, and we saw some whipping of the low hanging branches, but not enough to scatter the 50 or so men sitting on benches beneath them. It’d take more than violently whipping branches to do that.
After darting in to the TI (tourist information center) for a best-of -Toulouse brochure, we continued through an interesting archway which led to the courtyards of the capitol building. Emerging from the other side, we came out in to the Place du Capitole covered in booths selling Kmart stuff.
We found MonCafe on the north side and grabbed a table in the sun. The waiter was losing bills in the wind and almost lost his tray. We had a gésier (duck organs) salad and a Catalan salad, and then walked to the former Jacobin convent known for hosting classical concerts. It’s a long rectangle with the pulpit on one side in the center on a raised platform, an odd arrangement in a non-cruciform church.
We walked back through the Place du Capitole toward the parking lot, stopping at each chocolatier only to find that none had chocolate covered real orange peels, only orange jelly sticks covered with chocolate.
Just before ducking back in the parking tower, Anne pointed out the épicerie offering freshly roasted coffee, which drew me across the street like a siren. The fragrance that surrounded us when we stepped through the door was overwhelming. They had just finished roasting several batches which were cooling in 250 gram bags marked Colombia, Ethiopia, 100% Arabica, Costa Rica. I selected a small bag of 100% Arabica from Colombia, because I was sure the Vias house was out of Carte Noir, our favorite grocery store brand.
Getting out of town was a breeze using the maps from National and the signs to the A 61 and Montpelier. We love passing the Cathar castles and Carcassonne. We stopped in the Bezier outskirts to pick up basic supplies – red, white, rosé and ingredients for salade du chèvre chaud. Each bottle of wine was from the promotion rack and was under 3 euros.
Monsieur Osancion, our friendly neighbor, was outside when we drove by in the car to say bonsoir at about 8:30 PM.
He said bonjour but didn’t recognize us in the different car and out of area license plate. Then he saw Anne and said "Ah, Les Americaines!" Then told his neighbor who was out front with her husband building a fence to move her car so we could go down Rue Racine.
Annie, across the lane, was still up knitting when we drove by and waved from her dining room table. We took her a little delice from the epicerie and she had some wooly laced socks for us and two scarves – one for each of our mothers for Mother’s Day.
She called her brother Alain for us who agreed to go out to dinner with us tomorrow night. He also mentioned that here were little green branches starting to come off the bouganvilla in our courtyard that everybody thought was dead. So I don’t have to dig it up and plant a new one. I’ll just cut back the 30 feet of frozen branches and leave the 2 to 3 inch diameter trunk under the balcony to grow back again.
The salade at our dining room table was delectable and we called it a long day.