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Archive for October, 2018

Au revoir, Paris and Sancerre!



All good things must come to an end

Departing Sancerre on Friday came too quickly, and only my excitement about seeing my daughter Caroline,  offset my disappointment in leaving this amazing little town.  The incredible landscape of Sancerre, set high on a hill, looked like the setting from Beauty and the Beast.   I kept expecting Belle to stroll thru the streets singing!  Each morning I took a different route to class, turning up and down angled roads, getting happily lost on most days, only to discover the most direct route on my last day.

Finding a new route

Wandering the many streets of Sancerre on the way to school!

My quirky apartment with the low antique beams, and my warm hosts,  Philippe and Giselle,  encouraged me speak French during our homemade breakfast together, made my stay feel very welcoming.  The rigorous classes at Coeur de France threw me back into conjugating verbs again, but more importantly, allowed us to work on our fluency in small class settings and outdoor excursions.  The improvement in my French over these 5 days was one plus, another was making new friends from around the world!

Making friends at Coeur de France

Never to old to make new friends (from left to right): San Francisco, Australia, Vancouver, Alaska, and NY. 

Life is too short

Spending my last weekend in Paris with Caroline was a last minute plan, and totally worth the extra 2 days!  One evening with her Georgetown friends at a street-side cafe where the rose flowed along with the laughs.  And the second night dinner with 2 Tulane friends at Chez Janou sharing an enormous bowl of their famous mousse au chocolat, and then taking in the midnight views from the rooftop of the BHV.  The sparkling lights from the Eiffel Tower during “nuit blanche”, an annual celebration where Paris stays up ALL NIGHT, created a memorable atmosphere.  Neither able or willing to stay up all night with the partying Parisians, Caroline and I were ready to make the most of a full Sunday together.  Not the ideal weather, but the hike up Montmartre gave her a gorgeous view of Sacre Coeur and a cozy brunch spot with amazing crepes!

Shop ’til you drop

Renewed energy (and the desire to get out of the rain) motivated us to explore the inside of the BHV.  Two attentive assistants at Maje were able to whip me in and out of options until we found the right pieces needed for a photo shoot immediately upon my return.  This impending deadline was the perfect excuse to have my fashion-oriented daughter supervising this wardrobe make-over.

Caroline, of course, found herself happily exploring the wide selection of amazing accessories from native French designers of Chanel, Givenchy, and Hermes!

Au revoir!

I was sad to pack up on Monday morning after sending Caroline on an early flight back to Madrid.  I had some quiet time to reflect on the previous 17 days and how this might impact my future.  This trip was 100% out of my comfort zone when I planned it,  200% by the time I departed, and 1000 times better than I ever expected.  Fumbling to communicate in a foreign language,  lugging heavy suitcases thru tiny streets and curved stairs (yes, I over packed!),  navigating flights, taxis, trains and the metro system,  and feeling relaxed when eating alone, were all completely new to me.  When I realized that I was enjoying these challenges, and found myself looking for the next opportunity to explore something new, I knew I had accomplished the goal I set for myself.  I can honestly say that I’m proud of myself, and that is not something I say lightly.

The wonderful part of ending a trip like this is returning to my family and friends.  I knew that my grandson, Christian, was eagerly awaiting a snuggle and a present.

From City to Countryside


The view from my room

Beautiful Sancerre as viewed from my room

Switching cities is a major shift of gears– from one extreme to the other, and equally wonderful!

Leaving from Paris-Bercy train station, in the midst of the Fashion Week arena, I felt the pulse of Paris all the way to Nevers for the transfer.  The train was fully equipped with wifi and charging ports, seats were assigned and far nicer than trains at home (and I was in second class!) When they announced my transfer in French, and only French, I realized that I had reached the countryside.  No escalators or elevators to change between tracks so it’s best not to need assistance.  The train to Cosne sur Loire was 1/4 the length and virtually empty.  I was the last stop with 5 other people at this tiny town station.  I had practiced my question:  “ou sont les taxis?” but the signs were easy to follow.  It was more concerning that there was not a taxi in sight.  The Uber app gave me slight hope that this service might exist in this town, but it only served to indicate that my hotel was 24 miles away and a driver couldn’t be located.  I don’t know why my heart didn’t start to race, and those general feelings of anxiety did not start to creep in, but I was calm.  It wasn’t dark yet.

Th beams are not much taller than I.

High ceilings and low beams above my head

I do believe I have a guardian angel that steps in at times, and she sent me a lovely French couple, with whom I could NOT communicate, who used her phone to call me a taxi.  “Bien, bien” she assured me as they loaded me into the front seat with a young driver, also non-English speaking.  We didn’t have much natural communication during the 40 minute drive, but I google-translated sentences including “that nice woman helped me” and “I’m going to French school.”  These practiced lines help to pass a little time, until I blurted out “je t’adore.”  I meant to say “j’adore Paris” but he smiled at my exclamation that I was in love with him. We parted ways after 46 euros, a few mercis, and “I’ll call you for my ride on Friday!”  The proprietor of my hotel will need to call him to make this reservation, unless my French is dramatically improved.

Through the double carriage doors, painted bright red, but not an obvious sign that read “Le Cep en Sancerrois,” I quickly realized that my “hotel” was actually a Bed & Breakfast and I am the only guest.  In this large antique home, I was guided through several living spaces to reach my private room up the tricky winding stairs.  With high ceilings reflecting the steeply pitched roof, the amazing exposed beams dating back to the 18th century, and views out both sides over the Sancerre countryside, it is definitely a unique and special space.  And the proprietors, Giselle and Phillipe could not have been more welcoming.  As I was given the quick tour of the bedroom space behind the curtain, the desk area to set up my laptop, and the little kitchen (I will never use), I quickly appreciated my short stature of 5’3″.   My head barely clears the dropped beams in the main room and the height at the end of the tub is even lower!

JWH in Sancerre

Peaking through the wall over the vineyards

Ready to take advantage of the remaining daylight hours, and locate my school for the morning, Philippe sent me out with a local map and instructions to follow the red line on the streets.  I really wanted to cover as much territory as possible, as well as stretch my legs after the 3 hour train ride, so I wondered up and down every main and side street.  Amazing views over the Sancerre vineyards, and the charming old buildings lining the narrow streets, gave me lots of great photo ops along the way.   The end of the red line landed at a gorgeous sunset spot for a glass of Sancerre blanc overlooking the countryside.

As dusk settled on this quiet Sunday night, and my morning yogurt was no longer holding off my appetite, I entered the empty restaurant on the corner of my block.  Totally empty.  I waited a few minutes to inquire about a table, without a soul in sight, and decided this was not a good choice for my first night.  Fortunately, my guardian angel directed my through a few more winding streets and a livelier tavern caught my eye.  I was seated next to a table for 3 speaking 1/2 French and 1/2 English, a felt a little relief.  They turned to introduce themselves and turned out to be 3 of my new classmates who were already finished their first week and were starting second week of classes.  “Courage” was the word of advice they offered for the start of my French immersion!

Starting my second day of classes after a morning tour of a 12th century chateau.  Gotta run or this will never get posted.  Thanks for reading!