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A Busy Month of June

On June 6 (yes, we got married on D-Day) we celebrated 43 years of marriage. Our celebrations consisted of two things: first, a wonderful dinner at Blackey’s, a Montpellier restaurant recommended by our French teacher, Elodie. We enjoyed a tasting menu (with wine pairings, of course) and spent the evening reminiscing about each year of our marriage. It was a very long dinner!

Our faded wedding photo. We’ve faded a bit since then, too!

The other part of our celebration was coffee related. The Breville espresso machine that we bought on our first day in Montpellier had to be replaced in the first year, and this year the replacement gave up the ghost. After much debate, and especially after a recommendation from Nicholas, who serves us coffee at Cafe de la Mer, we decided to blow the budget on a SMEG. I don’t want to say it’s been life-changing, because that would be excessive hyperbole (see what I did there?), but we are in coffee heaven.

Our anniversary gift

The next weekend we made a day trip to Bouzigues (also Elodie-recommended), which is known for its oyster farms. We strolled the beach, watched kids playing, and enjoyed a lovely terrace lunch.

Bouzigues oyster farming

Phil hates oysters, and I can’t say I love them, but when in Bouzigues. . . I ordered gratinéed oysters (huitres en francais), which were very rich but good. And we each had an entire fish (yes, we had to fillet them on the plate) for our main course.

I had already eaten one oyster before I remembered to take this photo.

We love taking back roads, and on the way home from Bouzigues we spotted some interesting buildings. We stopped for a stroll and discovered Lavérune, a truly charming village near Montpellier.

Lavérune church. We wonder who maintains all the gorgeous flowers there.

We wandered through tiny, twisting streets and marveled at the quaint buildings–all very old.

Interesting décor on this home

But the main feature of Lavérune is the Chateau des Eveques, the 17th century home of the Montpellier bishops. Today it hosts events, houses an art museum, and features a game room that on our visit was filled with chess players. We especially loved the massive chateau park, which boasts the tallest plane trees we’ve ever seen.

Gorgeous park at Chateau des Eveques

The next weekend we attended the annual Marché des Potiers, or pottery market, in Marseillan, a small town about an hour southwest of Montpellier. We strolled around the pier, which was crowded with interesting restaurants, before landing on Brasserie le Marius, where we enjoyed a leisurely three-course lunch. We chatted over lunch with the gentleman at the next table, a native of Marseillan, who was interested in us because we are Americans and was very kind about my lousy French.

The Marseillan quai

After lunch we took a quick reconnaissance stroll through the pottery market before making our way to la Maison Noilly Prat for a tour and tasting. Phil’s favorite cocktail is the Vesper martini (the James Bond one), so checking out this prestigious vermouth maker was essential.

The Noilly Prat tour

The tour was in French, so we didn’t understand a lot of it, but we still loved seeing where and how this fortified wine is made. We got to taste three versions of the work-in-progress, to help us understand the impacts of aging and refinement, outside among the huge barrels. And the completed-product tasting was quite interesting: four types, ranging through extra dry (my favorite), to dry (the most common), to rouge (the favorite of our friend Sheri), to amber (think of cough medicine).

The lovely courtyard garden at la Maison Noilly Prat

There was a bar, of course, but we had to leave to complete our primary mission: exploring the pottery market. It was wonderful, with such variety and so many unique works of art. One large vessel kept calling to me, and over the course of an hour I succumbed. We now own a beautiful piece (alas, I’ve lost the card so can’t credit the artist) that will always evoke happy memories.

A beautiful work of art for our home

That sounds like a busy month, right? But it was all just a runup to the main event: a week in Stockholm visiting our kids! We were so excited, since it’s been almost a year since we’ve seen them. After a long travel day with two flight delays, we finally arrived at our adorable Airbnb, just a ten-minute walk from the kids’ apartment. They met us there and made a delicious late dinner as we caught up. The next morning I enjoyed breakfast on the balcony overlooking the garden before Phil woke up.

Petit dejeuner

We spent the day walking, doing a few errands, and chatting before it was time to head into the city for a special dinner with dear friends Ann-Lii and Fredrick, who had recently returned to Stockholm after living in Montpellier for six years. We miss them, but we’ll try to see them each time we’re in Stockholm.

Delicious food with great friends and family!

After dinner we headed to a hi-rise bar for a nightcap. It was about 11pm and still light! We had a wonderful time, and we hope to see these speical friends again soon.

Close-to-midnight sunset, viewed from the bar

Our timing for this trip was based on Midsommar, the Swedish summer solstice holiday, and the favorite holiday of our son-in-law, Nic. The four of us had such fun preparing the food–two types of deviled eggs, two types of herring, Nic’s homemade bread, crudités with dip, cheese and egg pie, roasted potatoes, potato and fish gratin, and much more. Amelia made flower crowns for everyone, and we were well supplied with schnapps (or in Sweden, snaps).

Phil in his flower crown

Our celebration was held outside the kids’ apartment, on a grassy area with picnic tables and grills. Another group next to us supplied a Maypole, and we shared our snapps with them. I had brought our pétanque set in my checked bag, so we had a hearty tournament, which Nic won by a hair.

Nic: the winner in Midsommar fashion as well as pétanque

Nic’s friend Douglas joined our celebration and made it even more fun–but he had to leave early for his OTHER Midsommar party! Aside from eating delicious food and playing games, the main activity of Midsommar is singing special songs as one drinks snaps. And so we did.

One of many special mommy-daughter moments

The day was perfect in every way. Naps were taken. Many laughs were had. Delicious food was consumed. And we all may or may not have slightly overdone the snaps.

Beautiful Amelia on a beautiful day

We took it easy on the rest of our visit, just relaxing and enjoying being together. We headed into the city once more, the day after Midsommar, for a delicious brunch (real bacon! Eggs Benedict with avocado!) at the Greasy Spoon Cafe. We played games (Hues and Cues, really fun!), Amelia and I worked a jigsaw puzzle, we cooked together, and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. On our last evening, Nic and Amelia, who make their own kimchee, served us a most delicious vegetarian bibimbap.

Delicious bibimbap: rice, carrots, homemade kimchee, fried egg, sautéed mushrooms, and two kinds of sesame seeds

The next morning the kids stopped by to say farewell (and to pick up their espresso machine, which they generously loaned us), and we were off to another long travel day (yes, more delays, but this time we enjoyed the Air France lounge at CDG). We arrived home late that night, and the next morning we were treated to a delicous brunch by our friends Gwen and Tom. 

Beautiful brunch table at Gwen and Tom’s house

And, except for the fact that our dear Texas friends Danny and Lynn are arriving this afternoon for a visit, that concludes our busy month of June. We are enjoying life and making memories at an astonishing pace, and we’re grateful. Happy summer to all!

Summer sunflower décor at our neighborhood shopping mall

The merry month of may

The Roamers have been busy!

I didn’t realize that May has been that busy until I looked back on it. How did we manage to have so much fun?

On May 3 we joined a group of friends to say farewell to  Ann-Lii and Fred, who are moving back to Sweden. I misread the time, so Phil and I arrived two hours early at O’Carolan’s Irish Pub. But when I texted the honorees, they decided to come early to keep us company. We were the first to leave but heard that SOME people partied until the wee hours!

Phil has been painting most days, and his work continues to amaze me. He is in his happy place when painting in his studio (a tiny corner of our second bedroom), listening to his favorite music.

One of Phil’s recent paintings

One day we drove to Magalas to pick up Jo and Dennis. Dennis had a broken foot and couldn’t drive, so we piled into the car and visited a wonderful restaurant in the tiny village of Montady, where we had a scrumptious lunch with a view. Typically, I forgot to take a picture of the view.

This dessert was shown on the menu as “orange.”

The next week I attended a luncheon organized by Dennelle of Renestance, to honor Ann-Lii before her departure. We had a great time laughing, telling stories, and reminiscing, but we will all miss Ann-Lii and Fred, who bring smiles and laughter everywhere they go. Phil and I are lucky that we’ll be able to see them when we visit our kids in Stockholm!

Ann-Lii’s sendoff

I have been searching in vain for cloth cocktail napkins, which apparently are not a thing in France. My friend Shelia helped me decide to buy handkerchiefs to use instead. The next day I spotted pipe cleaners at the grocery store, and voila!

Handkerchiefs? Pipe cleaners? You decide.

I put them to good use: my former colleague Ben had e-introduced me to his sister Pam, who was planning an extended visit to Montpellier, staying very near us. What a perfect excuse for a party! I invited a few close friends to a tea party (full disclosure: not a single cup of tea was consumed), so that Pam would have some nearby social contacts during her stay. We munched, drank Champagne and white wine (and a little iced tea for good measure), and enjoyed the beautiful day.

Tea table

Pam had a fun time and has already made lots of friends here, including young’uns from her French classes! I hope she ends up moving here, or at least visiting often.

Pam and me: instant friends!

The next day Phil and I had a grand time at the annual Balade Gastronomique, a walking wine and food tour. It’s special because, in addition to all the great food and wine, participants get a look inside some venues normally closed to the public. With our group of 14, we tasted countless wines and delicious foods.

Our wine-N-dine group

My favorite stop, both for the venue and the food, was our local Prefecture (regional administration office). The part we’ve seen  while obtaining our residence permits is not lovely, but the tour afforded us a look at the main entrance and gorgeous interior of this 19th century building. We headed home (after amuses bouches, cold appetizer, hot appetizer, main, cheese, and dessert courses, each served in a different venue) exhausted and full.

Some of our group members admiring the Prefecture ceiling

Next up on our busy agenda was a very special road trip through Provence with friends Margi and Michael. We’d been planning this trip for months, and we happily set off for our adventure, admiring the scenery of the Camargue (famous for its salt, pink flamingoes, and white horses). Our first stop was Les Baux de Provence, a fortified city from the Middle Ages which Phil and I had visited on our first trip to France in 1993. After a delicious lunch with a view, we explored a bit.

Les Baux lunch with a view

The sweeping views from the top of the village are awe-inspiring, and we took full advantage of the photo ops. In the photo below, you can see some of the spectacular view (and a lovely couple!).

Our friends in Les Baux

Our first two nights were spent in the charming village of Moustiers, which is close to Les Gorges du Verdon, a breathtaking area recommended by our French teacher, Elodie of In Situ. This canyon, for me, is even more spectacular than the Grand Canyon, because of the intensely turquoise river and lake.

First view of Les Gorges du Verdon

As the driver for our trip, I could only take photos during stops, and some of the skinny, winding roads were a bit terrifying, but it was all worth it.

My giggly travel companions

Stopping frequently to take in the views, we made “minute friends” with other travelers, including a small Parisian group we saw at several stops. I cannot overemphasize the vast beauty of this place. If you ever have an opportunity to visit Les Gorges, go!!!

We ran out of words to describe the majesty of Les Gorges du Verdon!

Moustiers had its own kind of beauty, tucked into a giant limestone cliff with a waterfall. It’s also a center of faience, and Margi and I had fun choosing a few pottery pieces for our collections.

Moustiers at night, after dinner

After a delightful couple of nights at Les Restanques de Moustiers, we enjoyed the drive to our next stop, Grasse, where we had booked a perfume workshop at Galimard, a perfume company founded in 1747. Lasting about two hours, this workshop was a highlight of our trip.

Phil concocting his fragrance

Each of us was seated at a perfume “organ” where we developed a base note, heart note, and top note using five scents per note. We were instructed not to use the fragrances for three weeks, so that the scents had time to blend–but a sneaky sniff of mine revealed a fragrance almost identical to Donna Karan’s Cashmere Mist. 

My fragrance, named for my childhood nickname

The next morning we proceeded to Saint-Paul-de-Vence, which Phil and I had briefly visited in 2022. One of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera, it was home to James Baldwin for the last 17 years of his life. Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner were married there, and Marc Chagall is one of the most famous artists to have lived there.

Phil enjoying a cocktail in Saint-Paul-de-Vence

It’s also a great shopping town, where I found a dress for an upcoming wedding. Each couple bought a gorgeous linen tablecloth there as well! After filling the trunk with our treasures, we headed on to Antibes, the last stop on our adventure. Unable to get two rooms at the same hotel (I blame the Cannes Film Festival), Phil and I stayed at a 10-room B&B, while our friends were at a seaside hotel with a view. 

Petit dejeuner on the terrace of our B&B

We had fun exploring the beach, as well as the old town, where a huge Sunday market was intriguing. We may or may not have done some more shopping there.

Antibes Sunday marché

We spent lots of time outdoors, enjoying perfect weather and the beautiful Mediterranean. Across the water we could see the snow-topped Alps!

The beach near our hotel, with a view of the Alps

We visited a number of bars and restaurants, of course, including a cocktail stop at the Fitzgerald piano bar in the Hotel Belles Rives, where F. Scott Fitzgerald once lived. It’s a gorgeous Art Deco room with (in our olpinion) slightly snooty service.

Bar Fitzgerald

We had read that this bar is the place to see the rich an famous, but we were almost the only guests during our visit, although there were plenty of people on the terrace overlooking the sea. There were some great photos of famous guests, and the decor alone was worth the visit.

I took this photo for Patricia Popham Taylor, who wrote her master’s thesis on Fitzgerald.

On our post-cocktail stroll to dinner, we happened upon the Walk of Jazz Giants, created as part of the Antibes annual jazz festival. We also spotted some very interesting storefronts.

The handprint of Carlos Santana. My foot for scale.

We didn’t visit this store despite its fascinating display.

And then it was time to head home. Our drive was uneventful, and we were all happy to be home, relishing the memories of a wonderful trip. We resumed our French lessons, I attended my monthly women’s circle meeting, and–a real treat–we saw American Roderick Cox, the new (and youngest ever) conductor of the Opéra Orchestre National Montpellier Occitanie conduct La Bohème. 

La Bohème cast and conductor Roderick Cox taking  a bow

Traveling is always exciting, but it’s nice to be back home enjoying our city. On a recent walk home from my French class I spotted several new works of street art.

Poignant and timely street art


We are so very fortunate to be living this life, in this beautiful country, with so many wonderful friends. We regularly pinch ourselves and promise each other to never take this for granted.

Happy and grateful

April: Eclipse, dear friends, and more

The Roamers visit their granddaughter

Wow! What happened to April?! It’s almost over, and yet I’m pretty sure it just began. This month has been calmer than March, but we seem to have crowded a lot of fun into it. Best of all, we got to love on our granddaughter, Cora!

We set off by train for Paris on April 2. Our plan was to spend a leisurely evening in Paris before catching our flight to Dallas the next morning. I had reserved a Marriott property at the airport.

Guest of the day!

After checking in, we headed into Paris. Our umbrellas stayed in our suitcases, unfortunately, so we had to buy new ones at the train station because it was Paris in April, which means rain. Undaunted, we walked straight to our dinner spot, à la Biche au Bois (you might remember it from February, when my friend Margi and I dined there). I ordered (again!) les oeufs mayonnaise, which were just as delicious as I remembered, and which made me forget the rest of my meal.

Oeufs mayonnaise

It took a long time and two trains to get back to the hotel, and we fell into bed exhausted but excited for the next chapter of our adventure: flying American Airlines for the first time since 2014!. I had divorced AA in favor of Delta (at the time I had 2.4 million miles on AA!) after encountering an unsympathetic agent when my mother died, but after Delta made elite status much more difficult to achieve, and after our friend Dave, a retired AA flight attendant, encouraged us to try it again, we made the leap. And we were not disappointed; service has improved in the past ten years! We arrived in Dallas, picked up our rental car from Turo, and headed to Joni and Scott’s house, our home for the next two nights. 

After a shower and a glass of wine, we summoned an Uber to downtown Dallas for dinner at Billy Can Can, a fondly remembered spot from our roaming days. We had planned to start with martinis at the Adolphus Hotel bar, the French Room, but time was short and we decided to skip it in favor of an early dinner.

Billy Can Can pork chop: highly recommended!

The next day we enjoyed Joni’s fabulous breakfast spread and lazed around until it was time to meet up with friends. We had told our close friend group we’d be at J Theodore from 4-7 to catch up with whoever could make it–and we were thrilled to welcome many of them.

Lovely girlfriends from way back: Edie, Sandy, Cara, Cheri, and Joni

We didn’t get everyone into the photos, but we had such a wonderful time. We’ve known most of these folks for more than 30 years!

Cara, Sandy, and Joni: such wonderful friends!

One of the best things about our visit was that the kids–and grandkids!–of our friends wanted to see us. Lindsey, Clayton, and their daughter Alyssa joined us at J Theodore. And Nancy and Tom, parents of our son-in-law Nic, have become dear friends we see whenever possible.

Nancy, Tom, Clayton, Lindsey, and Alyssa

And after we left J Theodore, Joni’s daughter Jamie came over to see us. Jamie’s children, Landon and Ava, also got rides over. We heard that Landon said, “I have to see them! They came all the way from France!” It was a magical evening by the pool under the stars, but the next morning it was time to head out. We took the scenic route from Dallas to Dripping Springs, with a stop for lunch at Mama’s Home Cooking in Burnet, Texas, where we met up with dear friends Carol and Richard. I wish I’d taken a photo of us, but the meal pic will have to suffice.

Heart attack on a plate?

We finally arrived in Dripping Springs, just in time to help celebrate our son Grayson’s birthday. Cora was a bit shy the first couple of days of our visit, but she warmed up and we had the most delightful time with her! We don’t post photos of her online, so you’ll just have to imagine the most adorable 2 1/2-year-old who ever was. 

We had a couple of appointments aside from spending time with our kids–met with our lawyer to update our wills, had a fabulous lunch with friends Lynn, Danny, and their adult kids Kay and Mike, and I had a fun catch-up lunch with bestie Patricia. And the highlight, the reason we chose these dates for our trip, was the total eclipse of the sun! Cora, a toddler fashion icon, wore a dress decorated with planets for the occasion.

It was cloudy, but we saw it!!!

Before we knew it, it was time to go home. We said goodbye to Cora and her parents (hoping to see them in the fall), headed back to DFW, and hopped the plane to Paris. We had a couple of hours at CDG Airport before catching our train to Montpellier, so we ducked into the Sheraton Hotel bar for a badly-needed coffee. I ordered a café frappé, but the waiter brought me an espresso. I decided it didn’t really matter–after all, caffeine is caffeine–and took a sip. Suddently the waiter reappeared, took my espresso, and gave me the frappé I’d ordered; and then he served my espresso to the woman AT THE NEXT TABLE!!! She drank it down and left before I could decide what to say! Shocking but hilarious.

We were, as always, happy to be back home. We got back into our routine (by which I mean French lessons), hosted a super fun apéro dinatoire (heavy hors d’oeurves), I hosted my women’s circle, and we enjoyed the spoils of Dave and Sue’s trip to Italy: meats, lots of cheeses, breads, and for dessert, vanilla gelato topped with 25-year-old balsamic!

Sunset view from Dave and Sue’s beautiful apartment

Friends Janene and Peter were here for a few days, and we got to meet up with them for coffee, along with friends Anne and John. And our friend David, who visits Montpellier annually to brush up on his French (we met in a French class), shared his latest Montpellier street music video, which you can watch here. Tomorrow we’ll be having lunch with David and a new friend.

I’ll leave you with one last photo, taken yesterday as we walked to have coffee with Janene and Peter. This one-man-band on wheels was delighting tourists and locals alike, and his vehicle blew bubbles! We’re so grateful to live here, where there is something delightful at every turn.

One-man-band, with bubbles!

March: in like a whirlwind

The Roamers have a very busy month

This morning, on the last day of March, I am preparing blanquette de veau for a small Easter dinner with friends. But first, I looked over the calendar to find out why I”m feeling a little worn out–and it’s easy to understand! March has been an unusually busy month. Plus, it’s spring! Allergies! Extreme weather changes! And Ophelia, the orchid my friend Gwen gave me over two years ago (friend Sue named her while plant sitting last year), is in full bloom.

Ophelia is thriving

First up in this busy month was THE FIESTA. Our friends Dave and Sue used to host an annual pre-spring fiesta when they lived in Chicago, and now they’re continuing the tradition here. In January they set the date. “It’ll be on the fourth,” Dave said. So on February 4 we showed up–only to find that we were a month early!!! I often think the funniest stories are about mistakes (especially mine), and this was no exception.

Dave, a professionally trained cook, allowed me, along with friends Anne and John, to help with the food preparation, which was so much fun. We spent the day chopping, cooking, and laughing. And the party was perfect! Thirty-five guests of all nationalities and backgrounds crowded into Dave and Sue’s beautiful apartment for a food-and-fun-filled evening.

The fiesta spread

Less fun, but lasting all month and still not resolved, was the Revolution of the Appliances. First, in February, the dishwasher began leaking. A technician came out and “fixed” it, but it continued to leak water all over the floor. As of today, I have made 23 phone calls (in French!) and two visits, all to no avail–and it’s under warranty! We will try again after our return from an upcoming trip to Texas. Also, the washing machine is making a weird noise (the technician said it will take about two weeks to get the part required for repair), and the shower periodically emits a bad smell. Liviing in France is great, but like anywhere else, it has its frustrations.

Recalcitrant dishwasher

March has been an especially challenging month due to Phil’s cardiac rehabilitation. He’s fine, but he has heart disease, and France takes chronic conditions seriously. So for  three weeks, Monday through Friday, a medical taxi picked him up at 7:30 am and brought him home from the clinic (exhausted!) at 4:30 pm. He spent each day exercising: stationary bicycling, walking on the outdoor track, stretching, and doing weight training. He and the other patients had ten-minute breaks after each exercise session, and they were served lunch each day. We’re both relieved that it’s over (although he can do this annually), but he feels great. And I’m happy to have him back home! Oh, and the cost? Zero. Can you imagine what this would cost in the U.S., even if such a thing were available?

March was also a social whirl. There were lunches with friends Sue and Margi, Jennifer, Jo and Dennis, and Linda and Sandi. There was a wonderful dinner party hosted by Ann-Lii and Fredrick, featuring raclette, a delicious cheese-based dish that we hadn’t had since moving to France. Now I want a raclette grill!

Raclette spread: delicious!

That dinner party evolved into a dance party lasting into the wee hours. The next day my knees were angry, but it was worth it! We also spent a Saturday with friends Jo and Dennis, who live in a tiny village about an hour from us. We drove to their house and they drove us all (including their beautiful, sweet Husky, Denali) to a special restaurant on the Canal du Midi, called le Pourquoi Pas (translates to Why Not?). After an adventure on a narrow, muddy dirt road, we enjoyed a lovely lunch in this cozy restaurant frequented by canal barge travelers.

And we hosted a special-purpose lunch with friends Gwen and Tom, so that Phil could provide some painting tips to fledgling and talented artist Gwen, who is taking up painting. Tom surprised her at Christmas with an easel and paints, along with everything she’ll need to get started, and she brought her first work-in-progress, which is astonishingly good, for Phil’s input.

Gwen & Tom, or, as I like to call them, G&T


March is also my birthday month, and the celebration lasted over several days. Nicholas, the waiter at our Thursday coffee group, must have heard someone talking about my birthday, because along with my coffee he brought a birthday candle. On a saucer. Just the candle. Too cute and funny!

Birthday candle from Nicholas

Then there was a special birthday lunch with Linda, Brecka, and Sandi, gorgeous lilies and a lemon tree from Phil, and a special dinner for two at Chez Delagare. Birthday drinks with Jana, whose birthday was a few days before mine, presents from friends and family, and a surprise dinner with Margi and Michael at Terminal 1 followed, and several days later friend Shelia treated me to yet another delicious birthday lunch!

Birthday lilies!

March also included a very bad haircut for me, renewing our street parking pass (because our car is too big for our garage), obtaining a Metropole pass (for reduced admission to museums and more), French lessons five days per week, another meal with Dave and Sue, and a Sunday afternoon spent addressing “Register to vote!” post cards for Democrats Abroad. Phil and I attended a fabulous and strange contemporary performance of Giselle, and we had a planning call with friends Michael and Sara for their October visit.

Birthday lemon tree; I named her Limoncella

And at the very end of the month we completed the donation of our apartment to our kids (for inheritance tax savings; don’t worry, they can’t kick us out!), attended the funeral of a lovely friend, enjoyed a wonderful apéro dinatoire (kind of a happy hour that serves as an informal dinner with heavy hors d’ouvres), and hosted an Easter lunch (with the blanquette de veau I mentioned above). Dessert was a gorgeous and delicious chocolate cake made by Linda.

This cake was as delicious as it was beautiful!

See why I’m tired? March was a wild and windy month with so many good things. We are grateful for all the wonderful friends we have here and for the busy, exciting adventure of life in France. Now it’s time for a rest!


A Couple of Nanas Go to Paris

A Girlfriend Trip to the City of Light

In late January, the New York Times published an article about fashion designer Iris Van Herpen’s one-woman retrospective show at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. I’d never heard of her, but the photos of her designs were mind-blowing, and I sent them to my friend Margi. “Gorgeous!” she replied. “We should pop up to see the exhibit!” And thus was born a grand plan for a “voyage entre nanas”–a girlfriends’ trip.

Iris Van Herpen atelier, reproduced for the show

We found a date in February and started planning. First up was a place to stay. Since we’d be taking the train into the Gare de Lyon, Margi found us a wonderful hotel nearby, the Hotel Reisner. A dance afficionado, Margi also found a performance at the beautiful Opera Garnier, so we bought tickets. And of course dining in Paris was high on our list, so we booked a dinner at one of David Lebovitz’s favorites.

Plans confirmed, we set out. I have to tell you, this was one of those unusual trips where EVERYTHING went perfectly! The train was on time, comfortable, and not too crowded. We arrived and headed to the hotel, where we were too early to check in but were greeted so warmly we felt at home. Bags stowed, we walked a couple of blocks to a charming little restaurant, the kind where regulars are greeted like family.

The food was excellent–a stir fry for Margi, couscous for me–and we splurged on café gourmand, an espresso served with several tiny desserts. I love ordering café gourmand, which lets me avoid tough decisions and sample several desserts. And get a small hit of caffeine after lunch. Yum.

Ile flotante, one of several sample-sized desserts served in a café gourmand

Full and happy, we strolled back to the hotel, where our hosts had arranged side-by-side rooms. This little hotel is a gem, featuring beautiful décor, kind staff, and a great location

My hotel room: tiny but beautiful

Can you guess what we did next? Of course! Nanas need to shop! We strolled for hours, peeking into windows (not one but TWO bespoke shoe ateliers!), trying on shoes, where we took a pass on 450-euro beauties that squeaked or hurt, and enjoying the cool, cloudy day. In Paris. Margi lived in Paris as a university student and has visited many times over the years, so she was a fabulous guide. And yes, of course we had to stop for an afternoon glass of wine.

We headed back for a quick rest before our first big treat: dinner at à la biche au bois (roughly translated as “the doe in the woods”), a restaurant that is on David Lebovitz’s list of favorites.

à la biche au bois

We were welcomed like regulars and ushered to our table. I use that term rather loosely, because all the tables are crowded together so that one can chat up one’s neighbors or simply eavesdrop on their conversations. We ordered from our very charming and funny waiter and settled in to enjoy the repast. My entrée was les oefs durs mayonnaise; sounds fancy, right? It’s simply hard-boiled eggs topped with mayonnaise, but it was sublime.

Les Oefs durs Mayonnaise

I’ve forgotten Margi’s entrée, but for our plat we both enjoyed coq au vin, which was served family-style with a vat of perfect mashed potatoes (As we ate, we stared at two men at a nearby table who devoured steaks with a MOUNTAIN of fries. That platter of fries would have been enough for eight people, but these two guys ate every morsel!). Next up was the cheese course, featuring the best Cantal I’ve ever tasted. This was followed by a delicious op. After dessert we were served a complimentary glass of eau-de-vie. That meal was unforgettable. You’re probably wondering how expensive it was, right? All in, with a delicious bottle of wine, we each paid $71.

The next morning we met up at a bakery down the street for coffee and pastries before heading out. We walked la Promenade Plantée (the elevated walk that inspired New York’s High Line), shopped (this time I bought shoes and Margi bought earrings), and strolled through a huge, wonderful indoor and outdoor market featuring gorgeous produce, meats, clothes, antiques, and much more. After lunch at Le Verre à Vin, where we ate the best mille feuille I’ve ever had, we headed to the main event, the Iris Van Herpen retrospective.

Iris Van Herpen design

Did I mention that it poured rain all day? It’s Paris in February, after all. Undaunted, we stomped through the puddles and checked our coats and umbrellas before climbing the stairs to the exhibit. 

These dresses were spectacular!

The exhibit was much, much more crowded than we’d anticipated. With wall-to-wall people, it was hard to see everything, and we skipped a couple of videos due to the crowds. But the gowns….


We were surprised to read that many of the gowns had been worn by famous people–Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, and Natalie Portman, among others.


It was a lot to take in! I ordered the catalogue, which will be a treasured souvenir. This exhibit was spectacular, and if you have an opportunity to see it (it’s going to other countries and possibly to the U.S.), I hope you’ll go!

I think this might be my favorite!

While at the Musée des Art Decoratifs, we visited the other major exhibition, Mode et Sport, d’un Podium a l’Autre, which features sports fashions from the 1800s to the present. I was astonished at how women played tennis, climbed mountains, and participated in other sports wearing corsets, high heels, and bulky layers of fabric.

Fascinating exhibit featuring sports outfits

At this point we’d been on our feet for hours and had walked over five miles, so of course we needed to stop for an apéro before the ballet. We chose the historic Belle Epoc Cafe de la Paix, next to the Opera Garnier, where we were refreshed with a couple of glasses of wine, accompanied (bien sur!) by frites and croquettes de jambon.

Inside the Cafe de la Paix

And then it was time for the ballet. I had not been to the Opera Garnier since my first trip to Paris, with Phil in 1993, and I’d forgotten how gorgeous it is. We took our seats (middle balcony, the best view for the ballet) and soaked it all in. I could imagine ladies in their finery, gentlement in evening wear, and all the glamour of 19th century Paris. I had also forgotten the Marc Chagall ceiling paintings, which depict some of the most beloved operas and composers.

Marc Chagall masterpiece ceiling

The ballet itself, Sadeh21 by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, was fascinating, confusing, and sometimes disturbing. Naharin (a former Martha Graham dancer) founded the Gaga movement language, which he developed while experiencing a back injury. I read about Gaga but cannot explain or truly understand it; the movements are beautiful, and you’d just have to see it. Margi was familiar with Naharin’s work, and I can see why she loves it; we both were deeply moved by this performance.

The stage, as seen from our perfect seats

The next morning, after coffee and pastries at our new-favorite bakery (la Pariesienne), we packed up and headed to the train. I forgot to get a selfie with the two of us, but you can imagine two nanas, very happy, full of great food and culture, looking forward to their next adventure.

Who’s afraid of marseille?

The Roamers discover an enchanting city

I’ve dreamed of seeing Marseille for many years, largely because of how Julia Child wrote about the time she and husband Paul lived there. However, we had heard lots of negative things about the city: it’s dangerous, there’s a lot of crime, they have a drug problem, it’s dirty, etc. But when we had an expiring credit card benefit, we decided to use it to explore this city. And what a great experience it turned out to be!

Getting there was easy, just 1 1/2 hours on a fast train

We checked into our hotel, the beautiful Intercontinental Hotel Dieu, which overlooks the old port. As part of the credit card benefit, we received a room upgrade, breakfast both days, and a credit to spend (which we used at the bar, of course).

The view from our room

We enjoyed  lunch on a sunshiney terrace nearby before boarding le petit train for a little tour. Our main objective was seeing the basilica at the top of the hill (you can see it in the photo above). Topped with a golden statue of Mary and Jesus (which in the English translation of the French tour narration became “Mary and the Kid”) the Notre Dame de la Guard is magnificent. 

Basilica interior

We climbed about ten thousand steps to arrive at the chapel, where a prayer service (call and response) was in process. 

The chapel during a service

In the basilica I was fascinated by the paintings on the walls and ceiling. Looking more closely, I saw that wealthy people had donated these decorations, I assume in order to be remembered for posterity.

“Donated by the Count and Countess Pastré, 1889”

As gorgeous as the basilica was, the view was even more inspiring. Atop the hill, one can see the entire city. . .

. . .and the sea.

After a bumpy descent, the train dropped us at the old port, where we enjoyed a late afternoon stroll. Then it was on to dinner at Ekume, whose bouillabaise tasting menu we’d chosen as a treat for Phil. We arrived to find that one must pre-order that menu, so we chose a different tasting menu with wine pairings (of course). It was good, but a bit fishy for me. I prefer fish that doesn’t really taste like fish–but Phil enjoyed the meal. I mostly loved the dessert.

This photo doesn’t do justice to the magnificent Escalier de la Gare Saint Charles

The next morning we met our guide for a real treat: a 5 1/2 hour walking tour, Beyond Bouillabaise. To call this merely a culinary tour would be a disservice! We met our guide, Corinne (Coco), at the top of the magnificent train station staircase, where she greeted us (no one else on the tour; lucky Roamers!) with pastries to munch as we strolled.

Just one of the many sculptures on the staircase

We wandered a while, with Coco pointing out historical sites and telling stories about each neighborhood. After stopping for coffee and more treats at a popular square, we continued on to the stunning Palais Longchamp, which is not a palace. You can read about it here.

Palais Longchamp; we’ll definitely return for the museum!

A random hilarious thing happened en route, when we “stumbled” upon a dog’s comment about a right-wing politician (the heir apparent to Marie le Pen, according to Coco).

Doo-doo to the right wing

As we strolled, Coco knocked on a shuttered door, which opened to reveal a crossant maker at work! I was fascinated watching him place a giant sheet of butter atop the dough, folding it and then running it through the machine. And his croissants were among the best I’ve ever tasted!

This delightful gentleman allowed me to take his picture!

We had visited several family-owned shops, tasted multiple treats, and walked quite a bit when Coco announced that it was time for a pre-lunch apératif. We stopped at a 1930s bar for a glass of wine and a bowl of panisses, which are chickpea frites served with a mustardy aoli.

The bar, with original 1930s décor

Delicious panisses

Then, of course, it was time for lunch. Coco took us to a tiny restaurant serving delicious Algerian food. Nadia, the owner and chef, was charming and passionate about her cuisine. We shared a salad followed by crunchy fried sardines. I’d never tasted sardines before and was surprised at how tasty they were! Nadia insisted we return to try her couscous, and we definitely plan to do that!

La Saveur, chez Nadia

After lunch we walked through a wonderful outdoor market where people can buy fresh fish and produce at very low prices. This was a welcome contrast to U.S. food deserts, where it’s hard to find fresh food. We stopped in several more places to sample treats before heading to my favorite stop of the entire tour: a hardware store!

Maison Empereur is not just any hardware store. Covering most of a city block, this 200-year-old institution offers hardware, yes, but so much more: an entire roomful of kitchen knives, a huge kitchenware section, toys, clothing, housewares–even a perfume shop offering the oldes perfumes of France.

Maison Empereur

By this time we were loaded with purchases–spices, tapenades, fragrance, gifts, etc. We headed with Coco to our final stop, La Caravelle, a sailors’ bar from the ’20s. There we had a glass of pastis and enjoyed the fabulous view of the port before bidding farewell to our wonderful guide and walking off the tour treats before dinner.

Dinner. That was weird. I’d promised Phil bouillabaise, and Coco had pointed out the best place to get the authentic dish, a pricey white tablecloth place overlooking the port. Once seated, we were informed that the minimum bouillabaise order was for two people–at 80 euros each! We made our usual excuse (“this is the last XX we’ll ever buy!”) and ordered the dish, along with wine and dessert. 

First we were served several delicious amuses bouches. Then the waiter brought large bowls of broth, along with toasted baguette slices, raw garlic, and rouille (a garlicky sauce). We were instructed to rub the bread with garlic, top it with rouille, and drop it into the broth (think of French onion soup). It was delicious!

First course bouillabaisse

While we were enjoying this, the waiter brought an enormous bowl of raw fish–six different types of fish!–to show us what was coming. We then were served ANOTHER large bowl of broth, this time stuffed with tons of whole or almost-whole fish! It was easily enough for eight people. We hardly made a dent in it, especially since I don’t enjoy oily, fishy fish.  We gave up, but then DESSERT came! My lemon souffle was good, and Phil enjoyed his chocolate concoction. But honestly? Once was definitely enough.

So. Much. Fish.

We waddled back to the hotel, and the next morning we enjoyed another special treat. The Cosquer Mediterranée is an amazing duplication of 30,000-year-old cave paintings discovered by  speleologist Henri Cosquer in the ’90s. The cave paintings, 35 meters below sea level, are being destroyed by water, so they have been meticulously recreated; seated in 6-person modules, we glided through the water in this underground experience that felt as if we were actually in the caves. Highly recommended!

After our tour we headed to Saisons, a Michelin-starred restaurant offering a reduced-price lunch, where we enjoyed a delicious three-course meal with wine for less than half of the bouillabaise experience. Finally, it was time to check out of the hotel and head for home.

We could not have enjoyed Marseille more, and we will definitely return. We loved the diversity, the fascinating neighborhoods, and the friendly people, and we always felt safe. If you have the opportunity, go! You won’t regret it.

Nighttime view from our hotel

Two years!

The Roamers celebrate their second Franciversary

“Does it feel like two years to you?” I asked Phil. “Not at all, it doesn’t seem like we’ve been here nearly that long,” he replied. Our first two years living in France have flown by, filled with fun, friendship, roaming, learning, and some amazing food. 

Last year, for our first Franciversary, we celebrated over a wonderful dinner for two at Bistro la Canourge, inside a gorgeous Montpellier hotel. We enjoyed cocktails first, of course, in the magnificent bar, and we met a lovely British couple dining at the next table.

Bistro la Canourge

This time, our celebration has occurred over several days. First up was a fun and  hilarious dinner party we hosted for friends Margi, Michael, Jana, and Martin. So much laughter! We had a lot to celebrate: two birthdays, our Franciversary, and treasured friendship. I was having too much fun to take any photos, but I’ll tell you about the meal: after enjoying Phil’s sidecars, we had a first course of rosé shrimp, served with a delicious sparkling rosé our friends contributed. The main course was pork Wellington with a beet, feta, and walnut salad (copied from Jana!), followed by a traditional cheese course and finally lemon meringue pie. Oh, and plenty of wine, of course; after all, this is France! We laughed so much our stomachs were sore the next day!

Rosé Shrimp

The next evening we enjoyed a delicious dinner with close friends Jo and Dennis at the beautiful Domaine de Verchant‘s restaurant la Plage. Joined by their exceedingly well-behaved dog Denali, we had a great time catching up and celebrating our lives in France. I hope we get a chance to return in the daytime so we can see everything at that beautiful estate!

And finally, on the actual anniversary of our arrival in France, we celebrated by. . .going to our French lessons! But after that, we hopped in the car for a trip to Narbonne. We arrived too late for the famous covered market, but we enjoyed a nice lunch nearby before strolling along the canal. The best part of our experience was the cathedral, an unfinished masterpiece dating from the 1200s. 

Walking between the former Archbishop’s palace and the cathedral

We rounded a corner and were greeted by a magnificent building, complete with gargoyles of all types. The afternoon sun gave the structure a golden glow.

Gothic arches, gargoyles, and more!

As we entered the cathedral, we heard Gregorian chant (a recording, but still hauntingly beautiful). We proceeded to the choir (the only part of the cathedral that was completed, along with the sacristy and side chapels) and were flabbergasted by the beauty of this place.

The choir

Despite its unfinished state (we’d read that construction was halted because continuing would have required demolition of the city walls, which were needed for protection), the cathedral boasts some of the most magnificent stained glass I’ve ever seen.

Just one of many sections of stained glass

We took the long way home, enjoying the scenery and a magnificent sunset. We’ll definitely return to Narbonne, as there is much more to see!

And the final component to this celebration will happen next week, when we take the train to Marseille for a couple of nights. After two years of living in France, we stil pinch ourselves in disbelief that we’re lucky enough to have this life! We will continue making memories. With gratitude.

Two years ago, approaching our new life

Happy holidays!

Our first Montpellier Christmas Season

Because our beloveds keep up with us through this blog, we are not sending out a holiday letter summarizing our year (although we LOVE receiving those from others!), but through this short post we’d like to wish everyone a wonderful holiday. After traveling most of the month of November, Phil and I decided to stay home and enjoy our first Montpellier Christmas (we spent last Christmas in Stockholm with our daughter and son-in-law). 

When we got home, Phil’s first job (after unpacking, of course) was to finish my early Christmas present: a gorgeous acrylic seascape of one of the beaches near Montpellier. I feel joy every time I look at it!

The beautiful Montpellier seascape Phil painted for me!

To get into the holiday spirit, we had a day trip with friends to the holiday market (called l’Hivernales in French) in Aniane, a medieval village less than an hour away. We arrived at the only available parking spot only to find two women standing in it, trying to save it for friends that “might” be coming. Fortunately, we had our friend in the car, and with her expert French and her very French gestures, which matched those of the two women, she succeeded in persuading them to move so we could park. “It’s good to have an Alpha in the car,” commented her husband.

The view from the parking lot in Aniane

The market was wonderful, offering everything from hot wine (vin chaud) to perfume made by a “nose” who lives near the village, to lovely handmade items.


A view of the Aniane market

We did a bit of shopping before it was time to head to Bistro des Terrasses for lunch. We went all out with the three-couse meal (four courses if ;you count the fabulous amuse bouche-)-duck fois gras, various beef, pork, and fish dishes, and delectable desserts–and, of course, plenty of wine.

My dessert: a chocolate-orange mille-feuille

After lunch we walked back to the now-crowded market and strolled around, returning to a few special vendors for goodies. We saw tons of Christmas trees, Santa, and this wonderful book hut.

What’s a holiday market without a hut made of books?!

We finally bade farewell to Aniane, with plans to return when things are back to normal. It’s a gorgeous little village and well worth a trip. Back in Montpellier, one couple hosted us for a delicious meal and a “Love, Actually” viewing to top off the delightful day.

Another lovely Aniane view

Aside from this trip, several fun lunches, French lessons, and errands, our month has been fairly quiet. We’ve enjoyed the festive season in Montpellier and look forward to a quiet Christmas at home with a few close friends. I’ll be making our traditional foods–turkey and dressing, Christmas tree coffee cake, and more–but with a few French twists, including escargots that friends are bringing. And Phil and I will spend some time reflecting on this splendid year, thinking of our dear friends in the U.S. and beyond, and feeling immense gratitude for  our adventurous life.

Roamers in Aniane (photo courtesy of our friend Jana)

The ease of retirement

Learning to enjoy personal freedom is a process.

I came home from our grand November adventure with a lingering cold, which, helped along by our flight home, produced a stopped-up ear (une oreille bouchée, in French). For the first week I only left the apartment for French lessons, and I’m still mostly stayiing home, resting, and taking prescription meds. So I’ve had a lot of time for contemplation.

Having worked full-time for 48 years, traveling weekly, and being “on call” 24/7 (along with raising a family and being a person), I never had a lot of contemplative time, so this is a fairly new experience for me. The sheer luxury of not HAVING to do anything is something I’m still not used to, after almost two years of retirement. And now that the newness of living in France has worn off a bit (although we still occasionally pinch ourselves that this is our life!), I can relax into a slower, more measured pace.

I’m learning, for the first time, to pace myself, to say no occasionally, and to fight my FOMO. I enjoy Thursday coffee with friends, but life goes on if I miss it now and then. Instead of venturing out in the cold with a cold to buy a Christmas tree, I ordered our tree and trimmings online. And you know what? It turned out fine, and it was fun to assemble.

Smallest Christmas tree we’ve ever had, but it’s the right size for our apartment!

We did manage to go out one evening with friends (to see the fabulous Callas Paris 1958 film), where we saw the giant Christmas tree in the Place de la Comedie, but as of December 9 we have not yet ventured out to see the Illuminations or to visit les Hivenales (the outdoor Christmas market). Normally I would have dragged Phil out for both on the first day, but now I realize there will be plenty of time to see everything–and it might be less crowded by the time we go.

Holiday lights on l’Opera de la Comédie

Phil and I enjoy our loose schedule. I usually wake up first, have coffee, and catch up on emails, while he sleeps in. Late mornings are spent in parallel play, me reading or playing on my phone, Phil watching videos and enjoying his coffee and breakfast smoothie. We have French lessons and/or homework most days, and we run errands, do laundry, and chat, before Phil goes to his studio to paint while I read, work on administrative tasks, chat with my daughter, etc. Between 5 and 6 p.m. we reconvene for a cocktail while I make dinner, and we usually watch a movie over dinner. And several times a week we get together with friends.

I’ve recently begun learning to sleep late. For many years my internal alarm has gone off around 6:43 a.m., but since we got home I’ve slept until after 9:00 several times. I do occasionally have sleepless nights (apparently one of the lovely aspects of aging!), but when that happens I can take an afternoon nap!

The view from our apartment this morning, after a night of little sleep. Lovely!

I’m still learning how to do retirement, and figuring out the ideal pace and routine will take time. I will admit to still having occasional work anxiety dreams (workmares, I call them). But the past couple of weeks of quiet have helped me realize how fortunate I am to be in this stage of life, and I plan to take advantage of every sweet moment of freedom!


The Roamers Roam–a Lot!

I had the best of intentions. Truly. “I’ll do a blog post from the ship,” I told Phil. Of course, I also told my French teacher that I would practice every day while we were gone. But despite good intentions, it’s now the end of November, and I have way too much to catch up on.

On 2 November we set out on our “big trip” of the year. We took the train to Barcelona, boarded a ship, enjoyed a two-week transatlantic cruise, flew to Austin, spent a week with our family, flew back to Barcelona, and finally came home. Here are the details.

En route to Barcelona

We arrived in Barcelona and taxied to the Renaissance Hotel near the Gothic District. We were upgraded (with points) to a junior suite on the top floow, where the view was astonishing.

View from our hotel room

The first order of business, of course, was to sample a craft cocktail before dinner. We did venture out, but the Paseo de Gracia crowds were daunting, almost shoulder to shoulder. So we decided to have our cocktail and dinner in the hotel.

One of those cocktails was mine!

The next morning our friend Freda, who was getting off the ship we were about to board, came to the hotel with a friend to spend a couple of hours with us. Freda was supposed to visit us in Montpellier the past two years, but our schedules conflicted (due to my faulty memory!), so we were thrilled to have this opportunity to catch up. She had been on the first part of our ship’s journey so was able to give us tips on how best to enjoy the cruise (onion rings by the pool!). After a fond farewell, we headed to the ship, the Viking Sea. With just over 700 passengers, this cruise would be quite different from the 2500-passenger Princess transatlantic cruise we took last year.

Leaving Barcelona

The first stop was planned for Valencia, but unfortunately high winds caused the port to close. Phil and I have traveled enough to learn to go with the flow, so we were happy to just stay on the ship–especially when we could visit the Explorers’ Lounge each evening for sunset cocktails!

Sunset + cocktails = no regrets

Before we knew it, we were sailing through the Strait of Gibraltar and getting a splendid view of the famous Rock!

Rock of Gibraltar

Our first stop then was Cadiz in the Andalucia region, where we toured the Bodega Tio Pepe, a gorgeous sherry producing facility that was really more like a village with sherry. Complete with a lovely hotel (where we got chased off the grounds) and the ubiquitous gift shop, where we may or may not have bought a lot of sherry for our kids, it was a fascinating tour.

Tio Pepe barrels

This bodega boasted barrels that had been signed by a broad spectrum of illuminaries, some of whom added sketches to their signatures.

Barrels signed by Winston Churchill (on his 80th birthday), Jean Cocteau, and Steven Spielberg

After the tour we were rewarded with a tasting. The others at our table didn’t enjoy the sherry, but we restrained ourselves from drinking theirs. After the tasting we strolled the grounds, visited the gift shop, and enjoyed the perfect weather.

Beautiful cobblestoned path framed by grapevines

Next up was an amazing, almost never-ending lunch: When we arrived, the tables were set with charcuterie, rolls, wine, and beer. We thought that was it, but next up was a tempura-like potato pancake. Lovely lunch, we thought! But then they brought out roasted meat, potato salad, and other sides. And THEN came dessert, which I’ve forgotten. After this amazing meal we were treated to flamenco dancing. What an experience!

Post-prandial flamenco

One of the reasons we overspent on this trip (did I mention that?) was the cooking classes on the ship. On selected sea days twelve lucky passengers were treated to a hands-on cooking lesson with the delightful Chef de Cuisine. I was impressed with the camaraderie that was evident when he introduced each chef and cook, and even more impressed with the dishes we made.

A beautiful fish main course from our lesson

We were served Aperol spritzes while we cooked, with wine to go with the lunch we prepared–a first course, main, and dessert each time. I signed up for all three cooking classes and enjoyed them thoroughly. The first class featured paella, the second was French, and the third was California cuisine. When we visited our kids in Texas, my son Grayson and I, who love cooking together, made the French main course: a beef filet mignon atop leek fondue, surrounded by a chorizo salsa. Maybe not authentically French, but delicious!

One of the desserts we made, a mandarin orange mousse

A surprise bonus of the cooking classes was a tour of the ship’s galley. There should be a fancier word for this kitchen, or series of kitchens! Our chef instructor introduced us to each worker by name, and the kitchen was amazing. Impeccably clean and organized, it was so impressive I could have spent all day there!

Ship’s galley

This immersion blender was bigger than the cook!

Built on volcanic rock, Madeira has an interesting agrarian approach: because it’s vertical, all the crops (especially grapes) are grown on terraces, and these terraces are served by small irrigation canals called levadas. In the afternoon, we took a bus tour that took us to a high point where we could stand on a transparant platform over the sea. We didn’t have time for a Madeira tasting, but we bought tiny bottles to share with our Texas kids.

Breathtaking view from the top

The day passed quickly, and we returned to the ship just in time to bid farewell to land for the next six days at sea. Because there was so much to do–cooking classes, wine tastings, working out (only twice, I’ll admit) in the well-equipped gym, enjoying the spa, where I tried out the dry-sauna-followed-by-cold-plunge cure, making delightful friends, and of course eating and drinking–we actually looked forward to these days. 

Farewell to Funchal

One of the highlights of the cruise was the Chef’s Table restaurant. It required reservations but had no additional charge, so I jumped on the chance to reserve a table for each of the five menus (the menu changed every three days). A five-course tasting menu with wine pairings (we had the Silver Spirits package, so we enjoyed upgraded wine pairings), each dinner was memorable and delicious. The dinners varied–Chinese, Asian, Californian, British, and spice-focused cuisines.

Chef’s Table menus

We developed a loose routine on the sea days: breakfast together, working out/walking/napping, lunch, afternoon lectures or movies (I especially enjoyed the lectures by Jane Robinson, an erudite and delightful historian who specializes in social history through women’s eyes). Then, each afternoon we watched the sun set from the Explorers’ Lounge, a beautiful glassed-in bar at the front of the ship. After dinner there were shows that we could attend in person or watch on tv in our stateroom. It was a relaxing, pampered time that passed too quickly.

Sunset at sea

Our last stop was the island of St. Martin in the Carribbean. Half Dutch, half French, this island was fascinating–and on the French side I got to speak a little toddler-level French with the market vendors! The next day we landed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where we proceeded to the airport (a six-hour wait!) for our flights to Austin, where we enjoyed special time with our son, daughter-in-law, and wonderful two-year-old granddaughter. 

Carribbean cocktail

We also got special time with friends! Besties Joni (from Dallas) and Patricia (from Houston) drove to see us, and Wild Woman Anabel (along with Patricia, part of my high school friends’ group) joined ua for a girls-only dinner. TexMex, of course! And one day we drove to Wimberley, where we lived before Roaming, to enjoy lunch with dear friends Lynn, Danny, Barb, and Chip.

Delightful Wimberley friends

And then, before we knew it, it was time to leave. We had an early Thanksgiving dinner with our kids, featuring the most delicious smoked turkey we’d ever tasted, courtesy of our son Grayson, the champion meat smoker, before heading on Thanksgiving Day to the airport. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that the Sky Club was serving Thanksgiving dinner!

Our second Thanksgiving dinner!

The flights to Barcelona were quiet comfortable, despite a 4 1/2 hour layover in Amsterdam. We arrived in time to check into our hotel and take a walk around the Barcelona Sants neighborhood, which was ready for Christmas!

Christmas in Barcelona

We enjoyed a tapas dinner featuring the best dumplings I’ve ever tasted at a tiny restaurant called Lutes–delicious dinner for two, with dessert and a bottle of wine, for less than $60–before strolling back to the hotel. The next morning we had time for another stroll, with stops for coffee and a picnic for the train.

Excellent cappucinos!

For our train picnic we returned to a bakery we’d noticed the evening before, that featured empanadas. If we’d had room in our luggage, I would have bought bread to bring home to France, everything looked so good!

Barcelona bakery

And then, finally, we were home. Traveling is exciting, edifying, and fun, but coming home–especially coming home to Montpellier–is wonderful. We are so grateful for the ability and means to travel, for our delightful friends and family, and especially for our home in France. 

Happy, grateful Roamers