Quiet.

The Roamers slow down

Several people have commented recently that they don’t know how we have the energy to do so much–traveling, hosting, exploring, studying French, and generally staying so very busy. Well, we finally realized that it was time to slow down a bit! After our last house guests left, we decided to take the month of August as a break, and so far we’ve done just that!

It’s been very quiet chez Shroyer, partly because of our resolve to slow down and partly because of the canicule, aka HEAT WAVE. It’s been in the high 90s and low 100s daily for several weeks. Without a car, we depend on our feet and public transportation, and the latter has been quite unreliable due to summer construction/expansion projects. I’ve grown tired of taking three showers a day, so we’ve stayed inside much more than usual.

As I mentioned in the last post, we attended a soirée at the end of July, in the courtyard of a Lebanese restaurant. It was HOT but we had a great evening. We are so grateful for our circle of friends in Montpellier!

Hot but fun evening with (mostly) Americans in Montpellier

About all that walking: we ordered an electric car, a Hyundai Kona, which was supposed to be delivered in July. In July it was delayed until August, and now it’s delayed until mid-September. We’ll be out of the country in September, so the earliest we can get it now will be October. But we’re really looking forward to (a) having a car again, and (b) learning how to be electric car people.

The car we ordered

I’ve been reading a lot, mostly fluff/ fun/forgettable novels, but this week I had a special treat: I read the debut mystery novel by my dear friend and Wild Woman Susan Steiner. Susan was one of my best friends in high school, and I’ve always admired her quirky creativity, sense of humor, and comfort in her own skin. Her novel, Murder by Manuscript, is fascinating–not only is it a great read, but the principal characters are based on her grandchildren as she imagines them as adults. What a concept!

Susan’s book: highly recommended!

Another thing I’ve done during this time-out is expand my earring collection. You may recall that our daughter is a jewelry designer whose company is called Mellie Earrings. I spent two days with her in July, “helping”at the fabulous outdoor market in Stockholm, and I bought a few items there. But when I saw she was having a “flash” sale, I couldn’t resist a bit more shopping. I ordered the Mystery Box, which consists of three pairs of earrings that Mellie intuitively selects. I think she nailed it!

My Mellie Earrings Mystery Box!

In addition to the market and her website, she also has an Etsy shop. Now I have my eye on these beautiful Gaia earrings!

And that’s about it for August-to-date. We’re about to head out for our weekly coffee meetup with fellow English speakers. Several of us usually stay until lunchtime and then walk to an outdoor cafe for lunch, after which I’ll walk over to my French class. We are definitely living the sweet life in France!

The Roamers: not roaming this month.

 

Bye-bye, July

Time speeds up for the Roamers

After returning from our Stockholm trip and hosting a little dinner party, we deliberately slowed things down a bit. We were fatigued from so much travel, so much company! When I finally got a bit stir-crazy, we decided to visit the Montpellier aquarium, Planet Ocean Montpellier. It was remarkable!

Tiny sea creatures greeted us

The exhibits were well done and varied. We didn’t take time to read all the information, as the place was crowded with tons of families and kids. One tiny girl rushed over and hugged my legs–but when she looked up and saw I wasn’t her mommy, she was horrified! Her mom giggled with me as she comforted her disconcerted daughter.

One of the permanent residents

When our son Grayson was little, he was obsessed with penguins. He had a stuffed penguin whose beak he’d chewed to bits, and for a long time we gifted him with penguins of all sorts (except live penguines. We didn’t give him any of those). We still think of him every time we see a penguin, so at the aquarium he was with us in spirit!

Penguins! Lots of them! A bit stinky!

We enjoyed the aquarium and recommend a visit there. As a bonus, they have a couple of funhouse mirrors, probably designed to entertain kiddos. We loved the one that made us look thin!

The only way we’ll look skinny!

One of our favorite things to do on Sundays is visit the brocante (flea market) at the Promenade de Peyrou. I never tire of seeing the interesting, odd things people are selling there. 

This hat is for sale!

Sometimes bizarre, sometimes charming, often compelling, the wares of the vendors at the brocante vary from china/crystal/silver to vintage clothing, from original artwork to furniture, from toys to treasures. We’ve made a few purchases but mostly we just enjoy browsing and people-watching.

Delightful doll clothes

After our self-imposed break from living at breakneck speed, we greeted house guests Gayla and Trish, college friends of Phil’s. He and Gayla, an amazing artist, worked together and have stayed close, but he hadn’t seen Trish, who lives in New Jersey, in years, and I’d never even met her.

Gayla showing her work at a shop in Oklahoma

They arrived after spending a few days in Paris, and we were eager to show them our beautiful city.

Trish, Gayla, and Phil, waiting for le bus

The evening they arrived, we joined other friends for an organ concert at the Cathédral Saint-Pierre de Montpellier, which has the most beautiful organ I’ve ever seen. Afterwards, our group of eight strolled to la Coquille for a lovely outdoor dinner. 

Light show at the organ concert, courtesy of the stained glass windows

It was a great first night. The next morning we visited the Les Arceaux marché, a wonderful organic outdoor market where we stocked up on fresh fruits and vegetables.

Olives at the marché

Phil schlepped our purchases home while I took Gayla and Trish to see the Arc de Triomphe and the statue of Louis XIV on his horse at the nearby Promenade de Peyrou. 

 

A friendly tree on our path; wonder who lives in there?

Gayla, who had felt tired all morning (we all assumed it was the pace of travel), ran out of steam, so we headed home to rest. Unfortunately, she tested positive for Covid. We all worked to make the best of the situation, with Gayla isolating in the guest room, Trish “sleeping”on the living room sofa, and all of us staying in for the required three days until we could test. After testing negative, Trish, Phil, and I were able to get out (wearing masks inside). We took Trish to the brocante, where she bought gifts (including a gorgeous set of champagne flutes for us!).

Brocante vendors enjoying an elegant lunch

Trish trained as an artist and has resumed her creative work, working in pastels. She was excited to visit the Jardin des Plantes, a botanical garden founded in 1593. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place where she spent a day sketching.

Water lilies at Jardin des Plantes

On the last day of their visit, with Gayla cleared to get out, I took Trish and Gayla on a walking tour of the beautiful medieval pedestrian streets of Montpellier. We poked into shops where they bought souvenirs and gifts before meeting Phil at le Kiosk Fabre, the outdoor cafe near the famed Musée Fabre. After lunch I headed home for a video call with friend and former colleague Sally, while Phil took our guests to the Fabre, which they both loved. That evening, their last night with us, we headed back into lÉcusson for drinks and dinner at our favorite bar, Smash Bar. On the way, of course we had to peek into the shop windows

Is this the bed from “The Princess and the Pea”?

We had a delightful dinner outside, with the usual exceptional hosting from the family who run Smash Bar. After dinner we strolled around the neighborhood before heading home.

Happy, healthy diners!

The next morning we said goodbye to our friends and settled in to relax for the weekend. I’ll be honest: I didn’t even get out of my pajamas until Saturday, when it was time to head to our second monthly dinner soirée. Facebook group Americans in Montpellier organizes it, with sponsorship from Renestance, the company that helped–and continues to help–us move to France. I’m a guest blogger for Renestance, and you can see all of their blogs, including mine, here

The second lovely dinner soirëe

So that’s a wrap for July! After so much travel, house guests, and HEAT, we’re looking forward to a quiet August before we head to the U.S. in September. Time to get back into a daily routine!

 

 

 

 

 

Family

Lucky Roamers!

We are so grateful for our wonderful family–our own family, our “family by choice,” lovely in-laws, and our ever-widening social circle. These connections are the best thing in our lives, and our new friends in France made us feel at home almost immediately. 

 

New friends at a recent outdoor dinner event

In late June Nancy and Tom spent a few days with us. They’re our son-in-law’s parents, so that makes us–family! We’ve often said that we’d be friends with them even if we weren’t related; how lucky is that?!

Nancy and Tom at an outdoor cafe before our museum visit

We set a nice pace for their visit: not too much walking (it was HOT!), a moderate amount of sightseeing, and plenty of time to catch up at home over cocktails and dinner. Oh, and petanque in our garden!

Nancy was the petanque champion

We enjoyed roaming the Montpellier streets, visiting the Musee Fabre, and seeing a wonderful photographic exhibit of Peter Lindbergh’s work (he’s the fashion photographer discovered by Anna Wintour who pioneered photos featuring the models, not just the clothes). The morning after Tom and Nancy left, it was our turn to travel: to Stockholm! Our daughter and her husband live there, and we hadn’t seen them since October. Our flight was delayed in Montpellier, but we still had plenty of time at the airport in Paris to grab a bite and listen to a random piano concert.

This traveler entertained us

We finally arrived in Stockholm, and our kids joined us at the hotel for a late dinner. By the way, I highly recommend the Marriott Courtyard in Stockholm! Lovely room, bountiful breakfast buffet included, and a great location close to parks and public transportation. 

Our wonderful kids

The next morning I was treated to something I’d been looking forward to for months: spending the day with Amelia at the market! She is a jewelry designer, and one of her outlets is an outdoor market that runs from late spring through early fall. It was wonderful to hang out with her at her booth, enjoy the gorgeous weather, try out the food trucks, meet some of her friends, and watch her in action! I may or may not have done a bit of shopping. . .

There was a bit less merchandise after my shopping spree

We were so excited to see the kids’ apartment, which they bought over two years ago, in the “before times.” It’s on the top floor of the building, in a lush residential area, and they have put their stamp on it–great wall colors, plenty of memorabilia, and their unique, artsy vibe. We loved it!

Indian takeout at the kids’ apartment

There was a special reason for the timing of our visit: our daughter’s July 4 birthday! She laid out how she would like to spend it, and that’s exactly what we did: brunch by Nic, featuring eggs benedict and his home-made from scratch English muffins, along with mimosas by Phil. Then presents, followed by naps and video games. Next up was a video visit with son Grayson and his daughter, aka the cutest baby in the world. Soon it was time to start making dinner (me) and birthday cupcakes (Nic). Phil served up a signature cocktail to sustain our labors. I made twice-baked potatoes and Caesar salad, and Nic made chocolate cupcakes with rose hip buttercream frosting. It was such fun to cook together, and our dinner was just what Amelia wanted! We had so much fun I forgot to take any pictures.

After the market on Saturday and Sunday and our birthday celebration on Monday, our little group was free to explore. We used public transportation, which usually offered a weird, interesting, or artistic experience. The signs above the escalators cracked me up: I think the one on the right says “UP” and the one on the left says “NOT UP.”

Up and Not Up

We had visited the kids in Stockholm once before, so on this trip we didn’t do a lot of touristy things. Walking the streets, I was reminded how beautiful this city is. Flowers were everywhere, the buildings were interesting, and the people-watching was superb.

Lots of flowers on the sidewalks

One day we decided to visit a couple of museums. Most of Stockholm’s museums are clustered in one neighborhood, near the water, in a beautiful park-like area. We had visited one or two of them on our last trip, so this time we did a couple of new ones

A historic building in the museum district

We decided to hit the ABBA museum first. Photos weren’t allowed, so you’ll have to trust that it was a cool experience. My favorite thing, at the end of the tour, was the collection of costumes. Simply amazing to see them close up! And, of course, the music. By the time we finished we were hungry, and some of us, who will not be named, were beginning to feel a bit hangry. After a couple of misses (“you can only eat here if you have a museum ticket” and “we’re closed”), we finally found an open restaurant by the boats, where we enjoyed adult beverages and a tapas lunch.

Hanger averted

After lunch we visited the spirits museum. It was fascinating to learn about the history and production of spirits in Sweden. And yes, they did offer a tasting after the tour.

Part of the special exhibition on gin

We spent more time touring around, sampling Swedish foods (meatballs! potatoes! herring!), and simply enjoying our time together. I can’t wait to go back and see more.

The opera house, where we saw a piano recital on our previous visit

On our last evening, we strolled through a beautiful pedestrian neighborhood, looking at all the menus before deciding on a restaurant for dinner. We had a wonderful time–oysters, fois gras, excellent wines, and more!

The guys at dinner

It was a perfect evening, and we headed back to the hotel for our last night. The kids joined us for breakfast the next morning and saw us off to the airport. I’ll admit to being very sad to leave–but we’ll see them again soon, no later than October.

Mommy and Daughter

We made it home (our luggage decided to extent the trip by an extra day!), and I recovered from my sadness in time to enjoy our weekly coffee date with other English speakers, followed by lunch and my French class. It was nice to settle back into our routine after so much travel. And we closed out the week with a little dinner party! Our friend Gwen was back on her feet after struggling with knee problems, so we had to celebrate!

Dinner party

We are so very fortunate to have all these wonderful people–family and friends–in our lives! We are two lucky Roamers, for sure.

the weekend of broken things


Like almost everyone we know, Phil and I were devastated by the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade. That is a horrifying break, emblematic of the many broken things in the United States right now. Perhaps because we were so upset, other things started breaking last weekend.

On Saturday morning there was no water in our apartment. As we contemplated checking in to a hotel for showers, we decided to head out to the Saturday market. And a couple of hours after we arrived home, hot and sweaty, we had water again. Miraculous! We’re going to truly appreciate hot and cold running water for a few days!

Also on Saturday morning our beloved Breville espresso machine quit working. It was the water pump (is there a theme here?). With house guests arriving the next day, we were a bit panicked. We bought pods for the Nespresso machine that came with our apartment and resigned ourselves to crappy coffee until we could address the problem on Monday (In France, most stores close on Sunday, a day meant for family, food, and relaxation.).

Showered and feeling better, we headed out for a special dinner organized by Renestance, the firm that helped us move here, and Facebook group Americans in Montpellier. The bus was late. As it arrived at the stop, we saw our tram pull away. Minor things.

On Sunday we walked about three miles round trip to get coffee. When we got home, Phil found that because of the twice-annual Soldes (for a month in winter and a month in summer, French stores are permitted to discount their wares), the store where we bought our espresso machine was open! Due to late buses, it took us 90 minutes each way to go about three miles–but we made it, and after some mangled French on my part, we left with a brand-new replacement. Happy times! And as I write this, I’m consciously appreciating my excellent cappucino.

Our broken things were quickly and easily fixed. Small problems. But the problems in our country are huge, and so very much is broken right now. Will we summon the will to fix them? Fix some of them? And if so, will we appreciate the fixes long enough to secure them for the generations to come?

Austin protest photo, taken by high school friend Stan

 

fun with friends

Barcelona! Mozart! Petanque!

We were excited to make our first trip to Barcelona, especially since we were meeting bestie Joni and her husband Scott, who married last October. The train ride from Montpellier to Barcelona, just three hours, was pleasant, on time, and offered beautiful scenery. We arrived at our hotel, grabbed some lunch, and after Scott finished a couple of work calls we met up for a welcome cocktail at the rooftop bar of our hotel.

Scott, Joni, and Phil atop the roof

At our daughter’s advice, we booked a hotel very close to the Sagrada Familia, the famous and unfinished Gaudi masterpiece. How amazing to see the view from the rooftop bar!

What a view!

Sangria for all!

We had a lovely seafood dinner that evening at a now-forgotten restaurant Scott found. Paella! It was a long hike, and my reward for wearing new sandals was blisters–but it was worth it. The next morning we headed out for our self-guided audio tour of the Sagrada Familia. What a spectacular work of art!

In a nearby chocolatier window, a chocolate Sagrada Famlia. Wow!

I won’t even post my pictures of the Sagrada Familia, because there are so many better ones online. After our tour, we bought tickets for the hop-on, hop-off bus tour to see more of Barcelona. We stopped for lunch (a long climb up a very steep hill) at an outdoor cafe. As we waited for our food, a street parade arrived, complete with a drum band, effigies, and many marchers.

Not sure what this was about, but it was fascinating!

The parade stopped next to our restaurant, and I noticed a group wearing matching shirts. Curious, I walked over to see this group building a human tower! It was fascinating to see their climbing technique–until the young woman on to fell to the ground. An ambulance picked her up, and we are still hoping that she was ok.

I took this picture just before she fell.

That afternoon we had a walking tour of the gothic quarter and surrounding neighborhoods, and we came upon an odd sculpture. Our guide explained that this represents a unique Catalan sport, Castell (human castle building), which began in the 18th century. It turns out that what we had experienced at lunch was Castellers!

“Castellers” sculpture

Our walking tour focused on architecture and history, and it was excellent. We learned a lot, but I retained very little. We saw the “people’s church,” a lovely but not extravagent Gothic church with a several-year waiting list for weddings, as well as the “cathedral,” much more sumptuous but less popular.

Catedral de Barcelona

We also visited a “secret square” that was peaceful and beautiful–until our guide told us its story. During the Spanish civil war, Franco’s air force dropped a bomb here, killing 30 children living in the orphanage (the building you see on the right). As people came out to help, a second bomb was dropped, killing twelve more people.

Peaceful square with a dark history

That evening we had reservations at Caelis, a Michelin starred restaurant recommended by Montpellier friends Bobby and Tracey. Phil and I had decided to postpone our 41st anniversary dinner to celebrate here, and what a celebration it was!

Belated anniversary couple

From the moment we arrived, we were treated like VIPs. Everything about this restaurant was exceptional, starting with the table settings.

 

What a cool table! I want these plates.

We opted for the “Menu Terre et Mer” degustation tasting. It was SIXTEEN different dishes!!! Plus, of course, wine pairings.

Zucchini blossom course

Beef like we’d never had before

Dessert? I think so.

The dinner lasted over four hours, and we all agreed it was unforgettable. Pricey, but worth it for such an exceptional experience.

Happy, full, and joyful

The next morning we were off to a castle! This castle wine tour started badly: the van that picked us up had a broken air conditioner. The drive was well over an hour in 90+ degree weather, with no windows except in the front seat, and we were all miserable! We arrived cranky and ready to write bad reviews, but all that quickly changed upon arrival.

View from the castle

Photographer Phil in front of the castle

Castell de Pontons, which has been in our host’s family since 1336, was amazing. Fernando, our host, is a trained sommelier and interior designer who is dedicated to bringing the castle up to its potential. They produce wine (red, white, and sparkling), olive oil, honey, and essential oils, along with their garden produce. 

Beautiful tablescape in the front room of the castle

The experience started with a sensory experiment. Fernando foraged various herbs and had us guess what each one was. He went on to give us a tour of the garden, grounds, and vineyard, where we learned about the terroir of this mountainous wine region.

Castle kitchen

Back inside (where it was cool!), we visited the wine cellar (slightly scary) before heading upstairs for our tasting and tapas lunch.

I loved all the charming tablescapes and decor features!

But wait, there’s more! After lunch and wine, Albert, who lives on the property and creates essential oils, provided another sensory experience.

A very creative DIY chandelier by Fernando

With Albert’s guidance, we sniffed each essential oil, and then we selected our two favorites, rubbed them on our hands, and shared a chime bowl meditation. We left with wine, olive oil, honey, and essential oils to enjoy at home. The drive back was just as miserable as the drive there, but we were much, much happier!

We had just a short rest and quick shower before our next adventure, a tapas crawl. Five couples met our guide in a shady square, from where we proceeded to four different tapas restaurants. 

Tapas with a great group of people!

Did I mention that each of the four stops came with a glass of wine? After the crawl, all ten of us were having so much fun that we decided to go for a nightcap.

Fun tapas group, possibly overserved

Another Gaudi building

The next day, after a final stroll and a temporary-farewell lunch with Joni and Scott, Phil and I took the train home. It was nice to sleep in our own bed, but the fun wasn’t over just yet. We met friends the next evening at Smash Bar before heading to Montpellier’s beautiful Gothic cathedral to hear Mozart’s Requiem. Performed by the Prague Opera and the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Czech Republic, it was an unforgettable music experience.

Full house for this extraordinary musical performance!

The next day Joni and Scott arrived to spend a few days with us in our beautiful city. Because of the heat wave, we didn’t explore as much as we’d wished, but we had a lovely time at home.

Playing petanque in our garden after things cooled off a bit

We did get out, visiting just a handful of sights and meeting friends for coffee and lunch. Joni and Scott loved Montpellier; think we could convince them to move here?

Joni and Scott in front of the Three Graces fountain in Place de la Comedie

On a particularly hot day we decided to visit the fabulous Musee Fabre, which has air conditioning! We only had time for the special exhibit, “Le Voyage en Italie de Louis Gauffier,” and we were not disappointed. 

One of my favorite paintings from the exhibit. The woman is chasing off a cat that stole her bird (probably meant for dinner).

We sent Joni and Scott on their way to Amsterdam and Paris with minimal sadness, as we’ll see them in Dallas in September. Later that afternoon, we met friends at the Promenade de Peyrou for petanque, followed by an apero at the lovely home of friends Ann-Li and Frederick. We have to keep pinching ourselves to realize this is our life now–filled with travel, wonderful friends, and adventure. We are grateful indeed.

Statue of Louis IV, the “Sun King,” at the Promenade de Peyrou

 F

Who knew retirement would be so busy?

Roamers: never bored

What happened to May? Since we returned from our trip to Bordeaux, the time has flown by. For our first outing, our friend Laurence suggested the “Summer Garden” event at Domain de Biar, a lovely hotel/event venue between Montpellier and the sea.

Domain de Biar

Laurence picked us up (what a treat, riding in a car!), and upon arrival we were directed to the restaurant, where we retrieved baskets full of gourmet picnic food and a chilled bottle of rose. We chose a table near the live music and dug in.

Our friend Laurence

We decided to stroll the grounds and were delighted to run into friends Jo and Dennis, whom we’d told about the event during our weekly coffee group gathering. They joined us for the rest of the afternoon. Having a lovely social circle has made everything so much more fun!

Friends!

Domain de Biar is a beautiful setting for weddings and other events, and they regularly host barbeque parties and jazz brunches, so we’ll definitely be back!

Domain de Biar’s wedding chapel

While there, I met a musician who would be playing viola in the opera we were attending the next day. She told me the production was a bit “unusual.” She wasn’t wrong!

Waiting for Tosca to begin

We attended the opera with friends Margi and Michael (a retired opera singer who knows Tosca well). The music was wonderful, but we were a bit puzzled about all the nude men! It was great fun to get the perspectives of an opera expert over cocktails later.

We took pictures of each other after the opera

One of the highlights of our week is coffee with the “Long Duck Ladies’ Gathering” group. Each Thursday our friend Kirsty issues an invitation, and recently our group has grown to include men. For Kirsty’s birthday, I made my mother’s special chocolate cake (which was good but had a different texture; baking is different here!) to celebrate.

Kirsty, who’s responsible for many of the friendships we’ve formed

The “Long Duck Ladies” group on Facebook was the brainchild of Renestance founder Dennelle Taylor Nizoux. After a couple of rain cancellations, Renestance hosted a picnic in a lovely park, where we were taught to play petanque. I must have been having way too much fun, because I didn’t take a single photo that day! 

Evette, another friend we met through Renestance, invited us to the BCA (British Cultural Association) Quiz Night, which was great fun despite the fact that our team came in dead last. There are so many social opportunities here!

Quiz Night–and more!

The Long Duck Ladies also organized a GNO (“girls’ night out”) at a lovely courtyard bar. My friend Gwen has an injured knee, so I had the bright idea of taking an Uber there and back, not realizing that we were headed to a pedestrian-only area. Poor Gwen had to walk about a mile on her bad knee!

GNO

We got our second COVID boosters, and my reaction gave us an enforced couple of days’ rest before our next adventure: a wonderful visit from friends Rene and Pilar!

Pilar took this photo of our backyard dinner.

They arrived Thursday in time for an apero, followed by dinner in our garden (Did I mention how much we appreciate our apartment, with its private garden?). The next day, after a lazy morning of coffee on the deck, we headed into l’Ecusson, the old part of Montpellier dating to the Middle Ages. We strolled in, stopping to admire the aqueduct and the Promenade du Peyrou

Rene and Pilar at Peyrou

This was our first opportunity to show off our new city! Our guests loved it, and we enjoyed showing them around.

Selfie at Peyrou

Pilar and Rene were on a leisurely trip through the south of France, and rather than exhausting themselves being tourists, they were interested in our “real” life (which still seems like a fantasy to me!) here in Montpellier. So after strolling a bit and enjoying a VERY long lunch at one of the many outdoor cafes, we took the bus home in time for apero and another al fresco dinner chez Shroyer.

Phil took this al fresco dinner picture.

The next day was special. First (after coffee on the deck; did I mention daily pain au chocolat?) Rene and Pilar DROVE us to do a few errands. What a luxury to drive 15 minutes instead of taking 45 minutes on one bus and two trams! We bought a fan for the guest room, extra clothes hangers, and a new suitcase for Pilar. And, having heard about our petanque adventure, our lovely guests bought us our own petanque set! Phil might not want me to mention that so far I’ve waxed him every time. . .

Our petanque set

But the most special thing about this day was Pilar’s birthday. We rested up after our errands for a Big Night Out. Well, a bit night for us. First stop: our favorite bar, Smash. We LOVE this bar! With silent old movies, American blues and oldies, a beautiful decor, and the most wonderful cocktails ever, it’s a win. But add the warm hospitality and thoughtful service, and it’s over the top.

Enjoying cocktails at Smash

We had told Rene about the absinthe service, so of course our adventurous friend had to try it! We dragged him off to dinner before he could spot the green fairy.

Absinthe!

Dinner was special, too. I’d made reservations at J’aime, a lovely little restaurant we’d visited with friends Margi and Michael, who live next door to J’aime. We were seated outside and proceeded to engage in a bit of banter with the playful waiter, who remembered our previous visit. When he learned that Rene and Pilar live in Las Vegas, all bets were off!

Our entree, aka starter at J’aime

The dinner was delicious, the service fun, the company delightful. And for her birthday, Phil let Pilar choose one of the paintings he’s done since we moved to France. Her choice, after deliberation, was a painting of the aqueduct at les Arceaux, which we’d admired on our walk. What a fitting souvenir of a memorable visit!

Pilar’s birthday gift: a Philip Shroyer painting!

And the next day, their visit was over, as they headed on to the Camarge and environs before returning to Rene’s native Switzerland for a few days. We loved every minute of their visit. Tired but so very happy and grateful, we are ready to close out another perfect (and busy!) month in Montpellier.

Loquat tree in our garden

 

a quick trip to bordeaux

Marriott free nights: use ’em or lose ’em!

We have been traveling a lot. So much, in fact, that we thought we’d take a break and stay home before the arrival of our first house guests in late May. However, I had two Marriott free nights expiring in June, and our only available dates to use them (retirement is BUSY!) were May 8-10. We chose Bordeaux (close enough for a two-night trip, a place we wanted to revisit, and offering an eligible Marriott property). We set off early Sunday morning for the train station.

We made it to Beziers before an unscheduled stop, due to the tragic death of a person who apparently jumped in front of another train. Our train was delayed three hours, and upon arrival in Bordeaux our tram was delayed 45 minutes due to an accident. Phil might want me to add that I walked us across the wrong bridge, causing another 30-minute delay. Hot, tired, and a bit shaken, we finally arrived at the Moxy, where we were greeted with a refreshing cold herbal tea shot. We quickly unpacked and headed to dinner atop the next-door Renaissance.

Sunset dinner: mediocre food, but the view!

The next morning we set out to explore this beautiful place. Bordeaux is a city of Haussman-style buildings, flower-filled parks along the river, and way too many interesting things to explore in two days. 

I was fascinated by the beautiful street lamps of Bordeaux

There were so many interesting things to see along our walk for coffee: monuments, fountains, intriguing shop windows, and historic sights. 

A peak into a floriste

One of four still-standing Bordeaux gates

Just a random beautiful door

We spent the morning strolling the city, stopping for a quick lunch at a salad chain before joining our St. Emilion wine tour group. Hosted by the knowledgeable Sonia, eight guests enjoyed a wonderful afternoon in this esteemed wine region.

Lovely grounds of the Chateau Chatelet

Grand Cru Classe

We enjoyed tastings at two wineries, one Grand Cru and one Grand Cru Classe, where we may or may not have bought wine to take home. We also explored the village of St.Emilion, home to only 300 people but visited by over a million each year.

The Roamers enjoying the view from St. Emilion

St. Emilion has a gorgeous church and cloister. During the French Revolution, Sonia explained, all the priests and nuns were forced to leave, but the cloister has been preserved and is still beautiful.

Cloister

One of the beautiful church altars

After the tour we stopped for a cocktail while we considered dinner options, which are quite limited in France on Mondays. We opted for BIG Bistro Girondin and outdoor seating, where we enjoyed a delicious meal and excellent people watching. We shared a wonderful and unusual appetizer, oefs parfait aux petits pois et chorizo, Phil had braised pork, and I had skate, we had a couple of glasses of wine each, and Phil had a caramelized pineapple dessert. The tab? $83.44.

The next morning we stored our bags at the hotel and walked to the oldest bakery in Bordeaux, Au Petrin Mosisagais, where owner Serge Combarieu still bakes traditional Gascon bread (we brought a loaf home!) in the original 1765 oven. We enjoyed a wonderful petit dejeuner there, facing the mural of Serge and his family.

Mural of the baker and his family

We watched Serge carefully place dough in the oven, which must always be kept hot, as we munched on his delicious bread and croissants. If you ever get to Bordeaux, this bakery is not to be missed!

The oven

After breakfast we strolled the city, enjoying window shopping and stopping for more people watching at a cafe before heading to the public garden. We watched a man feeding the ducks and geese, calling each by name and feeding them from his hands.

Ducklings!

We didn’t have time to fully explore the park, so it’s on our list for the next visit. It’s beautiful, interesting, and a great place to just stop and listen to the sounds of nature. 

Statue of Juno overlooking the pond

Why didn’t we have time? Because we had booked a unique lunch experience: Demystifying Duck! Hoted by the fascinating Kim Freeman in her lovely house, this was a hands-on cooking experience where I prepped as she prepared a special lunch featuring duck, a Bordeaux specialty. Kim is an American magazine editor, designer, and photo stylist who lived and worked in Paris and New York and now lives in Bordeaux. She hosts Airbnb guests, leads food and market tours for cruise passengers, and hosts a variety of culinary experiences in her home and garden.

Lunch!

Our lunch featured duck breast with apples and pears, Thai black rice with leeks and toasted hazelnuts, a tomato salad with duck crisps, and berries with cream for dessert. Everything was delectable, matched only by the fascinating conversation. We left feeling that we’d made a new friend!

Happy Roamers, photo by Kim

And then it was time to go. We left Bordeaux with wonderful memories and plans to return. We continue to be gobsmacked by our good fortune and have to pinch ourselves; we are really living this life in France!

Wonderful words in the St. Emilion church: “All by love, nothing by force.”

 

spring has sprung!

Our first spring in Montpellier

Upon our return from the Italy trip, we experienced a bit of rain. In Montpellier it tends to pour, but not for long; it’s not unusual to venture out with umbrellas unfurled, only to wish we didn’t have to lug them around in the sunshine. But the damp days were short-lived, and they yielded our first temperatures in the 20s (20 degrees Celsius is about 68 degrees Farenheit). Phil has been very patient with me as I’ve stopped on our walks to take pictures on PlantNet to identify various flora.

European Privet has a light floral fragrance with a note of citrus.

And what better way to celebrate spring than hosting a coffee? I invited a few friends for a mid-morning coffee last week. What an easy and fun way to entertain! The only thing I made was this coffee cake, and setup and cleanup were easy peasy. Several guests had not met before, so new friendships were initiated. I’m so grateful to have friends to invite!

Table set for coffee

One thing I loved about our little soiree was that half the table conversation was in French, and the other half was in English. I tried very hard to follow the French portion, but it was nice to revert to English for a break.

Bilingual coffee chat

My lovely friend Gwen, who loves flowers perhaps even more than I do, brought me the cutest plant. I have acquired six plants now, and all but the chives seem to be surviving fairly well (apparently chives expect regular water. . .). Tomorrow we’re headed out to buy pots and potting soil to give these babies larger homes.

The instructions say “Keep my head dry.”

A highlight of my week is Thursday morning coffee with a lively group of English speakers. This group grew out of the Facebook group “Long Duck Ladies,” which was started by Renestance founder Dennelle Taylor Nizoux. We sit outside on the Place de Marche des Fleurs, at Cafe de la Mer. Last week we stayed until almost 1:00, and then six of us continued on to lunch at a tearoom/restaurant recommended by friends Tracey and Bobby: La Maison des Chats. Six cats reside there for the guests’ petting pleasure. I can’t even describe the decor, you’ll have to look at the website. They serve beautiful tartines (open faced sandwiches).

My tartine, and my friend Nathalie

We were all too full for dessert, but guess what came with Phil’s tea?

Cat Cookie!

Spring is also a wonderful time for outdoor markets, and we have a great one in a neighborhood called Les Arceaux, named for the ancient aqueduct that runs through it. On Saturday we loaded up, because the next day, May 1, is a major French holiday when even the restaurants and grocery stores are closed.

At the market

May first is a double holiday in France: it’s la Fete du Travail (International Workers Day, aka Labor Day), and it’s also la Fete du Muguet (May Day). It’s the only day of the year when workers must all legally be given a paid day off, so almost everything is closed. It’s also the only day of the year when anyone can sell flowers on the streets, tax-free and without a license. The tradition is to give muguets des bois, or lily of the valley, to friends and family. We decided to stroll through the Jardin des Plantes, a botanical garden founded in 1593 by Henri IV. 

Jardin des Plantes

After walking to the garden and then walking through it, we were tired and thirsty! So we were delighted to discover that our favorite nearby cafe was open. We stopped for an apero before walking home (did I mention the buses and trams were not running on the holiday?).

Outdoor apero on May Day

On the way home, we stopped at our neighborhood florist to buy a muguet plant. Since it’s a symbol of friendship and luck, I gave it to Phil and then he gave it to me. It’s hard to imagine how we could be more fortunate!

Our little good-luck plant

 

 

italy

Our first road trip!

“You should meet us there!” Dorothy said last December. Dear friends Dorothy and Amy, along with seven of their closest friends and family, had rented a villa near San Gimignano, Italy, a village in Tuscany. Knowing we were moving to France the next month, and anticipating we’d be settled and ready to travel by then, we immediately agreed. We looked into flights and trains, but in the end we decided this would make a great road trip. On April 14, rental car loaded, we set out. 

Amy, Sandy, and Dorothy in Italy

We stopped overnight near Antibes, staying at a Marriott property. We walked to dinner and had a good night’s sleep, and the next morning we headed out for what should have been a six-hour drive. We stopped in Arenzano, a village by the Ligurian Sea, for lunch.

Beach at Arenzano

Pesto was invented in this area in the 16th century, so I had to try it. It was delicious, but honestly not any better than what I make at home.

Authentic pesto in Liguria

Back on the road, we began to encounter Easter weekend traffic. Italians are the world masters of tailgating, and as the driver I was a bit white-knuckled the entire trip. We drove through the mountains–and when I say “through the mountains” I mean exactly that; there are 191 tunnels between our home and our Tuscan Airbnb (yep, I count things). We were delayed by a six-car fender-bender (remember what I said about tailgating?), but after nine hours on the road we finally found our home for the next few days.

View from our Airbnb

High in the hills south of Florence, our apartment was on the second floor of an ancient building, part of an old olive oil estate. It wasn’t easy to get to, especially since many of the winding roads were only wide enough for one car, but the views were spectacular. We checked in, unpacked, and headed out on those winding roads to a nearby village for dinner. Arriving a little after 7pm, we were the first customers!

Walking back to the car after dinner

The next morning we drove in to Florence. I think everyone in Italy had the same idea! It was the day before Easter, and the city was so crowded we couldn’t get into any of the churches or museums! Undaunted, we walked our legs off, ate well, and headed back home before dark.

Gelato!

We were excited for the next day’s experience: a Tuscan wine adventure I’d booked on Airbnb. We were taken to a 500-year-old cellar, now a co-op production facility (owned by ten small producers), where we learned a lot and tasted a couple of wines, along with local focaccia and olive oil. Then we traveled on to the farm, where we sat in the sunshine and tasted more wines, along with bruschetta and cheeses. Lunch was announced, and our group, along with two others, descended to the cellar, where we enjoyed the most sumptious lunch ever (along with more wine, of course!). 

Amazing lunch!

The next day we drove to visit Dorothy, Amy, and the rest of the gang. We explored a lovely nearby village before deciding we were hungry.

Art in the village

Village cat

We split into a couple of different groups for the afternoon, and our group ended up having lunch at Toscana Resort Castelfalfi, a gorgeous resort near the villa.

Resort lobby flowers

The resort is part of an entire village project that includes a golf course, spa, apartments, event venues, and restaurants. The views are magnificent!

Castelfalfi views

After exploring the village, where I met a charming potter and bought one of his plates (you’ll see it in the last picture), we headed back to the villa, where a chef would be making dinner for all of us. I grabbed a seat at the kitchen island and proceeded to watch the cooking show. I may or may not have sampled a few things along the way. . .

Lovely table for our chef-prepared dinner (ignore the unflattering picture of me!)

Phil especially enjoyed meeting Margaret, a very talented artist. They’re going to paint the same view and compare notes! Full, tired, and happy, we bade farewell to our friends and made the harrowing trip home. Did I mention the winding, narrow roads, full of blind spots? With Phil driving and me navigating, we made it back safely. The next day, our last in Italy, we had scheduled a walking food tour. You may have noticed we love food tours! A lovely group of Americans (two women and their adult daughters) joined us for a tasty tour, where we were seated in several restaurants and shops.

First stop on the food tour

Our guide, a native Florentine, was knowledgeable and shared lots of information about non-touristy things to do. One of the historically significant restaurants we visited was frequented by Anthony Hopkins when he was in Florence filming.  

 

This designation indicates historical sigificance

We loved learning about the “wine holes” in Florence Our guide explained that in the 17th century, impoverished people were entitled to one free glass of wine per day, served through these little windows. Later they were used to sell wine, and apparently they’re re-emerging.

Wine hole

After the tour, we walked around the city, did some shopping, and trudged back to the car. The beauty of Florence is everywhere, and even though we didn’t visit museums or churches on this trip, we loved the random sights encountered at every step.

Peeking into a building: is it a hotel? Offices?

The market was a special treat, and we loaded up on polenta, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegars, and more. Exhausted after all that walking, we headed home for a good night’s sleep and left early the next morning, avoiding traffic on the tiny roads. It was lovely to arrive home safe, sound, and with lots of new memories to savor. 

Florence market bounty

 

friends

How we developed friendships in our first weeks

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that Phil and I arrived in Montpellier on January 23. Less than three months in, we already have a lovely circle of friends. We expected to be a bit lonely the first year here, but that hasn’t been the case at all.

We credit Renestance for much of this good fortune. During our July 2021 reconnaissance visit we met with several of their team members for an apero (the French custom of cocktails and nibbles in late afternoon), and they could not have made us feel more welcome and secure.

We arrived in Montpellier excited to see our apartment and settle in. What we didn’t expect was the warm welcome from Lizzie, our Renestance consultant, and our landlords (propriétaires).

A lovely welcome from Renestance!

Our furnished apartment did not include bed linens, and we arrived on a Sunday when the stores were closed (!), but our wonderful propriétaire, Jacqueline, loaned us freshly ironed sheets to get us through until we could shop. Soon afterward, she stopped by with a delicious cake, which has been followed by another cake and most recently a batch of date-walnut balls. Jacqi is originally from Lebanon, and she has promised to treat us to a traditional Lebanese dinner soon. She also had me over for coffee one morning, and we had so much fun chatting in “Franglaise” that I stayed almost three hours!

Jacqueline’s delicious date and walnut balls rolled in coconut

 I had connected with Gwen, who with husband Tom moved from Arkansas in November 2019 (yep, right before everything shut down!) through the “Americans in Montpellier” Facebook group. During our July trip we met up with them for coffee and hit it off. The week we arrived they invited us over for coffee, and we were delighted to find out that our homes are only a half mile apart! Their wonderful dog Bella welcomed us with open arms (paws?), and a great friendship, which may or may not have anything to do with Gwen’s fabulous chili,  immediately ensued. One of Gwen’s many talents is making greeting cards, and when we returned from my birthday trip to Nice a custom-made card was waiting.

My custom-made 70th birthday card from Gwen, Tom, and Bella

The high point of my week is Thursday morning coffee with the “Long Duck Ladies” (a play on the word Languedoc, the region where we live), a Facebook group started by Renestance founder Dennelle Taylor Nizoux. We’ve added a few husbands to our group, which this week numbered 11 for coffee! We meet outside (in all weather) at the Café de la Mer, and occasionally some of us continue on to lunch. Anne, who with husband John arrived from Seattle two weeks after we did, is a regular, as is Margi, who with husband Michael moved last October from New York. Tracey and husband Bobby, early retirees from Virginia, have lived here several years and know all the best restaurants. Sandi is from South Africa and speaks French beautifully, and there are others from the UK, Ireland, and other English-speaking countries.

This week’s male contingent of the Long Duck Ladies (thanks to Gwen for the photo!)

There have been other fun times with some of the LDLs—recently we attended practice sessions for the World Figure Skating Championships (more fun than the actual competition and MUCH cheaper!). Margi mentioned she was attending, and soon three of us had decided to join her!

Men’s practice session. It was exciting to be so close to the skaters!

I’m not saying we’re friends exactly, but we have a pair of beautiful black and white birds that frequent our garden. I think they’re magpies. We also have two cats that sneak through the garden, thinking they’re invisible, but they are very camera shy!

Feathered friend

We’ve also had friends over for dinner a few times. It was pretty basic at first, but after our shipment arrived I could set the table with my own things.

Our table set for a recent dinner with Margi and Michael

And for my first birthday in France, my lovely Renestance friends treated me to lunch at a sunshiny cafe (complete with wine, bien sur). Who would have thought we’d have great friends in just over two months?! Now we must work hard on our language skills so we can make more French friends!

Beautiful birthday flowers from Renestance