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

 

 

WE WENT TO NICE. . .

A Roamer turns 70!

I’ve been looking forward to my 70th birthday for a long time. The original plan was for a visit from bestie Beth (we were born four days apart and always planned to celebrate this big one together) and daughter Amelia. But reality intervened, and both had to postpone their trips. What to do? In our case, we decided on a trip to Nice! 

“Consolation” stroll along the beautiful beach in Nice

We love trains–the beautiful stations, the happy (for the most part) crowds, the sounds, the rhythm of the train’s movement–all of it. And of course we love train picnics. With cute mini-bottles of bubbly and sandwiches from Paul, we were on our way.

Train picnic

We arrived in Nice and I immediately experienced a “coup de coeur”–the city is gorgeous! We walked about a mile from the station to our hotel, dropped our bags, and headed for a welcome glass of wine on the beach. This was our first view of the Cote d’Azur, and even with gray skies caused by the Saharan dust storms, we can see why the French Riviera is so lauded. The water is a beautiful light turquoise I’d never seen before.

First stop

After our (overpriced, not great–but the view!!!) wine stop and a stroll along the beach, we decided to explore Vieux Nice, the historic quarter. On a narrow pedestrian street we happened upon a gorgeous church and stopped in for a few minutes of quiet contemplation.

Beautiful old Nicoise church

The only dinner reservation we made for this trip was at Antoine’s Bistro, a Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant. I wasn’t aware of “Bib Gourmand,” but it’s a designation for restaurants offering great food at modest prices. In the upstairs dining room, which felt like a private home, we had a lovely dinner with a bottle of wine, two “plats” or main courses, and two desserts for about 80 euros. After that, we strolled a bit more before heading back to the hotel.

Nice at night

The next morning I headed out for an early morning stroll while Phil slept in a bit due to bad allergies. The city was quiet, and I had coffee outside, watching the book market vendors set up. One strange and interesting sight on this stroll was “Cesar’s Thumb,” a sculpture at the Hotel de Ville, or town hall. Why? I have no idea, but apparently the sculptor, Cesar, made several copies of this giant sculpture of his own thumb.

Cesar’s thumb. No, not Caesar!

Our plan for the day was a walking food tour booked through Viator. Our wonderful tour guide, Marian Pansiot, instructed us to meet at the Fontaine du Soleil, by the statue of the large naked man. “You can’t miss him,” she said–and she wasn’t wrong!

“Large naked man”

The tour was an absolute delight! We were a group of twelve that included Americans, Italians, French–and one person from Dallas, where we raised our family! Our first stop was Maison Auer, a gorgeous confisserie built in 1820 to service elite visitors during la Belle Epoche and now run by the fifth generation of the founding family. There we tasted candied fruits and chocolates. I returned later to pay 40 euros for a small bag of dark chocolate-covered almonds–worth every penny!

A kid in a candy store.  . .

We proceeded to the Marche des Fleurs, an historic flower and produce market, to taste cheeses, candies, olive oil, and other delicacies. And yes, there was a lovely wine tasting, with enough goodies to qualify as lunch. We ended our tour with a taste of wood fired socca, the traditional chickpea flatbread of Nice. It was served with chickpea beer, which I quite liked but Phil ddn’t.

Marian preparing our snacks

This tour was a delight. We even made friends with an Italian couple who promised to show us around when we visit Genoa. We had the rest of the afternoon free, so we decided to visit a couple of art galleries and museums. The Musee des Beaux Arts was disappointing, primarily featuring a special exhibition of native son Gustave-Adolphe Mossa’s very weird and disturbing art. We consoled ourselves with the most expensive (21 euros each!) martinis we’ve ever had, at the famous Hotel Negresco.

Delicious, but worth 21 euros? I think not.

Exausted from walking about eight miles, we headed back to Vieux Nice to enjoy another wonderful dinner. Where?  I can’t remember. But it was Italian, delicious, and only slightly marred by the group of 12 boisterous young men (one in a kilt, and one wearing bunny ears) who arrived as we were eating.

The next morning we were picked up by our guide for a ten-hour tour of the Riveria. With seven guests in a cramped van, we headed out for our first stop, a small village called Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, which has a lovely Sunday market.

Beautiful street in the village

The guide gave us free time at each stop, so we used this first stop to buy spices and fragrant soaps! Later in the day we toured the Fragonard factory in Eze and bought perfume.

le marche

One of the highlights of this tour was Saint-Paul-de-Vence, an ancient village high in the hills. And when I say high, I mean a steep drive followed by a steep climb! It was well worth the effort, though. Once the home of Yves Montand and Simone Signoret, Marc Chagall, and James Baldwin, today it’s a beautiful art community of about 1000 people. 

Fountain in Saint-Paul-de-Vence.

It was here that I had perhaps the best lunch of my life, at a restaurant called le Tilleul. I ordered the Filet de loup à la plancha, tombée d’épinards frais des “Légumes de Saint Paul” & soja, pomme de terre vapeur, sauce homardine. The fish was perfectly cooked, with crispy skin. The vegetables looked and tasted as if each individual bite had been cooked with love. With a simple glass of rose, I was in heaven.

A gorgeous and delectable lunch

Honestly, this tour was way too long. The tour guide, who never seemed to hear our questions, was more interested in new buildings and business that were being constructed than in the ancient castles and ruins we passed. But it was interesting.

Obligatory photo in front of the Cannes Film Festival red carpet

A good view of Saint-Paul-de-Vence

la Cote d’Azure

Monte Carlo Casino. We did not see James Bond.

We were not crazy about Monaco and Monte Carlo–too much ostentatious wealth for our tastes. But we did see Jacques Coustea’s original submarine (our guide told us it was the inspiration for the Beatles’ song, but I looked that up and he was wrong.), the palace, and the site of Grace Kelly’s tragic accident.

’nuff said.

After finally (!) finishing that death march of a tour, we opted for dinner close to our hotel. At le Grand Balcon, we had a lovely dinner in an intimate setting. And I had the most beautiful dessert! The pastry chef’s interpretation of a tart au citron (lemon meringue tart), it featured a life-like lemon made of white chocolate. Inside was a delicious lemon cream, and inside that was house-made lemon curd. On the side was a scoop of lemon sorbet topped with meringue tuiles. Magnificent!

I’m still thinking about this dessert.

The next morning we enjoyed a birthday petit dejeuner at Jeannot, a boulangerie we visited each morning of our visit (by the second day, they knew us and remembered our order!).

petit dejeuner

Then we strolled out to the antiques market, which was fascinating! We didn’t buy anything, but we thoroughly enjoyed looking at everything (Swords! Muskets! Miniature cars! for phil. Linens! china! silver! for me. Art! for both of us).

Le Marche des Fleurs, which on Monday becomes an antiques market

By the time we finished shopping the market, it was time to leave. We headed to the station, stopping en route to pick up our train picnic.

The beautiful Nice train station

Train picnic

And then it was over. What a wonderful trip, and what memories we made! Adieu, Nice, nous vous aimons, and we will be back!

e

Nesting

The Roamers make a home

We’ve been here almost two months now, and aside from the dreary weather we’ve had recently (cloudy every day and lots of rain), everything is great. We love our apartment but are getting very anxious for our small shipment to arrive. It was due mid-January so is now officially two months late, stuck in Rotterdam awaiting customs clearance. So with my four pairs of pants and seven tops, my already weak fashion sense has further deteriorated! 

Shipment notwithstanding, we’ve begun to nest as we wait for our art and other special things. Our first act was rearranging the furniture, followed by the purchase of a rug, some throw pillows, and a few small decor items. 

Living room after a few purchases

Our apartment came furnished, so we are working with the things that were already here. One thing we didn’t have, though, was a place for our computers. So we bought a desk, chair, and printer and are now able to “work” in a nice corner of the living/dining room.

 

“Office” with a view!

Our bedroom is another story. We have a great bathroom (complete with a bidet; what should we do with that? Put a plant in it?) and closet area, but the bedroom itself is fairly small. I’m still working on bed linens but have fallen in love with our washed linen duvet and and pillow covers. Next up will be linen sheets–pricey but luxurious!

Our bed, a work in progress

We haven’t done much entertaining yet, but we did have friends over for dinner a couple of times. I’ve enjoyed getting a few things to make the table nice but can’t wait until my china, silver, and pottery arrive!

Making the dining table look nice with mimosa from our garden

A favorite Sunday activity is visiting the brocante, or flea market, at the Promenade du Peyrou. With food trucks, lots of interesting stalls, and occasional treasures, it’s a great way to start the day.

Brocante

Last Sunday I experienced a “coup de coeur” when I spotted a beautiful painting. It turned out to be by an award-winning French artist, Anne Lejars, and it insisted on going home with me. Since it’s my birthday month, I bought it on the spot! Now, I just need to find the perfect frame, which exists in my imagination but has yet to present itself in the right size.

My painting! Can’t you just imagine it’s telling a story?

Speaking of my birthday, Phil has done something special almost every day of my birthday month so far. My favorite was when I returned from French class and he had a lovely apero waiting for me!

Birthday month apero: I forgot to take a picture before digging in.

Part of nesting, of course, is learning the language. It’s a slow slog, but I’m enjoying my classes and Phil loves his private lessons. I’m more than twice the age of my classmates, and they have 25 class hours per week to my 5, but so far I’m keeping up!

French class. Isn’t the room beautiful?

In a fit of nesting optimism, we bought an outdoor table and chairs, thinking the weather would warm up enough to entertain in the garden soon. The weather gods disagreed, but we’re looking forward to dining al fresco soon.

Our garden entertaining setup

Lizzie, our Renestance consultant, greeted us upon arrival with some luscious culinary gifts. Our favorites were a garlic and parsley fleur de sel (all used up now) and the BEST olives in the universe! We gobbled them up, but last weekend at the les Arceaux organic market I found them. Finding special foods is part of our nesting process. Oh, and did I mention that an artisanal boulangerie is only a couple of blocks away? It’s an Amazon pickup location, so of course each time we retrieve a package we have to buy something! See how the universe is taking care of us?

The world’s best olives

Another part of nesting for us is becoming familiar with Montpellier neighborhoods, starting with our own. On a recent wet stroll near the pharmacy school we noticed that the ubiquitous plane trees (supposedly planted by Napoleon to provide shade for his soldiers) take on a beautiful striated color in the rain.

Plane tree in the rain

Friends have asked whether we miss the U.S.,and of course we miss our family and friends there. But we’re determined not to be those people who try to recreate their American life in France. We want to assimilate into the culture here, learn the language, and eat the foods that the French eat. That doesn’t stop us, however, from the occasional indulgence–say, a hot dog with wine?

Phil enjoying wine with his French hot dog

So on this rainy weekend when it’s too nasty to venture out, I’m feeling immense gratitude for our cosy little nest in France. A bientot!

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Where does the time go?

The Roamers speed along. . .

I barely blinked, and over two weeks have passed since my last post. I’ve heard from many retirees that they don’t seem to have as much time post-retirement as they did while working, and now I know it’s true! Despite not working, we seem to be busy every day. We’ve continued to explore our city, continuously discovering new sights.

Car art? As seen on a Montpellier stroll

I forgot to take a picture from one of the most delightful experiences we’ve had so far: tea with a British couple we randomly met. Jeremy and Clair were at the next table at Paul, a bakery where we had breakfast one day, and as we were leaving they struck up a conversation. They’ve been here almost 30 years and understand what it’s like to be new, so they invited us for tea on Sunday. We took an Uber to their beautiful home in a hilltop village north of Montpellier. The tea was sumptuous, with cakes, cookies, candies, nuts, and muffins. They were so very kind and we loved spending time with them.

 Some things in our city have cracked us up (perhaps me more than Phil), such as the condom vending machines. They’re primarily outside pharmacies, but you’ll also see them on random street corners. They give me a giggle every time I spot one!

Condom dispenser outside our pharmacy

We’ve of course continued to sample various restaurants and cafes here, some with unique decor. Many are crowded with memorabilia, which brings me to wonder how often that stuff is dusted!

Chandelier in a restaurant where we might have eaten some dust along with our meal

I’ve also continued to enjoy food shopping and preparing meals. We think the quality of food–freshness, variety, and sourcing–is better here than in the US. If you read my last blog, you might remember the restaurateur in NImes who shared their secret fish preparation. Well, I made it, and it was wonderful! Next time I’ll use more lemon and less tomato garnish, but it was nonetheless a hit!

My version of the famous Nimes fish dish

We ate at home for Valentine’s Day, but a few days later we treated ourselves to a special tapas dinner. I’d reserved a table for 6:30pm, as we’d been told that buses stopped running quite early. When we arrived promptly at 6:30, the host was surprised. “We haven’t eaten yet, so we’re not opening until 7:00,” she told us! She offered to let us sit and have a glass of wine, but we declined. After strolling a bit, we settled on a wonderful bar, Smash. Offering American blues, great cocktails, and friendly service, it will likely become our bar of choice.

Cosy table at Smash

After enjoying our cocktails, we headed back to l’Endroite, the tapas restaurant. By this time, the staff had eaten and were ready to serve us, their first arrivals. We enjoyed a tasting menu with wine pairings as the restaurant gradually filled up. Lesson learned: dine later!

Phil enjoying l’Endroite

Since our shipment has not yet arrived (it’s stuck in Rotterdam waiting for customs clearance), we have very few clothes, and I have only a light jacket. The highs most days are low 50s to low 60s, so I’ve been ok, but for Valentine’s Day Phil surprised me with a beautiful warm scarf. 

Modeling my Valentine’s scarf from Phil and my newest Mellie Earrings

The earrings in the picture arrived along with my latest MellieEarrings order, a set of beautiful custom-made coasters. When you’re nesting from scratch, every little thing makes a house feel like home!

My new Mellie Earrings coasters and earrnings

The other thing that feels like home is cooking. We decided not to eat in front of the tv as we did in the US, so now we share meals at the table, comme les francais! My latest dinner experiment came at the suggestion of coffee friends Tracy and Bobby. They introduced us to a lovely cheese shop and restaurant that is unfortunately closing next month. There (after enjoying a raclette lunch) we bought a special cheese called Mont d’Or (means “mount of gold”). You cut a hole in the top and pour a little white wine over it (you can also slip in garlic slivers and dust with pepper) and bake until it’s melted, then serve it with steamed potatoes and charcuterie. It was a hit!

Our first Mont d’Or meal chez nous

In another example of the kindness we’ve encountered, our landlady invited me to coffee at her home (in the apartment above us). Originally from Lebanon, she and her husband have lived here since 2005. She treated me to a lovely coffee, complete with fruit and pastries, as we enjoyed a conversation in Franglish. I loved spending time with her and hope we’ll have more opportunities to get together.

One of my WBL (Women Business Leaders) friends, Leslie, married a Frenchman and now lives in Lausanne, Switzerland. We’ve been staying in touch via both email and her wonderful website and blog, Observing Leslie. She writes about everything–life, literature, travel, etc. and it’s one of my favorite things to read. We’d been planning to get together as soon as possible, and last weekend we had our chance: we met up in Avignon. Phil and I decided to make a weekend of it, so we arrived Friday via train to explore a bit. We’d been to Avignon once before, but it was 29 years ago! This time we decided to skip the Palais des Papes and just wander the streets. We came upon an anti-war, pro-Ukraine protest featuring a young woman singing Ukranian folk songs. It was a sad, somber, dignified, and inspiring event.

Anti-war protest in Avignon. The woman at the microphone was singing Ukranian songs.

After checking in to our guest house (complete with two friendly cats!) we enjoyed strolling around and stopping for a glass of wine. Coffee friend Margi had recommended Carre du Palais for dinner, and it did not disappoint! Our placemats were maps showing the origin of the wines we tasted–all of which were wonderful.

Dessert at Carre du Palais

The next morning, along with Leslie and Arnaud, we met up with Julien, our tour guide for a walking food tour. Julien is an Avignon native and shared fascinating history and stories along with the wonderful food tastings. My favorite bite was a twisted puff pastry covered with sugar and toasted almonds called the sacristan. This delectable morsel, according to Julien, was invented in the middle ages by a baker who felt sorry for the sacristan, or sexton, who because of his duties after mass arrived at the bakery after all the good stuff was sold. So the baker created a twisted puff pastry stick (similar to the stick the sacristan carried) just for him.

Violette, the bakery where we sampled sacristans. Note the long loaves from which you buy a length!

Julien led us to the top of the largest hill in Avignon, to the Rocher des Doms park. It was a climb, but the view was exceptional. Note in the picture below the famous Pont d’Avignon.If you’re not familiar with the children’s song, take a listen here.

The view. The bridge. The Rhone.

Our tour ended at les Halles, the covered market, where Julien assembled a final feast for us. He also introduced us to Papa Poulet, the poultry vendor, who had a special performance for us.

Papa Poulet and his fowl talk. . .

After all that walking and nibbling, it was time for some serious cafe sitting! Joined by Leslie’s friend Camille, who recently moved to Marseilles from Paris, we “enjoyed” edible coffee cups. The idea is good, but the flavor needs a little work.

Edible coffee cup. One bite is enough!

We split up for a while to run errands and roam the streets. In France, street signs are not free-standing but are attached to the corners of buildings. In Avignon, the street names are listed both in French and in Provencal, the ancient Roman derivative language still spoken in some households. 

Street sign in French and in Provencal

Julien had explained that statues of the Virgin Mary look over the people of Avignon to protect them. Once he pointed this out, we saw them everywhere!

Mary and her baby Jesus, one of dozens we noticed around town

We met up with Leslie, Arnaud, and Camille for a wonderful dinner at le 46, a cosy and welcoming restaurant near the Popes’ Palace. While we mostly spoke English, part of the conversation was in French, which Phil and I found highly motivating. We made a pact to study every day instead of just relying on our formal lessons. I can’t wait to be able to eavesdrop on neighboring tables in restaurants! Just kidding. . .

Avignon was a memorable trip, partly because the city is filled with wonders, but even more because we got to spend time with friends. We are so very fortunate to have friends in many places, and we’re grateful to Leslie for making this weekend happen. A bientot!

 

One of the many beautiful doors in Avignon

nimes

The Roamers make a day trip

As we wait for our shipment, begin studying French, and continue exploring our new surroundings, we’ve been amazed and gratified by the kindness shown us by everyone we’ve encountered. One early evening this week, I got a call (in French) from Madam Khalil, our landlord’s wife, asking whether she could stop by for one minute. She brought us a beautiful cake. She also invited me for coffee soon; I’ll have to work hard on my French to make that enjoyable!

Gorgeous cake to welcome us

We’ve been walking four to seven miles a day, but one afternoon I’d not even been outside, so I decided to take a quick walk around the neighborhood (getting lost but thanks to GPS, getting found). I noticed a sign for wine tasting and decided to follow it. I haven’t yet worked up the nerve to ring the bell, but once my language skills are a bit better, we’ll make a visit! 

Wine tasting near our home

We had learned that museum entry is free on Sundays, so we visited the Fabre Museum near the Place de la Comedie. It was amazing, huge, and a bit overwhelming!

Just one room in the Museo Fabre

We also met other expats for coffee one morning, which was great fun. But the most interesting and fun thing in our third week in Montpellier was Friday’s day trip to Nimes. We chose Nimes because it’s only a 30 minute train trip, and because we’d heard about the Roman ruins there. Interesting fact: denim originated in Nimes (“de Nimes”)! We managed to board the correct train and enjoyed the quick trip. Once there, we headed out of the station to the Charles de Gaulle Esplanade, a beautiful plane tree-lined park flanked by cafes. There are not one but two carousels, and the focal point is a gorgeous sculpture and fountain. From there we headed to the cathedral, which had the most beautiful Madonna altar I’ve ever seen outside of Notre Dame.

The top figure represents Nimes, and the other four depict Nimes’ four water sources

 

Isn’t this beautiful?

We then walked over to the Nimes Arena, one of the oldest Roman coliseums in the world, which is still used for music events and (ugh) bullfights.

This arena was constructed around 70 CE!

Many pedestrian areas in France have small round metal posts to prevent cars from entering. I noticed that in Nimes they were decorated on the top.

Interesting decoration

Later in the day we started noticing other similar decorations featuring crocodiles, so I had to investigate. Turns out that the Nimes coat of arms features a crocodile tethered to a palm tree. This denotes the victory in the Egyptian campaign of Augustus.

The crocodile fountain near the market

The market was closed during our visit, but we had fun peeking into the nearby shop windows.

These shoes cracked me up!

We saw many more amazing sights in Nimes, all within an easy walk of the Esplanade. We especially loved the Jardin de la Fontaine, a large park beautiful even in January.

Les Jardins des Fountaines

Temple of Diana, which had nothing to do with the goddess Diana

La Maison Carree (“the square house”) was closed, but it was one of the most beautiful ruins we saw in Nimes.

La Maison Carree

After all that walking we were tired and starving, and we hit the jackpot with our visit to Bistrot le Republique, a tiny and very popular restaurant near the modern art museum. There were no tables, so we sat on stools at the bar and enjoyed the best meal since our arrival in France. My halibut was so delicious that as we were leaving, in my horrible French I complimented the meal and that dish especially. Imagine my delight to have the owner thank me for attempting to speak French, and then explain the secret of how the dish was made!

I promise I only ate one creme brulee!

In case you want to join me in trying to recreate this dish, here’s what she told me (It’s kind of like a sous vide method): Season the fillet with salt and pepper and place it in a heat-safe plastic bag along with a bit of lemon and olive oil. Put the bag into hot water (it will shrink to hug the fish) to cook. Serve with the cooking liquid and sprinkle with tiny bits of fresh tomato and chopped chives. My dish was served with perfectly cooked rice and beautifully sauteed haricots verts and carrots. Divine!

The view from our apartment door

Stuffed and happy, we made our way back to the station. We struggled to figure out which track and train were ours, and we weren’t seated together on our first class return (We’d decided to spring for the extra five euros but learned that it’s not worth it for such short trips), and we got on the wrong tram, but eventually we made it home. Even though we’ve been here only three weeks, we already have that “good to be home” feeling! Today, Sunday, we’ll be having tea with an English couple we met. A bientot!

We also met other expats for coffee on Thursday, which was delightful.

two weeks in, and. . .

We love it here!

It’s hard to believe we’ve already lived in Montpellier for two whole weeks (longer than any vacation I’ve ever taken), and at the same time it feels like we’ve been here longer. Here’s a two-week update on how we’re settling in.

We ate out for lunch the first few days but knew we’d need to stock our kitchen. So we took an Uber to Odysseum, a large outdoor mall next to Ikea. There we discovered Casino–no, not a place to gamble away our retirement funds, but a “Geant” grocery/home goods/general store. Think of a Walmart-type place, but with far better food. Since we had to schlep everything, we bought only what we could carry. Then it was on to Ikea for a few essentials: trash can, a few kitchen things, etc. We took another Uber home to unpack everything. 

Charcuterie aisle at Casino: Cousin Karyl would love this!

We quickly realized that Uber was not an affordable option for everyday errands, and fortunately our lovely friends Gwen and Tom, whom we’d met on our reconnaissance trip in July, came to the rescue with an offer of two 10-trip TAM cards. Tam is Montpellier’s public transportation via trams and buses. Being over 65, we’re eligible for free rides, but after three tries we still haven’t received our passes (Have I mentioned that France is famous for its Byzantine bureaucracy?). Tom met us to guide us to their lovely home on a private street only half a mile away, where we met Bella, their darling dog, and enjoyed a sumptuous coffee spread.

New friends whom we feel we’ve known forever!

My favorite thing to do here so far is simply wander the streets in Ecusson, the oldest part of the city. It’s easy to get lost and then found, and we love discovering beautiful ancient buildings, contemporary street art, and all the sights and sounds that make up this gorgeous place.

Random art? Political statement? What exactly is this?

The architecture of Montpellier is diverse, beautiful, and intriguing. The Montpellier Cathedral is one of my favorite sights; you round a corner and there it is! It has an interesting history you can read about here.

Montpellier Cathedral

Our shipment of things from the U.S. hasn’t yet arrived, so we have very few clothes, no artwork, and aside from the basic equipment in our furnished apartment, not much to make the place feel like home. But we did rearrange the furniture, and we bought a rug, pillows, and a throw to make our living room a bit cosier. 

Early nesting

We’ll wait until our shipment arrives in a few weeks to put anything on the walls, but we’ve bought flowers, a candle, napkins, and placemats to make it feel a bit homier. And we love our apartment! Not many people have a shower with a name, but I named ours Disco Inferno.

Burn, baby, burn!

I love to cook, so of course I’ve been making some classic French fare: blanquette de veau, boef bourginon, croque monsieur, etc. We agreed that we’ll stop our habit of eating meals in front of the tv, and so far we’ve adhered to that plan, enjoying meals “comme les francais, a table.” And most lunches feature a glass of local wine. Wine here is both plentiful and affordable, with many quite good bottles for under $5.

Lunch of croques monsieurs, salade, et vin rose

This city has so much to offer, and we’ve hardly begun to see it. The street art alone is worthy of many blogs!

More street art on a building

Just yesterday we happened upon a small chapel that’s raising renovation funds via an enormous creche that features an entire village, fully automated. 

Just a small part of the amazing village creche!

We also continue to marvel at the elaborate trompe l’oeil artwork on the fronts of otherwise plain buildings.

None of this is real, but it’s real art!

So far we have seen no evidence of the rumor that restaurant portions in France are smaller than those in the U.S. However, we have seen some evidence that women’s body images are not as unrealistic as they are in our native country.

Billboard at bus stops, advertising underwear for real women

 

We have been walking every day, usually at least 10,000 steps. And it’s always a joy to return to our new home. Did I mention that we have to go through three locked gates to get there?

Gate #1 is automated and gives access to our parking area

Gate #2, access to the intermediate courtyard

Gate #3 into our private courtyard

We’ve developed a routine for these gates: I unlock each one, and Phil goes behind me and re-locks each one. Every time we come or go. . .

Door to our apartment

And finally we get to our apartment, which we love more each day. We are so very fortunate to be living this adventure, and to have a lovely place to come home to. We are so happy to be living our dream!