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One of my favorite pictures: Early morning in the woods at Montbalzon, France

We were driving through France from North to South, starting in Belgium, heading for Spain, stopping at select cities and towns along the way. When we reached the Loire Valley, we detoured for several days, as we were in no hurry to reach Spain. The first town we stayed at was Montbazon, spending a couple of days at a delightful 19th century chateau, not far from the chateau that inspired the children's fairy tale, "Sleeping Beauty".

I awoke very early in the morning, perhaps 4:30AM, and certainly no later than 5. Nancy was sleeping, and there was no good reason to get her up at that hour. I dressed and left the little cottage we were staying in, taking my camera with me.

The main house on the estate was dark- no one up, so I strolled around the place to get a sense of the layout. When we had arrived the night before, it was very late in the afternoon, and we were tired. We had unpacked, gone to dinner as soon as it was served, then gone directly to bed. I don’t recall what we ate, but it was French, so it was delicious, I’m sure.

Now, although it was still dark, my eyes began to adjust to the dim light. I was able to make out buildings, statues and other objects around me. I could determine, for example, that the main house (chateaux) stood atop a high hill, the grounds rolling away from it down to the Indre River quite far below.

It was beginning to get light and I could see flowers around me, some in formal gardens, but many more just growing wild. There was a moderately wooded area nearby, and I entered into it, following a well worn path through the trees and underbrush.

Not far into this forest, I came to a spot so lovely my heart nearly stopped, and I paused to take it all in. There was an old, rotting bench near a huge tree. The aroma of wild cyclamen perfumed the air and the flowers themselves were all around me- thousands and thousands of them.

As I stood there alone in the early morning, with the cool air, the scent of the flowers, no sound to distract me, the sun came up, and shafts of light broke gently through the tops of the trees.

I started taking pictures, struck by how the play of light shafts changed the entire feeling of that magical place, not in an eerie way, rather in a wondrous, inviting way. I was, for those few moments, transported to a different time and place, not of this earth, but of some parallel universe, away from stress, worries, anxieties of the earth I had come from mere seconds ago.

I was so pleased that later in the morning, I got Nan up and dressed, then took her to the field of flowers so she could enjoy them for herself.

We left Montbazon, spent a day and night in the vineyards at Saint-Emilion, first established by the Romans, who began cultivating grapes here more than a thousand years ago. We were not particularly interested in the wine (peasants!), but the place is famous also for its macaroons!

Too steep and "cobblestoney", we drove on the next day around 40 miles to Bergerac. It is not our ancestral home, but it is home to the 17th century duelist and dramatist about whose life and nose many fictions have been written, including Edmond Rostand's famous love story involving Cyrano and Roxanne.

In the middle of the town is this fabulous garden with a statue of Cyrano himself in the middle. Nancy struck the same pose, but lacks the NOSE to carry it off.

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One of Life's pleasures is being able to wander through the delightful towns and villages scattered throughout France. One we visited was Arles. It was already an ancient town when Julius Caesar conquered Gaul.

He gave it to some of his commanders in recognition of their service (and loyalty). The unmistakable hand of Roman sculptors is very much in evidence.

Surprises lurk just around virtually every corner. Peeking inside an exquisite blue and white marble church, we discovered this lovely altar inside

In later centuries, the renown painter, Vincent Van Gogh, was here- as a patient in a mental hospital. Many of his works, including "Starry Night" were painted within a few meters of this monument.

Note how cleverly the sculptor solved the problem of the missing left ear. (Van Gogh had severed his own ear with a razor, wrapped it in a newspaper, and handed it to a prostitute at a house he was known to frequently visit.)

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On a different trip, we concentrated on the Riviera, both French and Italian. Everything about the Mediterranean tells you to stop, smell flowers, let all your senses put aside everything you have known up to that minute. Just drink in the "wonderfulness" of it.

One of the first towns we visited is Villefranche- a stunning example of how "the other half" lives.

Overlooking this lovely harbor is the palatial villa of the Baroness Ephrussi de Rothschild. It took seven years to build this mansion, and the interior is just as richly furnished as any in Venice or Florence.

In the drawing room, there is a mantelpiece the Baroness saw in its original location in an Italian church. She bought the church (!), so she could remove and relocate the altarpiece here.

The design of the house is such that Madame Rothschild's boudoir overlooks the harbor of Villefranche. Yeah, life is tough.

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Continuing along the Middle Corniche between Nice and Monaco is the village of Eze. It is a Medieval, walled village perched like an eagle's nest on a narrow, rocky peak.

At the very top is a fortress/castle dating from the 12th Century, and the village itself forms a circular pattern around its base. Breathtakingly beautiful, like something directly out of a fairy tale.

The path to the village and continuing into the village itself is not wheelchair accessible. We had to settle for this photograph- concentrating on what we CAN do, not on what we can't.

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Another of the tearfully charming locations along the French Riviera, tucked snugly in one of the crannies of the Mediterranean, is Monte Carlo, Monaco. There are yachts in the harbor that cost more than the total gross national production of many countries!

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And back to Nice.

In Nice on the French Riviera

We were with an English speaking guide, touring the spectacular countryside- the enchanting towns and villages along the French Riviera.

Sometime around mid- afternoon, we stopped for a bite to eat on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Because we were so swept up with "wonderfulness" of the entire day, we totally lost track of time. Drinking, laughing, enjoying- the three of us failed to notice our ship was due to set sail in about thirty minutes- and we were at least 45 minutes away.

Our driver/guide couldn't stop apologizing- how much she regretted. How sorry she was. Please forgive.

Finally, I felt so sorry for her that I reached out, touched her shoulder, and reassured her they would not leave someone in a wheelchair behind. I added that Nancy was the only person aboard in a wheelchair. No one could desert us.

I don't know how much of this she believed- or I believed.

You would think she was driving the Le Mans Race. We rocketed down roads barely wide enough for one car, much less two. If someone came down the other side, we would be toast.

Zooming over the hill, almost fifteen minutes past sailing time, we could see the harbor below. The ship was still there.

We were sternly warned as we came aboard. We acted contrite and made all the sounds of someone penitent. When we got to our cabin, we burst out laughing!

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