Sunday, September 16, 2012

Back in the US of A


    I may disappoint
Our first meal in the States
McDonalds did make

Next meal oh so fine
At my sister's where we dined
A brunch from Heaven




Friday, September 14, 2012

A Fond Farewell

 Yesterday and today we hung around Toulouse.  A couple of exciting stops for Carolyn and me were a local quilt shop and two fabric stores.  The first fabric store was high end with prices from about 40 Euros/meter and up to over 130 Euros/meter. They were quite beautiful.  The second fabric shop was way down on the high fashion list (right) called "Toto Tissus"  Tissu means "Fabric".  The store pictured on the left is a quilt shop which was an exciting stop for Carolyn and me.  The owner was a lovely woman who spoke English and Quiltish.  A quilter is a quilter in the US or France.  We each bought a bundle of fat quarters to make some kind of rememberance of our trip.  It looked like any quilt store I've ever been in which made us both feel at home.                                                       

Last night we had a light supper at Nancy's.  Her apartment is quite comfortable and we needed a rest.  A relaxing evening eating under the stars with a cool breeze was just what we needed.  We decided that the trip had been a very good thing even though we're pretty tired! I will surely miss these down times when we just sit and chat.  The running around to restaurants and shops is lots of fun but this is where we connect.  Our favorite thing has been to reminisce about the good things of our childhoods.  We're recalled various houses we have lived in, how we all slept in the same bedroom for a few years, our grandmother's house and her superb cooking, going to visit aunts and uncles and just the everyday happenings in a home with six people.  Our collective memories filled in for each other what we had forgotten. 

Today we slept in until 10 am.  Had a few errands to finish up but our noon meal was going to consist heavily of desserts.  We hadn't gone to a bakery yet and picked out exactly what we wanted.     After this we went back to the Pastel store and bought Nancy a pair of earrings as a hostess gift.  Tres jolie!  I had to buy a small suitcase on wheels because I had discovered on my way here that my laptop is very heavy.  I couldn't imagine toting that back across the ocean so I got a neat little rolling bag.  Then we had tea at a design shop where the proprieter designs and custom makes beautirul clotheing  She was very nice and served tea upstairs.  The picture below to the right was taken from our table.  Looks out to a river with a typical European bridge. 


Standing on the bank of the river.  There's a grassy area below where people often picnic and just  relax.

Looking towards the hospital museum.  We didn't get a chance to see it so I'll have to come back to do that.  Actually it's impossible to see everything but hitting the highlights can be a lot of fun.
As we say our final Au revoir to Toulouse I show a picture of the front of our apartment building.  It is Residence Franklin Roosevlet or as we affectionately call it, "The Frank".  It has served us well these days and nights and contributed to a very comfortable stay.  Close to the Metro and everything else it was all quite convenient.  Hats off to sister Nancy for choosing wisely.  We have now made this city "our woman" as Emilie and I would say.  I think I could pick up more of the language and someday be fluent if I could just stay here a few more weeks/months/years!  Alas, our men call us home.  Actually that's a good thing.  It's time to get back to our regular lives and tend to the everyday tasks of living.  It will be so good to be back with Dave and be in closer communication with our children (and of course Abbey and Eddie our 4-legged children).  So until next time!
Au Revoir, Toulouse!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The REAL Disneyland
 This is where we spent Wednesday.  While there are no rides or cartoon characters this place is as enchanting as any castle Walt Disney thought about.  It is located in Carcassonne, France. Earliest historic reference can be traced to the beginning of the 8th century BC.  There are many restaurants and shops within the enclosure.  We therefore did a lot of eating and shopping.  We had to do that to fit in.  Not that we WANTED to... Now here's a chick you may want to know.  I personally have heard about enough of her. Let me introduce you to Dame Carcas.  Her story is almost as unseemly as her name.     

WARNING: This story may gross out the sensitive at heart and stomach.  I myself  can hardly write this story without shedding a tear but I must do it for a complete record of my trip.

In the 13th century during the Arab occupation of the City, Dame Carcas, a Saracen princess was defending Carcasonne against Charlemagne and his army. The siege had lasted 5 years and inside the fortress, food was becoming scarce.  Dame Carcas had the houses of the city searched to gather up all the possible remaining food. The soldiers also brought a pig to her that one woman had kept hidden in her cellar. In a stroke of brilliance (?) Dame Carcas fed all the food to the pig and threw it out of the castle window. When it fell to the ground and all its innards were strewn about, the astonished Charlemagne exclaimed: 'If the Arabs can afford to throw their food out of the window, then there must still be plenty of food in the city--useless to continue a siege that has already lasted for so long.' They quickly retreated and started for home. That should be the end of the story, but the precious princess decided that she actually wanted Charlemagne with her so she called him back.  Go figure.  She wanted a bad boy.

We stopped in at the Saint Nazaire basilica which is a combination of Romanesque and Gothic art.  This is one gorgeous church.  The stained glass windows were so beautiful I could have stared at them all day deciphering their meanings.  Since this is an active church we were all to be quiet and respectful as we looked around.  All of a sudden we started hearing music.  Looking around I thought it must be a CD but it was a Russian men's quartet that sings regularly in the church.  They sell CD's which benefit the church but this live performance was second to none.  The acoustics were impeccable and they did not use microphones.  I tried to publish a recording but couldn't get it to work.  If you want to search for it it would be worth your while.  Try searching YouTube for:  Sights and Sounds from Europe #8--"Russian singers in Carcassonne cathedral" 

 This is what it looked from the inside out for the defenders of the castle.  These windows were constructed so that things could be shot from the inside from a wide angle, but the angle for the enemies shooting in was very small.  There were many other ways that the construction lent itself to being defended rather than defeated.  A favorite seemed to be throwing hot oil on their enemies from atop the towers.  I have a book that explains all the dastardly deeds that were perpetrated upon the brave but foolish attackers of this impenetrable fortress.  To tell you the truth, I wasn't very excited about this place until I saw it so I'm not expecting to be able to pass on to you the full impact of seeing it.    I learned that even ancient European history can be fascinating.  This is from the person who practically slept through world history in high school.  I didn't think it had any relevance to me because it didn't sound fun.  Maybe if we had taken some field trips to these far flung places I may have gotten excited about it a long time ago! 

 I feel that I would be remiss if I did not add to my cobblestone collection.  This is only one pattern that I found under my feet at Carcassonne.  I thought it would be a good addition because of the rectangular shape.   There were so many stones and bricks all around me I was overwhelmed.  First of all, it was really hard to walk on the streets, but I described that in a previous blog.  I didn't fall but I did walk into a concrete pillar that was about knee high.  

The visitor's center (below) is the best of its kind.  As you walk down the stone steps you get the feeling of being taken back in time.  The ceiling is beautiful and looking through the tall, slender "weapons windows" you can almost feel lost in the drama of those times.  It's dark and dusty but so full of history. Even the cobwebs seemed ancient.  Maybe they are the very ones that Dame Carcas saw as she was bustling about the castle.
 By the time we made it back to the train we were so tired we looked forward to sitting down for the hour trip home.  When we got back to our apartment we hit the hay early.  This morning we got to sleep in and recharge.  We plan to spend our last couple days in Toulouse resting and shopping and of course, eating.  We're going to make a meal of desserts tomorrow.  We really seem to be doing a lot of shopping, but there is much to buy for our people back home.  After all, we're the ones having all the fun while they're working hard back home.  It's the very least we can do, right?  

This trip will go down as a great success.  We are all so glad that we finally did it.  We have spent a lot of time together and done so much.  It is fun to be able to do this as we get to know each other even better.  I've always loved having sisters but being the youngest I've often felt like I was on the outside looking in.  Vestiges of those family dynamics seem to be always present but they fade over the years.  As we've all gone through our lives we've found our way with and without each other.  It's just nice to know that when we do cross paths we are able to do it with love and affection for each other and that we enjoy our time together.  We have a good legacy of family being friends as we watched our parents interact with their siblings.  There were differences for sure, but when it came right down to it, they always had each others backs.  I think that's the way we sisters are and that's a good way to go through life.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Au Bord de la Mer

 Hard to believe that I was there.  We woke up early in the morning (after getting to sleep after the 5 course meal at about 1:30 am!) and took a 2 hour train ride. This is Collioure,  right on the  beautiful Mediterranean Sea.  I took this photo just before we left which is when the sun finally decided to come out.  Earlier is was overcast and quite cool.  There were families on the beach which was made up of very small stones and some were even swimming.  This village is very old and has an old fortress that was once used to defend against pirates and is very close to Spain.  Lots of shops and restaurants with many cobblestone very narrow streets.  The terrain was slightly hilly so by the end of the day we were ready to sit for a while.

The first order of business was--guess what?--lunch, of course!  I got a salad this time which was wonderful.  The little pieces of toast on top were covered with warmed goat cheese upon which I put a little bit of honey (in the cute little white pot on my plate).  I saved room for a white chocolate ice cream cone that I got later in the day.  There is a lot of Spanish influence in this town and the restaurant was called Le Campanar.   Speaking of cobblestones, here's another cobble-photo.It seems very romantic to imagine that these are the exact stones that folks all those years walked on--until one realizes that these streets have to be repaved periodically because the stones wear just like any other pavement surface.  But still.

After lunch we wandered down to the beach.  You can see that it's fairly overcast.  There was a military boat there with officers undergoing training.  After reading some info on this we found out that the military wants their officers to become "hardened" so they have these strenuous trainings.  Actually all we saw them doing was talking with each other and moving about the boat.  It looked like they were going to go out and "harden" when the boat headed out to sea, however, the boat backed up and appeared to parallel park along the pier.  We concluded that it is important to know that on sea as well as land!
     We actually were quite chilly.  Nancy and I thought this was an especially lovely pose and thought we may send it out as a Christmas card.  Let's just go ahead and say it is.  Merry Christmas!Carolyn and I had this photo taken (left) which was also rather fetching.  I had purchased a scarf/headband that I thought would be a good way to keep my hair out of my face but it proved to be a bust.  This was the best I could do after several attempts.  In one try I ended up looking like an elderly Russian lady wearing her babushka.  It was good for a yuk and that did help warm us up.
THIS PICTURE IS OF THE WC (water closet aka toilette, bathroom, etc.).  NONE OF THESE WOMEN ARE US!

I saw lots of "Caners" (folks who, like me, walk with the assistance of their trusted and loyal cane.)  I doubt, however that any of them has named their canes.  My loyal companion, "Matt Cain, the Perfect Cane" has been with me through this entire trip and I am so very thankful for him.  I think there were some Senior tour groups with us and it was very comforting to see others at my pace.

This memorial to the right says:


This means:  Collioure (honors) its children who died for France.   This is referring to  the soldiers who died fighting in the war (1914-1918).  There is a war memorial in almost every French town.

We're turning in early tonight because we're off and running on another adventure tomorrow.  I will be sure and keep you "posted".  This picture of moi standing at the station saying "Au revoir" to Collioure will also serve as "Bonsoir" to my reading friends!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Five Courses and Counting

You won't believe this but last night we had another fantastic meal!  I know, we just haven't had the chance to have a gustatory experience here (haha).  I've just resigned myself to the fact that a lot of our activities revolve around meals.  However, the French have a different attitude than those of us from Etats-Unis.  Meals last for several hours whether you're at home or a restaurant.  Restaurants will seat you at your table and assume that you will stay for the evening.  They don't plan on seating anyone else there unless you leave--there's no pressure for you to go and you don't have to feel bad for staying and staying.  You're not eating the whole time necessarily.  You can sit and drink coffee or water or wine or whatever and feel comfortable.

All this is to say that we went to the home of Nancy's friend, Claude.  Another woman, Anne who speaks only French was there as well.  Anne and I bonded instantly because she also had a severe hip fracture so we compared scars, surgery stories and rehabilitation nightmares all through our interpreter, my sister. 

So, we five women met at Claude's home in Toulouse and were immediately seated at an outdoor table where we noshed on the appetizers: foie gras (goose liver which I did not eat), salmon wrapped in something like a croissant and several other wonderful treats.  Our drinks were sparkling wine and a great tasting orange liqueur.  When our huge plate was empty, Claude brought out another. 


 This was a lightly dressed lettuce salad with dried duck pieces and pine nuts.  Now, I have to confess that duck is not on my list of must have's.  I have apparently come to the wrong country because this is a national favorite.  I was going to give it a try and found it to be quite palatable. Note the elegant yet simply set table.  There were four plates stacked on top of one another and we used every one of them.  I will take this moment to introduce you to my dinner mates.  One the left, of course is ma soeur Carolyn.  Claude is next to her.  We were guests in her home.  Next to Claude is ma soeur, Nancy and next to her is another friend, Anne.

 This was a great vegetable side dish, ratatouille.  A blend of eggplant, tomatoes, red, green and yellow peppers, onions and zucchini all sauteed separately in olive oil then mixed together with some
herbes du Provence and served two days after blending flavors in the refrigerator (heated before serving).  I could have made a meal of just this.  The duck breast (no picture, sorry) was grilled outdoors for just a few minutes and was flavorful and juicy. 

 The large silver colored salt and pepper grinders to the right were automatic, dispensing fresh seasoning at the push of a button.  They also had a light that would go on at the bottom so you could see what you were seasoning!


 The cheeses included those made from cow, goat  and sheep milk. In the center is berry preserve which is spread on the cheese.


 This was a chocolate mousse that melted in my mouth!  With fresh whipped cream and chocolate powder on top.  I would have licked my bowl if it weren't completely against the French etiquette code.

That reminds me, we did need a quick orientation before we got there on the "code".
1.  When going through a gate or door, you indicate that the others should go before you.  After a few rounds of "Apres vous"  "Non, apres vous" one person will go ahead saying, "Pardone".  I went first because I'm lame.

2.  When the hostess brings in the food you do not start until she does.  She will also give the signal by saying Bon Appetit and indicating it is OK to start.

3.  Compliment the cook during the meal (NO problem with this meal)

4.  No bodily noises or odors.  This is not one of those countries where a burp is a compliment.

5.  Don't lick out your dessert bowl or glass.

6.  Do have a magnifique time.  Laugh, talk and laugh some more.  Above all, have a wonderful time.

 And we certainly did!

(PS Tomorrow I'll tell you all about our trip to Collioure, an ancient seaside village on the Mediterranean Sea)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Notre Appartement dans Toulouse

Carolyn sitting on our couch/my bed

Our dining room.  The winding steps are a fire  escape but we have no way to get to it!

The Queen's Chambers--Oldest gets to choose first :-(

Kitchen/Laundry Room


Entry way and Carolyn--she wouldn't get out of my way

View from our apartment

The sisters with the cousin!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

On The Move in Toulouse

Carolyn opening the gate to Nancy's apartment

 I finally got a picture of Nancy's door into her courtyard.  This blocks out all the traffic and city noises.  Last night we met there for dinner.  Our cousins, John and Alice, from Canada arrived yesterday and we all met at Nancy's for a meal and lots of catching up.  Alice's mom was my mom's older sister who lived in Indiana.  We would see them quite a bit either in Indiana or my home in Illinois.  I have very fond memories of Christmases, Thanksgivings and other big family gatherings when all of my aunts, uncles and cousins would get together.  The adults would play cards until all hours of the night and I was allowed to stay up late.  I loved hearing them laugh and joke as they played. Alice and her sister were close in age to my sisters so I was always the little girl getting into everyone's business.  I loved hanging out with the "older kids" and they tolerated me quite well.  John reminded me that on one occasion he and Alice were visiting at my house and I was heavily into Beatlemania.  They bought me the Beatles LP Rubber Soul.  Unfortunately I had forgotten that they gave it to me but I still have it--I will put a note on it so I never forget that gift!  I still love listening to those songs.
Friday night dinner

We supped on cold beet borscht--an old German/Mennonite recipe and some wonderful French baguettes and French wine.  Seriously, can it get much better than that?? 

Yesterday we went on a long walk and I was TIRED!  We took the Metro, transferred to a bus and then walked quite a way to get to the canal.  The canal was built many, many years ago as a way to take goods from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean while bypassing Spain.  There is a wonderful restaurant right by the canal where we had lunch. 

French Signs

 My legs are working just fine as long as I go slow and stop often.  I'm seeing the worm's eye view of Toulouse because my eyes are on the ground a lot looking for flat places to walk. On the walking part of our trip we saw some great French scenery.  In the background is a large sports complex on the outskirts of town.
Beautiful French Country Road

Restaurant by the Canal

Carolyn, my cane and me

Tree-lined road along the canal
 This walk was so delightful but we were 
quite sweaty by the time we got to the Metro. 
 Imagine a crowded Metro on a Friday afternoon on a hot (90 degrees) afternoon.  The cacophony of odors was almost unbearable but there was no place to go.  The rule is that able-bodied folks have to give their seat to the elderly and disabled so the three of us usually get seats but I'd almost rather stand than have a man's sweaty armpit in my nose.  Fortunately it makes frequent stops and the population of the car changes now and then.  I was never so happy to see daylight in my life. We went straight home, took a shower and a loooong nap!    

 Cobblestones and canes don't get along very well.  The streets are narrow, and the sidewalks are often one-lane only.  Today, Saturday afternoon, the sidewalks were full of people.  There were some college students parading through the square in their white lab coats chanting something and having a lot of fun.  I didn't get a picture of that because I was walking by myself from the apartment to a restaurant to meet my sisters.  I had to concentrate on where I was going--the tiny streets seem to go off into every direction and if you're not an assertive pedestrian you're likely to get clipped by a car.  The nice thing is that the pedestrians truly do have the right of way but the vehicles assume they're in charge until they see the whites of your eyes.  I actually saw two bike vs car accidents in the exact same location today less than an hour apart.  Walker and rider BEWARE!

Yes, we are eating again.  This time we are seated in the courtyard of the former home of the creator of Indigo dye.  The museum attached is actually the place where it was made from a process which makes a certain type of green and yellow flowers into a beautiful dye.  There is a store close-by that sells fabric, clothing, jewelry and much more colored with this indigo dye.  We plan on doing some shopping there next week.  And more shopping is on the schedule as well.  I may not go into detail about all the places we go!

Our view from our dining table

This was my lunch--a tuna steak with some kind of wonderful sauce, rice and lettuce salad.  I guess if I'm going to take pictures of all the food I eat I should at least get the name of the delectable dishes.  Next time I will. (For some reason the picture is upside-down and I can't figure out how to rotate it.  You may have to stand up and peer down your monitor or turn your laptop upside down to get the full effect.)

One more slightly embarrassing photo (below).  We are eating again BUT this is actually dessert from our earlier lunch.  We made that our evening meal so it doesn't seem like quite the indulgence, right?