Friday, January 31, 2014

La Boqueria = My Mouth is Watering Just Thinking of This Place

   La Boqueria = A foodie paradise. Yes, I am still talking about Barcelona. I promise, this is the last one. But I just had to tell you: This place in incredible with vast arrays of fruits and vegetables, meats, seafood, eggs of every size and color, dried fruits, nuts, spices, wine, juices, Tapas to eat at a long bar with a beer, or take out. Everything you can imagine was for sale at this covered market, conveniently located down the street from our apartment.
   The kids got freshly made juices each day. They were beautifully displayed and impossible to resist. People of all ages were walking around with these exotic drinks in their hands. I bought some mangoes and pomegranates for breakfast at the kids request, and while they were extremely expensive, they were perfectly ripe and so full of flavor. One could not help making sounds of culinary pleasure from the intense sweetness of the fruit.
      Even my kids were content revisiting La Boqueria each day, just to "look again". There was plenty of offal, heads, and whole birds, feather and all, for gaping at. This place is a must-do for any food loving individual alive.
A very bustling place 
Incredible seafood 
Various prepared meats
gorgeous fruits
Dried Mushrooms
More seafood
Jambon and other meats



Thursday, January 30, 2014

French Rest Areas-A Pleasant Pit Stop

   French rest areas along the autoroutes are such a pleasure to browse through, you would not believe it. Okay, they are not ALL deluxe, but you can tell by the images on signs along the highway, what kind of amenities the rest areas are going to have. Some are simply toilets and parking for truckers to rest. Some have full service restaurants, gift shops, snack bars and gas, of course. Is it a gourmet experience? No, but there is no shortage of choice and of course, since everything is foreign to us, it makes stopping to refuel an entertaining experience.
   Our last pit stop on our way home from Spain was solely for the bathroom and we were close to home so we did not stay long. Along with spotless toilets that are automatically cleaned top to bottom on regular intervals, there was a great playground and picnic tables scattered among the pine trees. We may just pack a picnic and head over there for lunch and to play one day. Oh, but the tolls- autoroutes are very expensive. I guess that is where some of the resources are coming from to pay for the fine pit stops.
How can I decide????
The assortment....
Of course, there is wine.  
Cappuccino out of a machine, and it is pretty good.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

3 Days in Barcelona

   Foul weather and the winter doldrums led us to a spontaneous trip south of the border to Barcelona. We booked an apartment, bought some train tickets and arriba!!! off we went.
   First, I need to commend my children for becoming flexible travelers. As we have encountered, things do not always go exactly as planned. We drove 4 hours, across the border into Spain, then were scheduled to take a train for the remaining 120 km., mostly so I wouldn't have to drive around Barcelona with my beast of a car. Well, the train was 4 hours late- at least- mechanical trouble- they really did not know when it would show up, so they shuttled us in a bus to another train station and put us on a local train that was so slow, it probably really didn't make much of a difference. None the less, we arrived in Barcelona a bit later than expected. Another language- uh, oh! Actually, most people in Barcelona speak very good English. It was no problem.
   Here is what we packed into 3 days- La Boqueria(incredible food court), La Rambla(main tourist drag), Picasso Museum, Chocolate Museum(that was the compromise for getting through the Picasso), Parc de la Cuitadella, Sagrada Familia(iconic Barcelona church by Gaudi still not completed), Parc del Laberint, Guell Park, lots of Gaudi architecture. We had some good tapas, my kids are no longer afraid of subway stations and can even figure out what route we need to take, and can walk for the majority of the day-not without some complaining, but they can do it.
  Barcelona is such a vibrant, hip city, so full of life. Alot of it seems to take place far after our bedtimes, but the buzz was perfectly evident.  You can walk everywhere and supplement with the metro for cross town ventures. The narrow streets are decorated with more graffiti than I have ever seen, but much of it professionally done and well worth admiring. The wider, main streets are lined with beautiful buildings, interspersed with Gaudi's and other very unique architecture.
   The last morning there, Middle Child and I went in search of saffron to bring home. We walked and walked, because, well, I usually get lost and we did, but came out at the edge of the sea. It was gorgeous and a fabulous neighborhood that I will start with, the next time I go to Barcelona. Indeed, we finally found the place I was searching for and it was great. The walls of the commercial place were lined with tins of various fish, 5 gallon buckets were all over the place with a fellow mixing varieties for restaurants in the city who have their unique blend. Various rices for paella and other traditional dishes, tomato jams, spices and all kids of things I did not recognize. The saffron was behind a bullet proof window where the cashier sat. Success.
   I wish I had more time for so many of our adventures. It seems that the discoveries are endless in these places that I have only read about. I can only hope to satiate this desire for travel in the future.

La Rambla 
Notice the Chinese umbrellas on the face on the building
Lots of canine companions in Barcelona
Kimono dragon made exclusively of chocolate
Smurfs- all in chocolate... 
Wonderful street performer showing kids how to make these massive bubbles
Continuing our collage of leaping photos 
On the Rambla de Raval 
Gaudi architecture
Rent-a-bike- they are everywhere, used by all.
Guell Parc and more Gaudi architecture
Overlooking the city at Guell Parc 
The comfort of train travel with the countryside whizzing by.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Tout Est Bien!

   I have had a few emails since my last post, which seemed to cause some concern that life a la Francais was not going so well. Oh contraire, all is well. Doesn't life have its ups and downs no matter where you are? Perhaps it is a case of post-holiday blues which I get annually. Perhaps it is the days of rain and gloom, but hark, they are always followed by sunshine and warmth. And to top it off, cha cha cha, we are off to Barelona for an impromtu weekend of Catalan culture, city life and even more of a language barrier!
   Thank God for the internet that taught us how to say a few polite words in Catalan. I will report back next week, with lots of good adventure stories from across the border.
   Adeu i ens veiem aviat! (good bye and see you soon- no, it is not the same as Spanish)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Preliminary Plans for the End

   I can't believe it, but I am already stating to plan our return to the States. My first reaction is...we are going to survive.
   Of course we would survive, but this period has had its fair share of challenges for each of us. While Younger Two Children struggle daily with the language barrier in our rural, French school, Oldest Child, who is going on thirteen but looks and acts more like a 15 year old, has struggled with no friends as she is homeschooling-not something I would do again. The isolation has been painful for her. For me, loneliness is also a struggle, though I am better equipped to manage than my pre-teen. Don't get me wrong, we have met some wonderful people that will remain friends forever and we will miss them upon our return to America. But once again, the language barrier has been the debilitating factor in most of our troubles.
   Yes, we still have another 4 months here, but there are several big trips on the calendar as well as some wonderful friends and family who will be visiting to share a piece of this experience with us. Before we know it, we will be heading east and France will be but a memory. Then what am I going to blog about?
The sun reappeared yesterday, for which I am extremely grateful.
Some of my favorite things in France- the table that provides us a place to share wonderful meals and laughter, our ancient house and our cat.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

And The Rain Continues

   I have no idea how much rain has fallen in the past three days. It has been a steady downpour since Friday. The weather man says the sun should be back by Tuesday, at which point we should have a dangerously high case of cabin fever.
   We drove to town for a tutoring session this morning. Little did I know that there was a flood warning and advisory to stay off of the roads.
You can probably figure out what this means. 
Spontaneous creek
I guess they are staying home today.
There is no creek down there, normally. 
There is a creek that runs down there, but nothing like this- I bet that household is getting worried.
This is after 10:00 A.M. this morning, eyeing the pastries at our favorite pattiserie.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Rainy Days

   Two days of nonstop rain- I am not good at dreary weather. I guess that is why I opted to live in the Desert Southwest. As my provincial home for a year is in a very rural area, there is not alot of indoor activity. Honestly, my kids are perfectly entertained playing and surfing the net. I may be bonkers before the end of tomorrow-yes, it is fore-casted to continue.
   I had my first French emergency room visit last week- everyone is fine, it wasn't even my child, but I had to escort a young friend who's parent was unreachable. She took a fall at the stable and a hoof to the face, luckily only cutting her eyelid, but enough to require a few stitches. I tried my best to stay behind the ambulance, but they lost me in the first 15 minutes. No offense to the American emergency room visit, but it was quite similar. Once we go there, we waited, and waited, and waited, and waited some more then she was finally attended to. I had to leave my kids unattended in the waiting room for hours
while I sat with our friend. God knows what kind of mischief they got into. Sorry, I don't have any insider photos of the place.
   There was an atelier at the Carces library today, where there were several stations of creative women hosting tables for kids to make small books, mixed media paintings and calligraphy. Afterwards ,we popped into the Boulangerie for a snack, Oldest Child got a ham croissant. It wasn't any ordinary ham croissant, but a Jambon Mornay, a delicious, flaky pastry filled with ham, Gruyere and mornay sauce which is a cheesy bechamel. Oh, how I wished I had gotten one.
   And I was just complaining about nothing to do on rainy days.
Waiting to see the sun.
Keeping the house toasty warm- the fire is lit during all waking hours.
I am an early riser- rain + warm lightbulb.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Part 3, The End of X-mas Break

   The last part of our Great British adventure took us from Lighthourne, England to the famous town of Bath. The drive took us through what I am sure is gorgeous, Cotswold country, but as the roads were nearly flooded and I was on the wrong side of the road, my eyes were peeled to the task at hand.
   Bath was founded in the first century AD by Romans shortly after they arrived in Britain. It was a place of therapy and rejuvenation as the waters were full of minerals. An amazing amount of geothermal water still rises out of the ground in the baths everyday. The tour of the ancient baths is super, interactive and entertaining even for the youngest tourist. The city itself is full of culture, restaurants, museums, theaters, shopping and parks.
   Our first stop was to the Jane Austen museum which youngest child very patiently sat through-not terribly interesting for a 9 year old boy, but I found it fascinating. We continued to wander toward the Roman baths, stopping for a quick lunch that always ends up lasting 2 hours, seriously impeding on our touring time- these are our priorities.
   An entertaining street performer was doing a show at the entrance of the baths, a strategic and probably coveted location, where his hat fills up several times a day with donations from the crowd.
On his unicycle, the fellow juggled flaming sticks, employing members of the crowd as assistants. It was a highlight of the day for kids. Fair enough, considering the age of my brood, they do very well being drug around as much as they do, to tour museums, ruins, churches, etc. I have to remember to appreciate their willingness to immerse themselves in this adventure of ours.
   The return to French school was rough that next week. After a day or two, the kids were back in a groove and the homeschooler was slowly adjusting to working again. I am so proud of each of my kids as their course this year is a challenge, without doubt. We have many travels planned and visitors coming for our remaining time in France. I am sure there are still many challenges to tackle, but we all feel the end is nearing and feel a certain sense of relief.
   The week we visited England went by far too quickly and I am determined to make another trip in the future with my kids to Great Britain. Wales, Ireland and much of England and Scotland need more exploring by this family. I think my kids would be more than happy to travel in a country without language barriers!
Looking Victorian
Not a bad backdrop for a street performance 
Middle Child with ancient sculpture depicting Roman women's fashion in early times.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sea Dreaming

   Feels like spring in the south of France...

 Lunch al fresco yesterday, in between hours of lazing around, reading, playing and doing nothing-

 So, we made a plan to  went to the beach...

With our rose colored glasses on, we drove to the coast, and it was the first time out of many that we were shut out of the water. It was too cold and the clouds were building for a storm that I know will bring damp, cooler weather to these parts.
I could not resist sharing our silly idea of leaping into the Mediterranean mid-January.  I drove home with my tail between my legs, but settled into my usual post in front of my house with a Sunday glass of rose and the internet. Can't complain.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

UK, Part 2 The Hunt

   I felt blinded by driving on the left side of the road. Were there cars coming at me from the left? Yes-especially in all of those stinking round-abouts. Why couldn't I see the left side of my car? It was too far away....
   I made it without incident(but not without some exclamatory language) for several days. More than I can say about a recent incident  in Carces, a neighboring town back in France. I pulled a common tourist stunt with our current rental of a shiny, new Citroen wagon- kind of like driving a tank on our tiny, French roads. My mom said I had plenty of room, "sure I could make",  were her famous words. As the alley got narrower and steeper, that exclamatory language commenced and I tried to back out of the dark and deadly alley when the crunching of car parts started. In true fashion, I gunned it and tore off my side view mirror, putting a few, good scrapes on the sides of the car, too.
   Anyway, our rental in England survived alot better. Off to the flooded countryside of the Cotswold's we went. Gorgeous rolling hills dotted with thousands of sheep and horses passed by and we arrived in the tiny village of Lighthorne. My mom's friend welcomed us into her gorgeous, old house with hot tea and a blazing fire which were vital for our whole stay as it was wet, windy and cold!
   The best part of our visit was watching a fox hunt take off one morning. There must have been 100 horses and riders with dozens of hounds at the ready. Some warming libations were passed around to the riders in preparation for the long day ahead, as well as some sweet breads and other nibbles to sustain this gang of tough equestrians. And they were off- well, as the footing was so wet, they had to restrain their anxious mounts a bit, but there was much excitement.
   Our hostess took us over to a friend's house where we wandered down an old road in search of the hunt through the fields. Low and behold, the pack of hounds was leaping a fence right in front of us. Then came the huntsmen and the rest of the hunt, all tipping their hats with greetings, adolescent riders texting away and the youngest ones holding on for dear life! Tally ho and away they go.
   I think I need a third part for this series! More and more memories keep coming to mind from the 1 week adventure away from our little French village. Keep your eyes peeled for Part 3, it won't be long.
4 youngsters, ready for the hunt 
waiting for the word
The young ones who weren't allowed to go.
They got through this fence in a variety of ways. 
Looking for signs of a fox