Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Week's Adventures - August 30, 2008

The last 2 weeks, we’ve done a lot of kid-friendly day trips, hoping to see as much as we can before school starts on Sept. 2. I’ll post the zoo, seaquarium, and dinosaur park pix later (they are on Josey’s camera).

This week, the highlights were La Cirque de Moureze, La Gorge d’Heric, and the Cassan Abbey.

La Cirque de Moureze

Moureze is a tiny village, and it is also the starting point for beautiful hikes through amazing rock formations. We went for the 1-hour “yellow” hike. Considering the heat, an hour was perfect. The pictures don’t convey how awesome this area is (2-dimensional pix vs. 2-dimensional views in real life), but you can get an idea.

We had lunch at Chez Maxime before the hike – perfect name!

The church in Moureze is magnificent.

And the view of Moureze from the trail is a perfect example of a quaint, ancient French village.

On the way home we did some exploring and saw some ruins on hills in the middle of nowhere. It’s fascinating to think: Why did they build that here? What did it used to be? Who lived there?

La Gorges d’Heric

As the name suggests, this is a gigantic gorge through the French mountains about 1.5 hours away from Bouzigues. We hiked around a bit – all to find L’Orb river. We found a gorgeous small swimming hole in what will become a raging waterfall this winter. The water was perfect: cold yet swimmable. The kids had fun searching for mica (very, very shiny rocks that look like gold) and evading the snake that we found in the water. When we leave France, we are going to have an extensive rock & fossil collection.

Sorry - no pix. I didn't want to carry the camera down the hiking trail.

Chateau Abbaye de Cassan

On the way home from La Gorges d’Heric, we happened upon an amazing castle/abbey. It was built in 1080, and throughout history it has served many purposes. Most interesting, it was a hospice/hospital. We had fun wandering through the visitor’s areas, especially since they had a scavenger hunt for kids. That made it more interesting for them.

Check out the website for lots more great pictures. Mine don't do it justice.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Le Cirque de Navacelles

We have named this the Grand Canyon of France. It is a very deep valley formed by a glacier millions of years ago.

There is a tiny village in the center of the gorge (we haven’t been able to find out why people built a village here or what the village’s source of commerce might be) with about 100 residents.

There is also an ice-cold stream that runs through the center of the gorge, the source of which is an underground river. The kids were brave enough to swim through some small pools of water that are fed by a gorgeous waterfall.

We ended this journey with a family fossil hunt. We were lucky to find a cool fossil and some crystals. It was a very fun, relaxing, interesting afternoon!

To see more/better pictures:

La Abbaye de Valmagne

This is an amazing abbey built in 1257! It is a French historical site, as well as a winery. The whole family was amazed by its age and history: one of the Abbots became a Protestant, left the abbey to raise an army, then came back and killed everyone in the abbey! There is even an English version of this website.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Windsurfing - La Planche a Voile

The universe really wants me and Mike to be windsurfers, and we’re more than happy to do it!


We met Taco, and he is the windsurfing guru! He spent many hours in the water with Mike and me, letting us use his excellent equipment. Taco would hold the board and coach us while we balanced, pulled up the sail, and either surfed (Mike) or tried to surf (me).

Taco is an excellent instructor and a great person. As I’ve mentioned before, we are lucky to have met him and his family!! Anne-Marie, his wife, is very kind, helpful, and thoughtful. His children, Frances is 13 and Bruno is 9, are great playmates for the kids, and they are very polite children, too.

Thanks, JC!


We found great used equipment. You know Mike and his ebay shopping. The day before we planned to go into Montpellier to buy ourselves a brand-new windsurfing “rig”, Mike decided to check ebay France for used equipment. Guess what! There was a man selling some great equipment – right in Bouzigues! What are the chances?!

Thank you, Gilles!

He bought this equipment for his 14-year old son, but his son doesn’t like windsurfing. Our treasures from Gilles include a Mistral board, a Fanatic board, two Gaasrta sails (a 3M and a 4M), a wishbone, a trapeze, hook ups, and even a pair of brand new booties that fit me perfectly!

When Taco saw our “new” gear, and heard the great deal we got, he was astounded!

The only minor problem . . . the boards from Gilles are for very experienced windsurfers. Our first attempt to use them was hysterical! Mike actually did surf about 20 feet, but that was after an hour of trying to balance . . . falling down . . . etc. I tried once. As soon as I got on the board (and realized how hard it was going to be to even stand – let alone to try and pull up the sail!), I said, “This is a recipe for disaster for me today. I’ll just hold the board for you instead, Dado!”

After that first hour or so in the water with our “new” gear, we stopped by Taco’s house to show him. As impressed with the gear as he was (apparently, it’s top-of-the-line and in excellent condition, so we really got a terrific deal!), he said there was no way we could learn on either board. They are not “floaters”. Well, we figured that out. J


Thirty minutes later, Taco was driving us to Montpellier to buy a new “floater” board for learning. Anne-Marie graciously kept the children for us – thanks, Anne-Marie!

It was the best shopping trip ever. We walked into the store, walked straight to the boards, Taco saw the perfect board for us, and it was half off!! Fifteen minutes later, it was strapped to the racks on his Volvo, and we were heading back to Bouzigues. Wow!

Now we also own a Bic board – a true floater! We went out on it today, with the 4M sail, and it was amazing. Mike actually surfed back and forth across a small beach. And guess what?! I actually surfed about 20 feet. It was so fun. It’s all about balance (and sticking your butt wayyyyy back in a squat – good thing I am such an expert at squats!).

I love this sport!

Taco also loaned us a bigger sail (5M) and another wishbone. Now Mike and I have two complete windsurfing rigs. When we know what we’re doing, we’ll be able to go out together.

When Taco is back for the Christmas holiday, we plan to be good enough to surf with him!

Friday, August 15, 2008

La Grotte de Clamouse & La Pont du Diable

This is how we spent one amazing day in France.

La Grotte de Clamouse

This is one of the coolest things we’ve done yet – seriously! This is a cave that ranges from 40,000 years old at its youngest point to 6 million years old at its oldest point. It is filled with beautiful stalactites, stalagmites, fistulas, crystals, organ pipes, and pillars. I’ve added some pictures for you, and here is a URL if you want to learn more. We did the 1-hour tour, and adults and children alike were spellbound by the strength and wonder of Mother Nature.

I also have a lot more pictures of La Grotte de Clamouse on my Flickr site.

Le Pont du Diable & Le Herault River

This is a medieval bridge that crosses a deep gorge – all leading to La Grotte de Clamouse and St. Guilhem de Denis, which is the tiny village above La Grotte. I wasn’t able to get photos of the Le Pont de Diable, but you can see it on the URL below. It’s amazing!

After our journey through La Grotte, we drove upstream several kilometers to swim in Le Herault river, which is crossed by Le Pont du Diable. It was idyllic. Cool, refreshing water on a scorching summer day.,_H%C3%A9rault

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Our French Adventures – Week 1

Here are some scintillating details about the adventures we had in our first week in France!


“How can driving be an adventure?” you might ask. Ha! As you may remember, we spent most of our first day in France driving around in circles before Mike bought the GPS. Even with the GPS, we’ve driven in lots and lots of circles. Of course, Europe is filled with roundabouts instead of U.S.-style intersections, so we also drive around in those kinds of circles. Some circles have been more exciting than we wanted them to be, too!

Sometimes, Haughty Travel Boy (that’s our nickname for the GPS, thanks to the voice) tells you to turn the wrong way down a one-way street. Other times, he may tell you to “turn left in 100 meters” while the red line on the screen clearly shows a right! Picture this:

Haughty Travel Boy: Take next left.

Gayle: No! Don’t turn left! Turn right!

Mike: What the *#&$ am I supposed to do?

Haughty Travel Boy: Route recalculation.

"Route recalculation" is what you hear when you don’t follow his directions and he is redirecting you. Not good words to hear. For us, during that first week or so, the words “route recalculation” were usually accompanied by great stress and colorful vocabulary.

Another funny driving story with Haughty Travel Boy: Sometimes he says, “You are over the speed limit.” This is usually answered with Mike’s middle finger. However, we’ve learned that speed limits are enforced via camera here, and they find you anywhere in the world with the ticket! Debbie & Reed received a speeding ticket via mail in San Francisco! Haughty Travel Boy may save us about $150 US someday.


Definitely an adventure in France! The Farmer’s Markets are wonderful – filled with fresh produce, meats of all varieties, fish and shellfish of all varieties, cheeses, breads, clothes, olives, soaps, etc. Different markets are different sizes, thus offer more variety.

The markets give Mike a great opportunity to practice his amazingly good French, and I try to use my limited supply of French as much as I can.

Here is a very funny story . . .

Mike and I went out for dinner our first week (thanks, Debbie & Reed for taking the kids for ice cream!). I ordered salade au miel et almandes (salad with honey and almonds), which was served with toasted baguette slices topped with a cheese I had never tasted. I asked the waiter, in French, for the name of the cheese, so I could buy it at the market. He said, “Chevre.” I practiced saying it with him, and I thought I had it. LOL

At the next market, I walked up to le fromager with a big smile and said, “Bonjour. Je voudrais un fromage de cheval.” Translation = Hello. I would like a cheese . . . Wait to hear the rest.

Le fromager: “Cheval?!” she said, with an incredulous look on her face.

I thought, Oh great. She can’t understand me, even though I practiced this. Shoot!

Me: “Oui. Si’vous plait.” Still with a big smile on my face.

Le fromager: “Cheval?!” At this point, she was almost laughing.

Me: “Uh. Peut etre?” Translation – Uh. Maybe? Smile now faltering!

Le fromager: “Horse?”

Me: “Non! Non!” Now I’m laughing with her, and I’m very grateful she speaks at least a little English!

She pointed to the small, plastic goat in her display case, and said, “Chevre?”

Me: “Oui. Chevre! Merci beaucoup!”

I’ve practiced that word a lot since then!! Many of you are probably amazed that I like goat cheese. So am I!

Daily, we visit la boulangerie in Bouzigues. Our favorite items are:

  • Pain tradition (a rustic baguette that is very pointy on both ends – yeah for me since I like the crunchy part)
  • Pain complete (like whole wheat only much smaller pieces)
  • Pain au chocolat (of course). I am usually in charge of ordering at la boulangerie, which is always interesting.

Our favorite market so far is the Pezenas market, which is Saturday mornings. It’s about a 30 minute drive through French vineyards, and we walk away with several bags laden with delicious food.

We have learned some words the hard way via shopping. For example, the word for goose is la oie. Mike was intending to buy a chicken (le poulet), but he pointed and said, “Ce la.” instead (translation = that one there). The man picked up a goose! I told Mike, “That wasn’t a chicken!” Mike’s response? “Sure it was. It was just a chicken with more meat on its bones.” Ha! After roasting it for dinner, we now know that neither Mike nor I like goose. Ick.

Other Stuff

Our first week may seem a bit boring. I mean, where are all the cool sites, right?! Believe me, the driving and shopping took up most of our first week. The other stuff that took time includes:

Our French Bank Account: We had to get open our French bank account on day 2 to get that iPhone I’ve mentioned. Turns out that “le ribe” (the French equivalent of a bank routing number) is critical for subscribing to any type of service – cell phone, land line, electricity, etc. Mike spent many hours that first week getting money from our US bank to the French bank, etc.

Orange: Yes, that’s the cell phone store again. We visited the Orange store a total of 5 times (all the way in Montpellier, complete with Haughty Travel Boy giving us somewhat reliable directions) before Mike finally walked away with his French iPhone.

You’ll love this . . . When he got it home and turned it on, it was locked!! The clerk forgot the critical step of unlocking the new phone. Ohmigosh. Here we finally thought we had succeeded in one of our major tasks, but the phone was a brick. Of course, we couldn’t call Orange direct, and even if we could, we couldn’t get an English speaker on the phone. So, after many fruitless phone calls and much distress, Mike guessed the unlock code. Can you guess? He only had 3 chances to guess before the phone locked permanently! He got it on the first try: 0000. It works now. Whew!

Internet Service: I’m not even going to tell you about this!! Thank goodness, once again, for Reed! Thank goodness, also, for Agnes (our realtor)! They have both made many calls to Alice (the ISP) for us. Now, we have somewhat reliable DSL. Woohoo! However, this also represents many, many hours of time during our first 2.5 weeks.

Okay – I’ll tell you about our other, cooler adventures in my next post. The next set of adventures are more fun! Things like an amazing cave, France’s Grand Canyon, beach stories, and . . . wind surfing!! Mike and I both have fallen in love with a new, wonderful sport. Thank you, Taco! Or, should I say, Thank you, JC!



Sunday, August 10, 2008

Pix on Flickr


I have some shared photo albums on Flickr, if you'd like to see more pictures of our adventures. I named the photos as descriptively as I could, and I will organize the photos in albums by subject.


I'll have another post up in a day or two describing our adventures during our first 3 weeks. Can you believe it has already been that long?! Off to the Bouzigues Oyster Festival where the kids are going to do a Greased Duck Catch in L'Etang du Thau.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Live from Bouzigues - Finally!

Today is Friday, August 8, 2008, and we finally have our home DSL working!! Woohoo!! I’ve been camping out for hours on end at Debbie & Reed’s, mooching their Internet connection to work & communicate with folks at home. Now I can communicate at will, anytime, and I can keep our blog updated.

That is Bouzigues in the background - notice the cool church steeple. This picture is taken at sunset (9:30pm) from "our" beach, which is a 30-second walk from our house!

Let me start from the beginning . . .

Now that we have been here a full 2 weeks, I can look back on our first few days and crack a bit of a smile. At the time, there wasn’t much smiling going on.

Here’s a peak at our first 2 days . . . (Who remembers the story of Mike’s first full day in Santa Clara – with spilled blueberries, wasps, etc?)

Monday, July 21, 2008

After a lovely day in Paris, where we walked through the Eiffel Tower park and surrounding neighborhoods, we had an interesting ride to the airport for our 6:00pm flight. Why was it interesting? Well, we arrived at the airport around 5:30pm, and I had to get my boarding pass and check 2 bags. Luck was with us, and we made it onboard!

When we landed in Montpellier around 8:00pm, we were pleased to still have sunlight – so we would have a hope of finding our hotel! By the way, it stays light until around 10:00pm here in the summer, and the sun rises by 6:00am – it’s crazy! All was well for the rest of that evening - following a 10:00pm dinner. The kids would have been starving, if not for the 9 hour jet lag they were experiencing. (As a typical aside – Josey got sick on the airplane, poor thing. She made it until they were landing in Paris. That’s when she got some first-hand use of the airsick bag.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The next morning, Mike decided that we needed to get our French iPhone before leaving Montpellier for the 25-minute drive to Bouzigues (that is the name of our new village). He asked the hotel clerk for directions, and since the clerk spoke English, we though we had it covered. Oh my. We left the hotel around 9:30am. After driving in circles through Montpellier for 90 minutes (and coming close to an unpleasant brawl!), Mike spotted an Office Depot – of all places! He said, “We’re buying a GPS right now.” He’s a genius!

Thanks to the GPS, we’re still happily married. And, we made it to Orange, which is the French cell phone service provider and the only place in France to buy the new iPhone. Why do we need a French iPhone? Good question! I still don’t know the whole answer. But, when we made it to Orange (tired, cranky, hungry, still wanting to get to Bouzigues), Mike left us in the car for 35 minutes just to learn that he couldn’t get his phone until he had a French bank account. Sigh.

We finally made it to Bouzigues by 4:00pm (after some additional panic because I didn’t have directions to the realtor’s office). We were stuck in the realtor’s office for almost an hour (lots of forms and things to deal with in French rentals!), but we made it to our lovely new town home around 5:00pm. Poor Debbie and Reed (our saviors!) had expected us by noon or so. They were planning to take us out to lunch, take us shopping to fill up our kitchen, then feed us dinner. Alas, we made it to their house around 6:00pm or so – exhausted, but happy to be there.

Our first 3 days were much like what I’ve described above, but we are adapting!

Now for all of the great things . . .

First: All of our new friends!

Debbie, Reed, Isabel & Sophia Eller! Debbie helped us find our house, and she and her husband, Reed, have been our saviors. In addition to letting us use their Internet connection daily, they have fed us, taken us shopping in amazing neighboring villages, taken us to spectacular places (the beach in Sete and the Grotte de Clamouse for starters – more on those later), helped us with everything from obtaining a French bank account to obtaining our DSL connection (of course Mike and I don’t speak enough French to communicate with customer service reps here, so Reed has been invaluable with that), and so much more! Without them, we would be lost. Literally.

Isabel and Sophia are their granddaughters, who are here visiting from Atlanta, GA. The four kids have been almost inseparable for weeks! There have been lots of sleepovers, eat overs, beach trips, etc. That has helped Max and Josey acclimate slowly since everyone is speaking English.

Taco & Anne-Marie: This is a Dutch couple we met on our first night in town. Taco is a lawyer in the Netherlands (late 40s) who has been coming to Bouzigues every summer for 30 years! His wife, Anne-Marie, is a legal translator in the Netherlands (mid to late 30s). They have 2 wonderful children, Frances is 13, and Bruno is 9. In addition to having the coolest house in Bouzigues, they are also a great source of information about local activities & wineries – and Taco is a fabulous windsurfing instructor! He has been teaching Mike, and Mike is hooked (of course). They leave August 16, and we’re already sad.

Jack & Jill Wilson: This is an English couple who moved here 3 years ago. They live here year-round, which is unusual for foreigners. Bouzigues is more a summer locale for tourists! Jack used to race cars and motor boats professionally (78 years old), and Jill is an artist (61 years old). They are very sweet, and we look forward to getting to know them more.

John-Cristopher & Fennie: This is a true Bouzigues couple! Mike met John-Cristopher on the beach. He was listening in on their French conversation wherein John-Cristopher was talking about his broken computer. Dado introduced himself & volunteered to fix the computer. Turns out, John-Cristopher is the local high-school PE teacher! He is another great source of info, and he even speaks a bit of English. He also “dumbs down” his French to communicate with us. It’s great! He took us out on his motorboat one afternoon, and it was a lovely tour of L’Etang du Thau, which is the lagoon on which we now live (fed by the Mediterranean). - You can experiment and click on the links in French - then you'll know how I feel. LOL

Second: Our new home

We now live in a townhouse, on the bottom of 2 floors. It’s great! We have a view of L’Etang from our kitchen & patio (see picture below), and we have a yard! Get this – we also have a clothesline. Luckily, we have a washing machine, but almost no one in France uses a dryer! It’s all line drying. Great for the environment, but the whites & cottons turn into an exfoliater’s dream in the sun. Poor Max & Mike are having a “rough” time with their underwear!

When we first arrived, our little area was almost empty of other humans, which was great for getting started here. However, almost all of Europe goes on vacation for the entire month of August. I am not exaggerating! Almost overnight, all of the townhouses in our little area filled up, and now there are dozens of people around us. It’s exciting!

The village of Bouzigues is very traditional . . . narrow cobblestone streets circle through the village, all leading to the church. Also in the heart of the village is a boulangerie with delicious baguettes, croissants, and pain au chocolat. There is a tiny store (with a not-so-friendly proprietor), a tiny post office (only open mornings), the school, and about 20 restaurants! Nearby are other villages that host farmer’s markets on different days of the week. More about those in another post.

Lining the narrow streets are 2- to 3-story buildings that are connected homes. Life is very, very close in the village! We are on the outskirts, which is about a 5 minute walk away, so our area is more open.

Here is a view of Sete (the closest "city") from "our" beach.

Third: Some adventures

I will save this for my next post. If you’ve stuck with me this far, and actually read to this point, you deserve a break. I also have to download some more pictures, so you can see some of the beautiful sights we’ve seen.

Love to everyone “back home”!