Saturday, October 11, 2008

Visit with the Dude: Chapter 2

Chapter 2: Bouzigues and Beyond

This is Chapter 2 of our visit with Dude . . . the tale of the 2.5 short days we spent with him in Bouzigues and beyond.

We arrived home in Bouzigues around 9:45 Sunday night. We bundled the kids off to bed and skyped my mom. It was great! We chatted with her for 2 hours. Mike and my dad polished off 2 bottles of wine while we all talked about everything from Paris to Obama to Bouzigues to who-knows-what. It was really fun: Chatting with both of my parents while relaxing in my French living room. How cool is that?!

On Monday, we had to be a bit more serious. We walked the kids to school, then we took Dude on the tour through Bouzigues. He saw it all – the school, the post office, the gym, the church, the mairie (city hall), the port, the beach, and the coquillages vendors (shellfish – remember, Bouzigues is famous for their oysters). Dude bought a kilo of palourdes (clams) for lunch!

When the tour was complete (Bouzigues is small, so the walking tour took a total of about 25 minutes), Mike and Dude took a journey to the Carrefour. The Carrefour is part of our French experience, what can we say? Then it was already time for the kids to come home for lunch.

That 3 hours of seriousness was all we could handle. I mean, sheesh! Dude may not get a chance to come back for another visit! We had to maximize every minute he was here. So, we kept the kids home and headed off to Pezenas and a winery we had heard good things about – Bebian.

This is a picture of Dude & the kids with the Moliere monument in Pezenas. Apparently, Moliere was banished to Pezenas in the 1600s.

The Bebian winery was a bust. The wine wasn’t great, and the winery was much too big . . . as in it wasn’t family owned and operated. So, back we went to Bouzigues to make it home in time for the kids’ judo class. That judo class is a huge hit!

While the kids did judo, les adultes stood outside chatting with the locals. That means that Mike spoke somewhat fluently with Sandra, Jean-Louis, and Jean-Christopher while I listened intently. I speak often, but it’s halting French. I did a lot of translating for Dude, too. So, Dude got to see what our afternoons are like here. If we don’t have judo, we try to go to the park after school. The park also provides a great dose of “French In Action.”

Tuesday was a fabulous day!! We kept the kids home from school, and we all slept in. For those of you who know me well, can you believe all this sleeping in I do now? And Mike? Wow!

We started Tuesday at the farmer’s market in Balaruc. This is only the second time we’ve gone to the Balaruc market, and it’s not one of my favorites (or even in the top 5). However, it was great to show the Dude a market. We bought all sorts of great, authentic French goodies: brie, Roquefort cheese, Cantal cheese (one of my faves!), ham, sausage, bread (bien sur!), lavender honey, Cuban coffee (where else can you find coffee from Cuba?!), olives, fruit, and dried fruit. A lot of these goodies got packaged up for Dude to bring back to Grandma. We bought her many of our favorites from the market and the Carrefour, so she could experience les goutes (the flavors) de France, including wines.

News update: Dude arrived home safely, and Mom has already tasted the French goodies. She said: "Have you tried a slice of bread (assuming yours is much more delicious than American french bread), some honey and then the roquefort? It's to die for. And then wash it down with that yummy white wine. Yummmyyyyy! The cuban coffee isn't bad either! You guys sure eat well.

We are very glad you liked the goodies, Grandma!

Dude also bought the kids some ladybug watches that they have been looking for for weeks. They were fully prepared to spend 5 euros each on these watches, and they were thrilled when they found them at the market (finally!). When Dude said they were a gift from him, the kids were ecstatic!

The kids don't look ecstatic in this picture (it was many hours later), but you can see their necklaces. Well, maybe they are a bit hard to see here. LOL You can check out our Flickr account if you are curious.

We zipped home to eat our lunch and put stuff in our tiny little refrigerator, then we were off again. Our next destination was the region of Saint Chinian. This is a region famous for its wines. I know - isn’t all of France famous for its wines? Well, the soil in Saint Chinian is unique, so the grapes and wines are also unique. The lovely village of Roquebrun is in the Saint Chinian region, and we really wanted to show Dude the beauty of Roquebrun.

Check out the link below. It is a list of the 14 most beautiful towns and villages of our region in the South of France. Roquebrun is number 4, and Bouzigues is number 7. And we’re so lucky that we found both of these villages “by accident” – so to speak.

The link below gives some info about the Saint Chinian wines, for those of you who are wine buffs.

We visited 4 or 5 wineries on Tuesday, and we squeezed in a visit to Roquebrun. Dude loved it, too. He said, “Oh, you’ve got to bring your mom here.” Bien sur!

Of all the wines we tasted, our unanimous, hands-down fave was a Savignon Blanc that had been aged in a French oak barrel. Note that not all French wines spend time in oak barrels. Both Mike and my dad prefer the oak taste in their wines. The second I sipped this one, I knew they would love it.

The wineries we visited were all small places, family-owned and operated for generations. These are our favorites because the vintners are friendly, they love sharing their wines, and they spend time to talking to us in French. In fact, visiting the wineries is one of our favorite things to do in France. Even the kids love it because there is always something for them to do to – explore the yard, play with the ubiquitous dogs, etc.

At the Los Tour Terelles winery, I had fun trying to tell the vintner that my dad installs hardwood floors for a living. My dad whipped out his camera to show the man a photo of French Oak from the Amsterdam winery.

I said to the owner as we were leaving, "Merci pour les goutes. Vous etes tres gentil." My broken French for: Thank you for the tastes. You are very nice. He smiled, thanked us in turn, and gave us a free bottle of wine! That happens about 50% of the time for us (maybe a produce vendor gives us a free melon, for example) simply because we really try to be friendly & nice. This vintner was especially funny because he then said, and of course this was in French, "How did you find this place?" It was great to have to answer him in French - to tell him that our family was on a driving adventure when we found the neighboring town of Roquebrun and that we loved the wine so much that we came back to try other wineries with my dad.

At the next winery, the owner gave us a tour of the wine making area. We got to see the whole production. It was fascinating!

Wednesday we visited the walled village of Aigues-Mortes. And guess what?! There was a bull run through town right after we arrived! We got to see them run the bull through town, surrounded by men on horseback. Wild! If we had been 10 minutes later to the village, we would have missed the bull run. How lucky is that?

Aigues-Mortes is amazing. It almost looks fake . . . like something built for a movie! However, when you get a glimpse inside the walls, through one of the city gates, there is a thriving village inside the walls! The village is completely enclosed within the walls, which are complete with battlements, arrow slits, portcullises, watch towers, etc. All dating from the 13th century! The only disappointments were that it was raining and we missed the tour of the battlements. I would love to return to Aigues-Mortes when the bull run is gone (it was accompanied by a lot of people and their requisite trash, unfortunately) and the sun is shining so we can see the view of the village and the surrounding land from atop the battlements. It will be easy to imagine what it must have been like to stand on the battlements and defend the city from the army below!

For more information and pictures of Aigues-Mortes:

Aigues-Mortes actually means something to the effect of "dead algae." It was built in the 13th century by Louis IX, and it was France's only Mediterranean port then. It later silted up and became unreachable by boat!

We were sad to bring Dude to the airport. We wanted him to stay longer! Josey especially was sad about his departure. She was close to tears most of the afternoon. When we got home, she made him cards right away. She and Max also told me, “You can’t make the bed where he slept!”

Naturally I asked, “Why not?” They said, “Because then we might forget that he was here!” I assured him that they will never forget his visit here in Bouzigues. If we are really, really, really lucky, maybe he’ll come back and see us again before we move back to the US.

Thanks, Dude! It was more than wonderful to have you here! The kids made cards for you the second we got back home, and they are already in the mail to you.

Now we can’t wait for Grandma and Alex to arrive for the 10-day Christmas visit. Woohoo!

Oh my . . . I almost forgot to mention Dude’s mule hauling!! Grandma, Dude, and my aunt Dianne did us a humongous favor! They bought us a ton of goodies from the US that we cannot find here in France – or it is outrageously expensive here, and Dude was our mule. He hauled them all over here for us.

Merci mille fois, Grandma, Dude & Di!! These things are true treasures. You should have seen how excited Mike and I were as we unpacked this suitcase. I just wish we had taken pix.

If you ever plan to move to France, here are some things you may want to bring:

  • Aspirin, Excedrin, and Acetaminophen (They don’t sell Excedrin here. Their Acetaminophen is “Doliprane”, and it is 1.74 euros for 8 tablets! The tablets are 1000mg each, but still! The aspirin here is also ridiculously expensive.)
  • Eye drops & Nyquil
  • Hair products (You have to admit that my hair is difficult to control, so good hair products are hard to find!)
  • Beef jerky, baking powder, brown sugar, chili powder, Bisquick, Pam (We cannot find any of these things here.)
  • Halloween decorations
  • O’Neill wetsuit for windsurfing in the winter
  • Pay Day candy bars for our new friend Sandra!

Love to all!

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