There and Back Again. Travelogue. LONG.

Hello everyone, I'm home.
I never got holiday cards mailed. They're going out tomorrow, and will be in various people's hands by Epiphany, maybe. Deal with it.

Within an hour of returning to our house in St. Thibery on Christmas Eve, I had fallen on my knees to worship the porcelain god with the nastiestied flu-ish thing I've ever experienced. Fuzzy stayed home with me but we sent my parents to the Christmas Eve Dinner at Bill & Ben's ANYWAY, because it seemed really pointless to keep a captive audience for /that/. Ugh.

I woke Christmas morning (Barely. It was 11:59 AM) feeling druggy and shakey, but definitely improved. Some of the folks from the party the night before had been out for a walk, so when I made it to the first floor, where the kitchen and dining room were, I found it filled with English people: Jackie, a linguist from Brighton; Paul, a jeweler; and Gordon, a barrister from London who (at a different party) finally settled for the American contingent how two attorneys from the same chambers can represent opposite sides of the same case. Also with them was Paul's boyfriend Jim, from Taiwan, who is working on his MBNA in construction management. They'd brought us presents from B&B: A plum pudding (with instructions) for “The Americans,” and chocolate praline snails (not real snails, just snail-shaped) for me, because Chocolate Cures Everything. They lingered over coffee, and then wandered off, and we made dinner: faux-filet, which seems to be the French equivalent of flank steak, and vegetables, and amazing pain de campagne – this really nutty chewy peasant bread.

We'd agreed not to do presents, since we all had paid for parts of the vacation (Fuzzy and I rented the house, my parents paid for our rental car), but we had small things anyway. I gave my mother a dress-form for her collection, and I gave my stepfather the latest Andrea Bocelli CD. I received 1/2 kilo of Brie, my favorite triple-cream cheese in live, and a purple pashmini (it's a wide fringed scarf), and Fuzzy was told he was getting his present later.)

Thursday, I still felt blechy, but we couldn't waste any more time, so we drove to the nearby town of Pezenas, which is smaller than Bezier, but has much nicer shops. French villages are all twisty-turny streets, with no rhyme or reason, and I kept thinking that any one of them would be a great maze for a video game. It was fun exploring, even if it was rainy – you'd follow an alley a while and pass the church, and then turn a little and there would be a cafe or a brasserie or a full restaurant, or a specialty shop. Like Napa, CA, Languedoc is the region of Wine and Olives, so olive-products were prominent, and more than one store was devoted just to such things.

We stopped for lunch at Brasserie Moliere (Pezenas makes a big 'thing' of being a place where Moliere stayed once – he was only there for a few days, though), where, for 13 Euros each we had three course lunch. The salad was tomatos and Roquefort cheese on a bed of red lettuce, the main course was roasted duck, with new potatoes, and pommes frites (fries were /everywhere/. You couldn't get away from them, but they're done with minimal grease, and with garlic, salt and parsley, and ohhhh, sooo good.), and the final course was a pear tart. We had coffee after, of course, and it was the best cafe au lait I'd ever had.

We wandered in and out of shops for the rest of the day, looked at Fabric and housewares, but didn't really love anything. (Sorry, , it was all Provencal prints, and I didn't think they were appropriate for what you'd mentioned.)

Minor note to the 7th Sea crew: The milk brand was Montagne, different spelling, but, it made us smile.

Friday, FUZZY was sick, so I mostly hung out and took care of him, and read a lot. It was kind of cozy, really, being in the 2nd floor lounge with the view of the street, drinking tea, and reading and watching the locals walk their dogs. Ira and I took a ramble around town after dark, over to B&B's to reserve spots for Saturday's dinner thing, and then over to the Abbey, which was built in 1509. It was an amazing building, so beautiful, and with the moonlight and the mist and the pigeons cooing in the bell tower, it was like being inside a gothic novel.

Saturday, our last day in France, was our busiest. I was up at dawn, and made breakfast: sausage and omelettes and more of that yummy bread, and then we went to Carcassone, which is a medieval walled city dating back to the Visigoths. It's the 2nd most-visited place in France, after the Eiffle Tower, and we were surprised when we got there to find that it wasn't just a museum and ruins, but an actual working city. They've modernized the rooms inside the walls – I dubbed it Castle Mall – and there are tons of nifty shops and cafes. We poked around in them for a while, then took a tour of the chateau, the castle proper – Christopher took about a zillion pictures inside – well, 250 – and then more stores, and finally we went to a cafe for cappucino and my new love Chocolate Anciennes.

Chocolate Anciennes is this: You get a pitcher of molten chocolate and a pitcher of steamed milk and a bowl of sugar cubes and a mug. You place one cube of sugar in the bottom of the mug, pour in the chocolate and milk at the same time, stir, sip, and totally bliss out.

We left Carcassone and made it back to St. Thibery in time to rest and change for the party at Montblanc, hosted by Bill & Ben, and Robert, the owner of Montblanc (which is another B&B). Most of the folks there were English ex-pats, and some locals. We were at the “cool table”, and the four of us were surrounded by Gordon, Paul, Jim, David and John (an English couple who gave up suburbia to move to a teeny French village and become potters) and, alternately as they rested between courses, Bill, Ben and Robert. The food was AMAZING, and David decided I was his date for the evening for some reason, which was a blast because he knew all the gossip on everyone, and we had fun doing fashion critiques and talking about baroque music. Gordon just started cello lessons, as did Olga, the woman who acts as caretaker of the Tall House, and David kept saying, “But none of you brought a cello. That's not fair. You were supposed to serenade me, darlings.”

There's TON'S more to tell, but we went from the party, back to the house to pack, and then directly to the airport for our 6:30 flight from Montpellier to Paris this morning. Paris time is nine hours ahead of California time, and at this point, nearly 5 PM Pacific on Sunday, I've been awake since 9 AM Paris time on Saturday, except for a five hour nap on the plane, and while I can't go to bed yet, I do need to go sit somewhere still, because I'm so dazed I feel like the chair is bouncing when I type.

Pictures will be webposted eventually. Probably on the 1st.

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 There and Back Again. Travelogue. LONG. by Melissa Bartell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.