Les Volets Bleus

Over-tired, frustrated, hungry, we arrived in the small town of Monts-sur-Guesnes.  The farmhouse we had rented is called Les Volets Bleus (The Blue Shutters).  It is a two-story farmhouse primarily built of stone around 150 years ago.  The house has a superbly equipped kitchen and can accomodate 10 people.  The town of Monts-sur-Guesnes has an ancient chateau at its center, now occupied by the municipal government and tourism department.  There is a small farmer’s market on Saturday mornings which, unfortunately, we were unable to attend, having arrived too late.  After depositing our luggage in our bedrooms and surveying the house and grounds, we set out to find some sustenance.  Another flaw in our planning—-it seems that lunch is the primary meal of the day in the French countryside.  The local store opened at 9:00AM, closed from noon to about 2:30PM, then reopened, closing for the evening around 8:00PM.  Naturally we had arrived during the time it was closed!!!  The restaurant in town only served customers with reservations so there was no succor there either for the weary hungry travelers.  Not an auspicious start to our dream vacation…………

After a little research on the internet and a frustrating journey to find an open supermarket, we succeeded in acquiring food and wine.  We each went to seperate rooms to relax and get control of our frustrations, then assembled on the covered patio in the rear of the house with several bottles of local wine and cheeses………..a very continental way to re-establish our friendly familial relations…..

What we could see was very pleasing and finally we experienced some positive omens for our sojourn:

The house is situated at the edge of the village, surrounded by fields and open land.  About a kilometer to the south is la ligne verte, a trail covering some 14 kilometers interspersed with various trail-side markers which facilitate a self-guided nature walk.  The shopkeepers and service providers we encountered were all friendly but there were few words of English to be had from any of them.  What little French we possessed, mainly from guidebooks and the iPhone translator app, was totally insufficient for our needs.  But with some tenacity on our part, and a willingness to be of assistance on theirs, we were able to procure groceries, wine, and even get the tires on the bicycles (available at the house for our use) pumped full of air.
We thoroughly loved the experience of living in the country-side, away from the madness of Paris and the tourist areas.  Hopefully we can spend two weeks in Monts-sur-Guesnes next year…….

We Cut the Cord

It was terrible.  We returned from France, settled in at the Mud Shack, turned on the Comcast tuner box/DVR and settled in for an evening of catching up with Don Draper and the denizens of Mad Men.  But the final three episodes had NOT been recorded!!!!  Oh well, guess we can get them online…..

So we opted for On-Demand, using our last rebate for a pay-to-view movie on Leonardo DiCaprio as J Edgar.  As the final scenes were approaching, the streaming cut out leaving only a green screen on the monitor.  The final straw……..

Our only interaction with Comcast now is high-speed internet.  The customer service rep to whom we returned the box was very sympathetic when informed of the reason for the divorce.  She asserted that she would have quit the cable provider as well had she been deprived of the final episodes of Mad Men.  But she didn’t offer us any discounts or refunds……..

We have to admit that we miss some shows in real time—Chuck Todd on MSNBC, PBS Newshour, but, thanks to Google TV, we’ve discovered a REAL news outlet—Al-jazeera.  Their Newshour actually reports on events occuring all over the world—-like the upcoming Mexican presidential elections, the continued strife in Syria, the deliberations of the election commission in Egypt—probably never hear about these on the American cable news channels.  Al-jazeera’s coverage is in depth and nowhere near as biased as MSNBC or Fox.

We have reactivated our Netflix subscription and instituted a trial subscription to Hulu Plus for television shows.  Enjoying the original Dark Shadows.  We’ll see how much content is really available and will continue to look for good sources of sports programming—but so far the savings over the cable charges have been significant and the delivery of content more reliable.

The internet has the capability to provide information and entertainment.  How much content is available and how reasonably it is priced could change the habits of tv viewers and strike low the mega corporations currently providing this service.  That would not be a bad thing………

Arrival in France

You need to understand that we hadn’t slept since Thursday night.  We boarded the Icelandair flight at 2:30PM EDT Friday June 1 at JFK Airport in New York City.  Jamaica NY to be precise.  We landed in Iceland for a plane change.  It was almost midnight local time Saturday.  The sun was still up.  We boarded the next plane and headed southeast towards Paris.  The sun just sort of rotated in the sky, from the west to the east, without ever “setting.”  A whole night with no darkness; a little disorienting, ya think????

So at 6:30AM Paris time Saturday June 2, the intrepid travelers arrive at Charles DeGaulle Airport just outside Paris, France.  After what seemed like many kilometers of stairs and moving walkways, we collected our baggage and stood in the parking garage in front of the Peugeot 5008 SW assigned to us by the rental car company.  The gearshift had markings “R, A, M.”  There was a starter button.  On the dash was a lever with a “P.”  There were buttons and levers all over, most unmarked.  An examination of the glove box and various other nooks and crannies in the interior provided no assistance in the form of a manual or quick-start card.

After about 45 minutes playing with various buttons and levers, Google Maps printout in hand and hoping the address of our farmhouse destination in the Loire Valley was actually entered into the navigation package, we set out from the garage.  Almost immediately a major flaw in our preparations revealed itself.  Months had been spent perusing websites about the area, rules and regs from the US State Department and Icelandair to make certain we complied with the current paranoia that is air travel and did not act like the ugly American tourists of  cinema and literature, but we had not acquainted ourselves with French TRAFFIC SIGNS!!!!!  We knew “a droit” is “right” and “a gauche” is “left” but speed limits?? route signs??  traffic control warnings??  NO CLUE.  So sleep deprived, unprepared, ignorant of the signage, we set off for the 300-plus kilometer drive southwest to Monts-sur Guesnes and the farmhouse we had rented for the week……….

We knew we needed to access a road called Périphérique Sud then Route A-10.  Never saw a sign for the first road but we were able to muddle along and get on A-10.  The turn-by-turn directions we had printed were useless without recognizable street name signs.  Thankfully the nav worked except the volume was so low that it was necessary for everyone in the vehicle to silence themselves whenever “she” spoke to augment the directions on the screen—-mostly pearls of wisdom like “At the round-about, take the second exit.”  (It took two days to figure out the volume control.)

Also annoying was the distinct hesitation when starting from a full stop.  It took an email exchange with a state-side friend to alert me to the possibility the Peugeot might be a diesel—-it was!!!  But so quiet and comfortable compared to American perceptions of diesel power—noisy, smoky, the fuel more expensive than plain old gasoline…….But not in France where gaszole averaged about .20euros per liter less than petrol.  And once I understood that “M” meant “manual” mode, the sluggishness at the low end could be managed with the shifter levers on either side of the steering wheel.

So about four and a half hours after arrival in Paris, after a journey of around 334 kilometers, tolls in excess of 25euros (about $1.25 to the euro), exhausted and famished, we arrived at Monts-sur-Guesnes and the farmhouse that would be our home for the next week.  

Home at Last

After almost three weeks away, the Mud Shack looked pretty good to these weary travelers.  There will be pictures and commentary about our trip in forthcoming posts but first a few salient impressions of the trip to New York, France, and New England.

It was very impressive to see the construction of the new tower at the site of the old World Trade Center.  Even nicer to relax in the courtyard of St. Paul’s Chapel, built in 1766.  The old graveyard is a pleasant respite from the bustle of the city.
We spent eleven full days in France, both the countryside of the Loire Valley and in Paris, and never got served escargot.  But I did manage three pizzas:  one at a cafe/bar near the Chateau of Villandry; one from a cart at the Richelieu farmer’s market; and the third from Vesuvio Ristorante on Blvd. St. Germain in Paris.  Only the one from the cart offered to slice the pizza!!!  The other two were discs of cheese, sauce and toppings.  I must say all three were excellent.  The other gastronomic treat was the oysters, both from Ile de Re and the Richelieu market.  They were superior to any I’ve had in years—maybe that’s because we can’t get very fresh oysters in the desert??  At least, not the aquatic variety….
The full day in Boston was spent walking and shopping for souvenirs for family and friends.  (We were too sick from colds/allergies to do much shopping in Paris.) While I loved the dinner at the Atlantic Fish Co. on Boylston St., the oysters weren’t as sweet as the ones in France.  But the Lenox Hotel again surpassed our expectations.  And the true center of the universe is the corner of Brookline Ave. and Yawkey Way!!!  Love the “Red Sockets” parking area and recharging station for electric automobiles….
Friday night we attended a retirement dinner for six teachers from the school in Candia.  It was wonderfully attended and so great to see people we have missed over the five years since we left New Hampshire.  Saturday was spent with friends in Candia and thanks to all for their wonderful friendship and hospitality.
But the best part of the saga was waking up Monday morning in a bed full of canine kids…..