Thursday, October 1, 2009

Our year in France

Well, it's been 1 year to the date since we moved here to rural France. The beautiful Aveyron region, our little house "Les Costes" in the woods. It has been an amazing journey and we are changed people. We would love to stay here in France and start a new life, but timing just isn't right. The economy, the exchange rate and most important our business back home, Art-Works Studio. It needs us. It misses us. And it's time to go back and take care of business and get back to teaching kids art. We are refreshed and our creative juices are flowing. I'm not saying it was an easy decision. In fact I think it's the hardest decision we have ever made. We love it here. Love the people, the food, our life, the countryside, etc... But we have been very lucky to be able to take a 1 year sabbatical and move to a foreign country. We are packing up right now, getting our year into 2 suitcases. We have 2 bike cases, 2 dogs crates, maybe 1 cat crate and 2 suitcases, oh and 2 carry-ons. Oh my.

Here is a highlight of our year here in SW France.

1. we arrive exactly 1 year ago today
2. our house is called "Les Costes" but the people here in the area called it "the house of fear"
3. we road our bikes about 6700 km (which is about 4,163 miles) this past year
4. our first 30 days here were lovely, then on the 31 of october it snowed.
5. most of november it rained
6. december we were thinking - "what have we gotten ourselves into"...we were freezing
7. early december our 1st cat Maillot adopted us
8. we had the coldest winter here in 12 years
9. road our bikes in 32 degree weather
10. met so many people who are now great friends.
11. some of our friends here have never met an American before
12. got 3 chickens (fanny, rhoda and lefty) had them for 8 months and then, well....
13. in the winter i think i mopped the floor ever day, dirt, wet, dogs = mopping
14. visited so many places: Toulouse, Bordeaux, Albi, Paris, Belgium, Provence, Montpelier, Beziers and countless villages that were all breathtaking
15. saw (6) stages of the tour de france LIVE
16. climbed (3) major mountains here (cols) the tourmalet, col d'aspin and Mt Ventoux!
17. met "no regrets for me", who I can now call a great friend and a wonderful lady.
18. my family came to visit in March
19. our friends Lisa & Steve came to visit in April
20. took french lessons 2x a week, 3 hours each class, no english! loved it.
21. drank many many bottles of amazing vin rouge.
22. July our 2nd cat appeared...Mr. Fancy Pants
23. changed as a person. So much for the better.
24. had one of the best years of my life!

We'll be back in France, we both know it. It's where we belong. But right now it's back to Los Angeles and to the studio. We are looking forward to seeing everyone. I'm probably not going to update the blog anymore, not until there is something "french" to report. So all I can say is thanks to all of you who have followed "our juicy life". I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I had writing it.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Indian food, Fireworks & Ruins

Last night we had a great "welcome back to france" night.   S&S, our lovely friends who watch the dogs when we are away, invited us over to their home for Indian.  S&S have a catering business here in France, called Spiced Cuisine.  S makes the most unbelievable curry!  There were 10 of us and dinner was amazing.  

After dinner we went to a pyro-lumino-symphony on the roc del thaluc (or Château Inférieur)  in Peyrusse-le-roc a small village not far from us. The fireworks/light/music show was on the Château Inférieur. The Château Inférieur is a ruined castle. Peyrusse-le-Roc was known during Roman times for the richness of its silver, lead and antimony mines.  The fortress here was besieged in 761.  It was taken by the English in 1163 and later occupied by Simon de Montfort.  The town began to lose its importance from the end of the 16th century.  In 1668, the castle was already in ruins.  All that remains are two towers; the northern one serving as a watch tower is described by the Ministry of Culture as the finest example in the Rouergue.

we took this back in November when we biked to Peyrusse-le-roc

we were sitting so close to the fireworks....that would never happen in the states

It was an amazing night.  So many people were in the village and we sat on the side of the hill right in front of the ruin.  Music, lights, fireworks and an ancient ruin.  It was a great night.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Where in the world

I have basically forgot about my blog.  Seems kind of sad but such is life. July was the busiest month ever.  We went to the Pyrenees to watch the tour de france, came home for a few days and then left again for Provence, came back for 1 week with friends and they left on the 1st of August and we left on the 2nd of August...left for where you ask...keep reading. 

Last time I updated we were staying in St. Antonin and our friends village house.  After that we drove over to Provence to ride Mt. Ventoux, see another stage of the Tour de France (up Ventoux) and meet up with our best friends K, E and K.  Provence was lovely but so touristy. Wouldn't want to live over there.   Bruce and I arrived 2 days earlier than our friends and road Mt. Ventoux.  The giant of Provence.  Hard hard climb. There are 3 different routes up Ventoux, we took the south route from Bédoin.  21.8 km.  This is the most famous and difficult ascent (and the one the tour will take).  The road to the summit has an average gradient of 7.43%.  The first 5km is pretty easy at 4% but the 16 remaining kilometres have an average gradient of 8.9%.  We parked about 30 minutes away from the base of Ventoux so we could do a nice warm-up before tackling the climb.  When we hit Bédoin it was busy but when we hit the start to Ventoux it was nuts!  We heard there were 400,000 people on the mountain and I would say there were over 1,000 people riding their bikes to the summit, or atleast trying.  It was very hard, the hardest climb yet, but I didn't stop or walk my bike (many people were doing that). The view from the summit was amazing and the ride down a bit sketchy as it is steep and there were many people, riders and cars.

it all starts here.

Ventoux...get it?

400,000 fans on the mountain

heading towards the summit

the summit

holy shit...

we did it!

The day we road Ventoux our friends arrived and we were so happy. We hadn't seen them in 10 months. We spoke every week, sometimes twice a week, but seeing them in person was great. We stayed just outside of Gordes in Provence.  We stayed in a lovely B&B calls Le Mas des Etoiles and had 4 days in Provence.

Then we  headed back to Les Costes for another week of relaxing and hanging with our friends.  It was wonderful.

Bruce is his new shirt, he wore it out of the store

at an amazing restaurant "un jour charlotte" in Gordes

Bruce and E 


Now I'm in Los Angeles.  Seriously, Los Angeles.  It was a fast decision, but we had such a huge demand for our summer camps that we decided to add 4 afternoon camps that we'd run.  We needed to come back and try and figure out how we can stay in france...forever.  We were very lucky because we are house-sitting for 3 of our friends.  Last week we took care of this lovely boy, Marley.  The most amazing dog!  


This week we are watching an adorable king charles spanial named Malomar and next week we are staying at our friends house at the ocean and taking care of their 2 dogs.  It's perfect, although a bit hard living out of a suitcase for a month.  Our camps have been wonderful, great kids and good to see everyone.  But we have realized, bascially 30 minutes after we arrived at LAX, that we don't want to come back in October/November, we want to stay in france, make it work and start a new life.  So, that's what we are doing here...trying to work it out.  We'll be back in france on the 29th, hopefully with a plan.   We miss the dogs and the cats and our life in France, but it has been great seeing our friends here in Los Angeles.  

I'm not going to continue to update very regularly, because well, just don't have much to talk about and share.  Pretty hum drum life.  But, when I know of our plan I will definitely update and then maybe start a new blog to go with our new life.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

4 days in St. Antonin - village life!

me in front of Maison Bleu in October 2008

Our good friends Bonnie & Bruce have a house in St. Antonin Noble Val.  Now, we met B&B only 1 month before we left for France, but when we met it was very strange, not strange in a bad way, but strange in a good way.  There were/are so many similarities between us (too many to get into) and the instant we met them we knew we’d be great friends.  The strangest thing is the fact that we had visited their village in 2007 when we first came to this region and fell in love with it.  It quickly became our favorite village.  Bruce even took a picture of their neighbor’s house and then painted it.  When we met B&B and found out they lived in St. Ant we were thrilled and shocked, not many Americans have houses here in St. Antonin (maybe 2 others), we were especially thrilled when they told us they’d be coming over for the month of July! 

We came to see then once they arrived and had an amazing lunch on the terrace.  It was so great to see them again and we picked up where we left off in September, not missing a beat.  Then they asked us if we were interested in staying in their house for 4 days, we jumped at the chance.  First, because Maison Bleu is lovely (8 years of hard work, creating this beautiful home, it was a ruin when they purchased it) and second because we have been living in the country (rural france) for 10 months and we thought it would be cool to get a taste of village life.  So here we are….right now…at Maison Bleu.  I’m outside on the deck and Bruce is doing the dishes (something he does every time I good…love that man).  It’s warm, we just finished dinner of salmon, salad and green beans, the music is going, we just had a visit from the neighbor (the one that owns the house that Bruce painted…he gave him the painting too), earlier we road our bikes, went to the café for a Pastis and had a great village day.  We arrived on Saturday afternoon and we’ll leave on Wednesday morning for Provence for 4 days (my next post).  Maison Bleu is also available to rent if you are coming to france for a holiday, if it's just 1-2 people I highly recommend it.

It's now Thursday and I'm in Provence, but finishing up this post.  So, on Sunday, B&B and their family (son, daughter, her husband and their daughter) wanted to come to St. Ant to the Sunday market (a tradition) and also their daughter had not been to Maison Bleu in 5 years, so she wanted to see it finished.  So, they came to the house and fixed us an amazing lunch. We sat outside for 5 hours and ate amazing food, laughed and laughed and drank some really good rosé.  We had a great day with some amazing people who are now super friends!

Tuesday we went canoeing with B&B and the family.  We all met in St. Antonin and canoed down the Aveyron river.  We packed a picnic lunch and stopped along the river for a nice break.  It took us about 4 hours and it was beautiful.   Bruce and I rented individual canoes and had a blast.  I'm waiting for B to send over pictures of the canoeing and will post them when I et them.

So what do I like about village life.  First, it’s waking up and walking 2 minutes to the boulangerie for fresh croissants, second it’s not having to get in your car every time you need something, third it’s seeing people you know and stopping to chat, fourth it’s walking 3 minutes to the café for a coffee, coka lite or pastis.  Plus they have great neighbors; they are quiet, respectful and very nice.  Now, would I want to live in a village full-time?  I think no.  Maybe just outside the village.  I really like having a big yard and space and so do the dogs.  But it’s great to try it out and actually we are having a great time.  Bruce said the idea thing would be to have a house in the country and a little place in a village…sounds good to me.

Bonnie left these in the house for us

Regis (their neighbor) who came for drinks
over the winter Bruce painted a picture of this house
and gave it to Regis 

view from the terrace

Back of Maison Bleu

limestone cliffs

another view of Maison Bleu

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tour de France 2009 - stages 8 & 9

t-shirts, hats, and stuff for friends & family

On Saturday we decided to drive into Saint-Girons to see the finish of stage 8.  It was about 1 hour from Luchon and a lovely drive through valleys and up and down mountains.  Saint-Girons population is about 8,000, but today there were probably double that.  It was crazy.  We decided we’d walk to the finish and see them cross the line.  We arrived around noon and the guys were scheduled to come in around 4:45 or so.  Luckily at the finish there was a big marché and many vendors, so we picked up some bread, cheese, sausisse, fruit and water and headed over to a shady spot near the river.  After a lovely picnic we went to secure our spot near the finish.  Then we waited…and waited…there was a big screen near us so at least we could watch the race but other than that you just wait.  It was so hot, not a cloud in the sky, we baked!  Great finish and a great day, but we have decided no more stage finishes for us.  Too crazy, too many people and too hot. 

the yellow jersey coming in

fresh sausisse, nothing better

the winner of the stage, before he made his move

Yesterday was an epic stage, stage 9.  From Saint-Gaudens to Tarbes and 2 major climbs.  The Col Tourmalet (which we road on Friday) and the Col d’Aspin.  Since we had already climbed the Tourmalet we decided to climb to the summit of the Aspin and watch the guys go by on this major mountain.  It was not as hard or as long as the Tourmalet, 14km instead of 18km and average grade of 7.2 instead of 7.4, but it was still hard (still a couple of 10% grade sections).  We made it to the top and got a sandwich and soda (to go) and decided to descend about 1.5 km since the top was nuts!  We got an amazing spot right on the side of the road with a view that was nothing short of amazing.  We could also see 3 different sections of the winding road below so we had a great view of the guys coming up the mountain.  This was by far our favorite stage, the location and the excitement and climbing up to the top and descending on our bikes (sure beats walking or sitting in a traffic jam for hours).  We road back to where our car was parked and made it back to the hotel to see the final 15km of the stage.  Great day.

here i come

made it to the top

ouch is right

crazy spanish fans

we road up from that tiny village down there

here come the leaders

there is Tom Boonen

We had a lovely time in Luchon and the weather although cold the first day we arrived turned beautiful for the remaining days.  We would love to return (maybe in September) so we can do some more long mountain rides and enjoy the Pyrenees without the craziness of the tour.

I’m typed this on Monday, in the car on our way to the Toulouse airport to drop-off our rental car and pick-up “Claude” who has been resting for a few days.  Then back to the house and then this afternoon we’ll pick up the dogs from S&S…we sure missed them!

We’ll be over in Provence from the 22-26th and we’ll climb Mt. Ventoux and then watch the stage on the mountain.  The crowds in the Pyrenees were crazy but Ventoux will be insane! 


Stay tuned.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Tour de France 2009 - The Tourmalet

c'est vrai!

We arrived yesterday in Luchon and it was cold.  Not freezing but not hot and sunny.  It's in the Pyrenees and deep in a valley.  More like Boulder than France.  We checked into the hotel - which is lovely, Hotel Majestic and went out to dinner.  

Today was a big day for us, we road the Col Tourmalet.  The highest road in the Pyrenees...the hardest mountain we have ever done.  We drove over to Bagnéres de Bigorre (about 30 minutes before the start of the climb) so we could start there and get a bit of a warm-up before we hit the mountain.  The total ride was 55 km and it took me 3 hours and 18 minutes (up and down) and it took Bruce 3 hours and 5 seconds.  It was hard and never stopped.  Just up and up and up. From Luz-Saint-Sauveur (which is 30 km from where we started) it's 19km long, climbing 1404m at an average of 7.4 % with a maximum of 10.2% at the summit.

me warming-up before the climb

still trying to warm-up

It was amazing and hard and rewarding and beautiful.  I would love to do it again actually.
We wore short sleeved jerseys on the way up and hats, gloves, jackets and arm warmers on the way down.  The tour de france will ride this col on Sunday as part of stage 9 and it was already filled with caravans and tons of people waiting for the race.  

warm-up over...time to start the climb up

the climb took us up and up and up

how many more km?

did we just climb up from down there?

getting into a rhythm

Bruce too

It took me over 2.5 hours to get up and a bit over 30 minutes to get down.  We changed in the car and drove to a café to watch the final 22km on the big screen.  Amazing day, amazing finish. Tomorrow the stage finishes in Saint-Girons and we'll be there. 

we made it to the summit 

the last 2 km kicked my butt

bruce got here 18 minutes before me

the last 2km!

just a beautiful church on the way home

More pictures and updates to come.
Right now we are going to give each other leg rubs before we go to bed.