Friday, June 13, 2014

Week 23 - Having a Ball

Monday was an early day but with a fun start. We were on the bus at 8:30 heading for Rouffignac Painted Cave, where they take you deep into a cave on a little electric train to see pre-historic paintings. It was pretty amazing. They even opened early just for us. Nice. Then we were off to Marqueyssac Gardens, which were the only gardens on the tour but I was disappointed that they were just topiaries. Green, green and more green. They did have a nice children’s garden and we had fun watching Sue mount one of the sheep sculptures. The restaurant was delicious too and we had a nice lunch served by Shane, our Irish waiter, and watched peacocks begging scraps. From there it was on to La Ferme du 4 Vents – an angora goat farm that had our one and only scheduled yarn shopping opportunity. It was a lot of fun and after we were all done shopping (that’s the best day they’ve ever had for sure), they brought out 3 bottles of champagne, which we drank under the trees. I snagged the corks to adorn my toran. Then it was back home to the chateau for dinner. It was another lovely day in France.

Tuesday was our first class with Nancy Marchant, the designer from Amsterdam who is the queen of brioche knitting. I had never done brioche so was excited to learn and then had no problem at all while others struggled. I sailed along and finished the sample. Loved it! The afternoon was free so we mostly sat outside and knitted. Go figure. Then Nancy did a talk on the Amsterdam knit scene before dinner. What’s not to like?

We spent Wednesday out and about. The morning was in Perigueux (the capital of the region), where Bruno, our French guide, did a walking tour of the Roman parts of the city then we were free for shopping and lunch. We opted for shopping first and I scored a bit of yarn at a Phildar store that was closing. It was slim pickings but since I’d bought so little yarn, I bought a few skeins that were nothing special. I then found the prefect, albeit expensive, apron for Lorri and promptly left my yarn bag at that store so had to leave my group and head back to get it. I rejoined my peeps at Monoprix, which is the Wal-Mart of France. We checked for yarn (total crap) but people did find thumb drives and we bought sandwiches and pastry to eat for dinner. Then Sue turned on her phone long enough to find another yarn shop that none of us had found while googling the night before. Since it was close to Monoprix, we headed there. Jackpot! It was a tiny shop with sewing machines and yarn – Bergere de France yarn, to be specific. I found hat kits to give to my airport transporters and a bunch of sock yarn for my knitting group. We were definitely not in the touristy part of town so found some normal stores, including one where Cindy scored t-shirts for her grandkids. We were quite a ways out so started walking toward our rendezvous point and found a wonderful restaurant where we ate lasagna and fresh crepes in a beautiful courtyard. The server was even American. It was a nice morning in Perigeueux.

When the waitress asked us where we were going in the afternoon, my response was “some chateau.” I guess we were getting chateau overload to go with the duck overload. The chateau was Bourdeilles, which was more of a medieval castle and so had rooms filled with museum exhibits rather than furnishings. I found a bench on the 2nd floor and sat the tour out. Despite having had plenty of time to relax, I was feeling spent. From there we went to Brantone, which is a beautiful town with an old abbey. We checked out the cave carvings by the abbey but didn’t have much direction on where else to go so left and found a café for tea. The shopping was minimal and I wasn’t in the mood so we headed to a park and ate our picnic dinner. Afterwards we sat in the sun on a wall by the river feeding bread to ducks and then knitting. It was a totally pleasant end to the day before boarding the bus for the ride back to Forge du Roy. Luckily Thursday wasn’t a day out.

We started with our second brioche class with Nancy – two color brioche. Again, I got it and so immediately started a real project after I’d finished the sample. After a lunch on the patio, we had another relaxing afternoon at the chateau. It was warm enough to swim so a bunch of us went to the pool where I swam a bit, did a few water aerobics moves and then sat in the pool house and knitted. That night we were headed out to a bohemian restaurant (style, not cuisine) in the chestnut woods. Most everything served was grown or raised on site and it was all amazing. We started with a violet flavored aperitif, then salad with nasturtium flowers, duck, lamb, potatoes roasted in duck fat and walnut cake for dessert with 6 different sauces to pour on, including an interesting one that was pine flavored. We ended with some home brewed l’eau de vie that was so strong that just the tiniest sip left my throat warm for ten minutes. We had to rush off because the bus driver was nearing her maximum hours for the day. Bad planning since we’d only had her for supper.  Oh well.

Friday was our last day and I was feeling some shopping pressure. I hadn’t bought a single stocking stuffer yet nor anything for Nora (who drove from Lincoln to pick me up at the airport on the Saturday I couldn’t leave) and our options would be limited since we were going to Beynac – a teeny, tiny town – to see their chateau. Since I’d been warned of the climb and had seen the hill from afar, I wanted to skip the chateau, which was another medieval one and so would be sparsely furnished if at all. Erica was on board with skipping too but when we told Philip, he gave us a big guilt trip. “If you skip the chateau, you’ll be missing something magnificent!” He said that if we walked up, we could take the bus down so we started the climb. It was the hottest day yet and the climb was not fun. The only thing magnificent was the view. The castle was as suspected and we were through it in 30 minutes. When I asked Philip where the bus was, he said it would be back at 1:15 and we were leaving town at 1:30 which meant we were stranded at the top with minimal shopping and only one café for lunch. I accused him of not thinking like a woman and started back down the hill. It was cobbled with irregular rocks and had no handrails so I did the Tim Conway shuffle ALL THE WAY DOWN! I had left Cindy and Erica in a shop up top, figuring I’d need a head start but they didn’t catch up until I was in a shop Jean had pointed out 2/3 of the way down the hill. I was first in and found a couple of scarves (check Nora off) and then we headed further down and I found 2 shops where I hit pay dirt on stocking stuffers. With that pressure off, we needed lunch and found a cute café right on the river where we had pizza and ice cream. It was just off the parking lot where the bus was too so we enjoyed our table with a view until the last possible minute. I had been a great morning despite being duped.

We were back at the chateau for a “free” afternoon. Packing. Since I’d bought so little and packed so light (it was a joy being able to do laundry, which we did twice), packing was no challenge at all. I was done in an hour and then spent the rest of the afternoon knitting on the terrace. It was hot but sitting in the shade next to a 3 foot thick stone building made it tolerable. We started the evening with a knit review under the wisteria arbor where we all showed our torans. Then it was on to our farewell dinner on the terrace. I’d been smelling hot smells from the kitchen all afternoon and was skeptical of the Indonesian rice table planned for dinner but it was the best dinner we’d had at the chateau. Everything was delicious and the wine flowed freely but it was bittersweet because for the first time ever on one of these trips, I was not ready to leave. I walked the grounds after dinner taking pics to remember my time at the chateau. I could have easily stayed another week and was sad to be going. We had an early morning though so didn’t linger long past dinner in favor of going to bed early.

We had an early breakfast and were on the coach heading to the airport at 7:00 a.m. Jean and Philip gave us their “you’re the best group we’ve ever had” speech but I think this time it may have been true. I was choked up as I hugged them goodbye. Now for the long haul home. There were more hugs when we got off the bus at Bordeaux airport but my gang – Sue, Cindy and Erica – were all on the same flight to Paris so we hung out in the gate area. Sue had booked this leg separately so had to pick up her bags in Paris, change terminals and check in again so there was some trading of seats so she’d be close to the front of the plane. I settled into my middle seat towards the back but the flight attendant came to me and said she had a better seat up front for me. I think this must have been because of the note Regina from Delta had put on my ticket to make my flights as pleasant as possible. I finished Sue’s monster socks, dubbed Never Saw Paris Socks and my way of apologizing for stranding her in Paris, on the flight and had the flight attendant deliver them to her. It was a very nice flight.

Too bad my inept travel agent put me in a middle seat in the middle section for the 10 hour flight from Paris to Minneapolis! I find it hard to believe there wasn’t an aisle seat available when I booked it in early February. Just another epic fail by Travel Leaders Omaha. Anyway, I made it through the flight, watching movie after movie and getting up whenever the man in the aisle seat did to stretch my legs or walk the aisle. There was an open area by the bathrooms where I stood for quite some time. It was all about getting through it. My connection in Minneapolis was tight considering I had to go through customs and change terminals, which I foolishly didn’t take the train for, arriving just as they were boarding. I called Lori to say I’d be in on time and she and Andrea were at Super Target so I had them get me milk and bread. There was very little food in my house so this would get me through the weekend. The last flight was uneventful (dinky plane) and I was in Omaha just before 7:00 and home by 8:00. The cats were hiding and didn’t come out until I called and called but then did and shot out the door. I puttered around a bit, took a shower and went to bed just before 10:00. Despite not wanting to leave France, it was still good to be home.

I woke up in the wee hours but was able to fall back asleep and didn’t get up until almost 8:00. I was feeling pretty good and after a bowl of cheerios, I had a normal Sunday morning and then unpacked and started laundry. I had hoped to get tons done in the house, which was a wreck, but only managed to do four loads of laundry and sit and knit. The weather was gorgeous and I was enjoying being home. I had fabulous memories of the trip – made a new friend and enjoyed hanging with the old ones, learned some fun new knitting techniques, finally went back to France and lots of my French even came back by the end of the trip. Despite all the problems getting there (must compose a scathing letter to Travel Leaders corporate), it had all worked out and I was happy. So, wait for it…. Life is good! Now to get back to work.

P.S. Click here to see all of my pictures from France.

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