Friday, February 28, 2014

My Wonderful Reminder

   We have returned from 5 fun-filled days of Venetian fun. We were so lucky to have beautiful weather the whole time, and we got to experience the amazing Carnevale costumes. Best of all was time spent with a cherished friend of days past!
   Before I go on about Venice though, I wanted to share my most prized souvenir from our year in France. A good friend painted the most wonderful image of my house, capturing its peace and warmth, even in the coldest months. He sketched the house with pen, then watercolored it. I adore it and can't wait to admire it on my wall in Colorado, a constant reminder of our year spent abroad and with these remarkable people.

artist - David Sibbald 


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Rialto Mercato, Venice

   La Boqueria, in Barelona, takes the cake for greatest food mercado I have ever seen, but yesterday we took a boat through the Grand Canal of Venice to the Rialto Mercato that proved an awesome sight for food lovers. Along with plenty of citrus, strawberries, bitter lettuces, and sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes were plentiful. We mostly saw baby artichokes with beautiful hues of purple and vendors wielding sharp knives, peeled them at top speed so they were ready to cook. Needless to say, I couldn't resist.
   Venice is spectacular and we hit it for Carnevale. It was not intentional and I was nervous about crowds and crime, but the costumes are absolutely incredible. We are staying on Lido, an island across the lagoon from Venice. It is very pretty, quiet and spacious- quite unlike Venice itself. We start each day with a walk on the beach, gazing across the Adriatic Sea. We only have one more day and I plan on doing more wandering, eating and enjoying, after which I will report back to you on this amazing voyage.
   For now, feast you eyes on some of the beautiful Italian produce found at the Rialto Mercato.
Artichokes and such
Sun Dried Tomatoes
Gorgeous produce
Chile pepper bouquets to ward off evil spirits.
The Rialto Bridge


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Buon Giorno, Mes Amis!

   Buon giorno from Venice! It is winter vacation from Entrecasteaux schools so off we went, bright and early, to drive across the top of the boot, to Venice, Italy, where I have an old friend from my college days. I can't even remember the last time we saw each other- at least 15 years- and, as with many wonderful friends, it is as if no time has passed. I am so happy to be here.
   The drive was lengthy and luckily my kids were all great sports. The 7 hours went by without any brawls. Parts of the drive were spectacular, mainly the Mediterranean coast, north of Nice, into Italy and almost to Genoa were the highway leaves the seashore. The auto route winds along the coast, through tunnels at every mountain and over bridges at every valley, which were constant. At 120 Km. per hour on a heavily used highway, it was a white knuckle drive, for sure. Once we turned away from the sea, the road straightened and it was fast and easy.
   With three kids, stopping at rest areas is a must every couple of hours. The Italian rest areas proved just as entertaining as the French ones, creating a well rounded shopping experience. Being the mean Mommy that I am, I refused all of the pleas for plush, stuffed animals, plastic bubble machines, animal masks and giant chocolate bars. I manages to escape with some drinks and chewing gum.
   Faced with another language I do not know, communication could be challenging for the next few days, but with a smile, a "ciao" and "grazie", we will have a blast. Oh, did I forget to mention? It is Carnevale- it was not planned to be here for what could be a shocking show, it just worked out this way! Arrivederci!
View from Autoroute rest area north of Monaco- we love the sea 
Italian rest areas are just as good as French ones- a true shopping experience!
We are on the car ferry from the mainland to the island of Lido, ,where we are happily staying for our Venetian adventure. He is describing driving onto the car ferry and pondering how we get the car off on the other end. That is the off ramp behind him. I was as curious as him....


Friday, February 21, 2014

The Pee Pee Post

   I love all of the different signs in foreign places. Some are understandable, some not so much. Needless to say, WC signage needs to be universally obvious.  Lately, we have been amused by the varying signs for the latrines. Here are a few that I remembered to pull the camera out for:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Murals of Brussels

   Brussels claims itself the comic book capital of the world. Over 50 murals are found in the inner city. Here are the handful we found on the Comic Strip Tour which is well described in a small booklet available at the office of tourism.

Herve, author of Tintin 
The Young Albert, comic by Yves Challand
Unknown to me
Monsieur Jean, by Dupuy and Berberian

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Brussels and Its Fabulous Chocolate

   What we saw of Belgium in the past week was a beautiful country with very pleasant people. Brussels is lovely with a downtown full of old buildings, cobblestone streets, art and chocolate.
   Despite the dreary weather, we marveled at the gorgeous architecture of the Grand Place, the center courtyard of the old part of the city. This was where merchants came to market. Many of the streets off of the Grand Place are named after agricultural items like Poulet, Fromage and Herbes. Most of the older buildings are from the 1600's and a variety of different architectural styles are obvious. It would be great fun to visit in the summer, sitting al fresco with a glass of wine(or beer-another thing Belgium is famous for) and admire the surroundings. Sigh...another place I will have to revisit.
   We went on a walking tour-more like a treasure hunt - for cartoon murals as some of our favorite cartoon books, Tintin, are from Belgium. The town has dozens of these large murals scattered about. One of them was near the famous Manneken Pis, the statue of a boy peeing. It was rather disappointing as he ended up being a mere 24 inches tall, behind iron bars yet still with dozens of tourists snapping photos. Afterwards, we hit the chocolate museum. While the museum itself was not as good as the one we visited in Barcelona, this one had a demonstration of making praline, the signature chocolate of Brussels. It is a delicious blend of ground nuts and chocolate with an outer shell of more chocolate.  They offered samples.
   Our friends were wonderfully patient, hosting my gaggle of rambunctious kids and I am so grateful. We bid them farewell and headed to another town to visit friends we made in France last summer. That story shall follow.

the Grand Place- Brussels
Ornate architecture around the Grand Place
Manneken Pis
These Manneken Pis were far more intriguing
Being Valentine's Day surely encouraged the chocolate window displays to be gorgeous. 
Hard to resist
All about chocolate
Some of the selection at Neuhaus
I would really love somebody to give me cone of these
They were captivated, as was I.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Geo-caching - A New Hobby

   The sun showed its radiance yesterday so I took full advantage, downloaded a new App and went geo-caching. What is geo-caching, you may well ask?
   Basically, it is a treasure hunt using GPS coordinates to find a box that contains trinkets along with paper and pen to sign your name. It is popular back home, and I always thought it would be a great way to get younger kids onto the trail with a little less whining than normal. The only one willing to indulge my new sense of adventure was Middle Child so off we went with my phone and a few snacks.
   There are many geo-caches in this rural part of France, much to my surprise. We went with a couple in mind. For an Old Dog like me, figuring the most efficient way to use the GPS on the phone was the biggest challenge. The cache was near an old, dilapidated church called Chapelle St. Martin. As I have mentioned, one can stumble upon a church on any route- they may be nearly falling down, but they are everywhere. We searched and searched, going back and forth along this ancient wall where we were certain the cache should be. Across the road, men pruning grape vines must have thought we were nuts- crazy tourists.
   On our bellies, peering into a whole behind a fallen rock from the wall, we spotted the box. But, we could not reach it. We will return with some sort of device to retrieve the box and place it back in its proper hiding spot.
   Invigorated by the find, we marched further up the road to the next cache. Vines and cobwebs covered a small grotto where the small, discrete container was hidden- Middle Child was thrilled( as was I) and signed her name and left a little trinket in the box.
   We were hooked and needed more. Onward to an ancient ice house that would partially fill with water in the winter and after a few days, ice would form. I am not sure who the ice was for- the villagers perhaps? There is a water source burbling out of the ground, and that is where our last cache of the day was hidden. And it was really hidden because we never found it. We snacked under massive Plaine trees along the burbling source, Middle Child happily plopping acorns into the water.
   This may be my ticket to keeping my kids going through the rest of our travels. I must admit, they are tiring a little with the touring. They have been troopers and seen more than their fair share of museums, churches and architecture in the past 8 months. A little geo-caching through Brussels might re-energize them.

Chapelle St. Martin 

Trail markers
It's as good as gold

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Bon Anniversaire Middle Child!

   We had a birthday in the house and while she did not get to celebrate by picking a country to spend it in, as I had previously promised, we had a very nice day, despite torrential rain and confinement to the house.   
 patissier when she grows up. Baking sweets is a major passion and she has acquired quite a collection of supplies to turn out cupcakes, cake pops and cookies of various shape. 
We had a tea party with our wonderful neighbors, presents and cupcakes. Middle Child is determined to be a
   This child of mine is a true inspiration to me for her consistent kindness, flexibility and charm. Others gravitate towards her as her energy is soft yet playful. I strive to be more like her. Bon Anniversaire, Ma Petite. Tu es magnifique.

Birthday Tea Party
Toys- we still love them!
Bon Anniversaire!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Lunch Between Lessons

   We eat pretty well at home. Between home-school lessons, Oldest Child and I sit down for a very civilized lunch. She is obviously my most adventurous eater by default because of her age, but she always has been. The other two still prefer pasta and pizza, but going to French school and eating at the canteen has helped open their minds slightly. There is plenty that they do not eat there, too, but at least they see the other children eating what is put in front of them. It is true, French children do not snack much. But they are certainly not deprived of sweets. All of the boulangeries and Tabac stores have bins of candy that seems to need frequent replenishing. For birthdays at school, which are cumulatively celebrated once a month, parents bring in cakes, bags of candy, Coca-Cola.  So, if there had been 5 birthdays that month, yep, that means 5 times the treats.
   As for home cooking, all of the seasonal and un-seasonal vegetables are available at the supermarket. Just like in the States, the tomatoes are abominable right now. But leeks and small turnips are so fresh and inviting, one can't help but buy them. I can't wait to see asparagus and peas in the spring.
Lunch at Home-Leeks Vinaigrette with Smoked Duck Breast

Monday, February 3, 2014

Olive Oil from Tree to Table

This is how my olive oil is delivered...yes, delivered.

My proprietor has trees scattered about the property as well as trees on nearby land. She harvests from land owned by others in exchange for some of the final product. In all, she picks anywhere from 1 to 4 tons each year yielding about 200 liters per ton.
   While there is only one harvest per year, the work involved in the few weeks of picking is long and arduous. Nets are laid on the ground under the trees and pickers use small, plastic rakes to gently pull the fruit from the trees. Some people hang a wicker basket from their necks and pick by hand, wandering through the groves, dropping the olives into their basket. For a few hours in is peaceful, social and the quintessential Provencal experience.
   AS you can imagine, olive trees are as commonplace as grape vines around here. Some are well tended, pruned impeccably, standing on neatly terraced land. Others grow a bit more wild. All are heavy with fruit by early January. All at once, it seems people are out picking in hoards. Large groups of family and friends gather to try to pick their grove in a day or two. Then, it is done. Each town has a cooperative where one can take their olives for pressing into the village blend. Others have their own pressed and bottled independently.
   The day of pressing, the oil is cloudy, grassy and sharp- the way I like it. Over time, it transforms into a mellower flavor. I bought a bottle of the Entrcasteaux oil, and it too, was very tasty. This stuff is not cheap-not even here, in the middle of olive country. Now I know why- it is a labor of love and deserving of the compensation.

Everyone gets in on the action.
Mme. P (for Proprietor)
Youngest Child mostly practiced his climbing skills.
Every extra raker helps.
part of a days harvest.
The nets are gathered and pouring into the crates to be sorted and taken to the mill.
They go through this homemade contraption to pull out leaves, sticks and other undesirables.