We will miss you. We already miss the silence, the tranquility of our former abode, the captivating view of Luberon hills from our balcony, the sometimes mysterious, ever-fascinating sky, friends and friendly village folk … Life on the Mediterranean coast, where we now live, is so different, but it has many pluses. More about those in a future post.
We were attracted to Reillanne because it is a genuine, old Provencal perched village. It has not been gussied up like those Luberon villages Peter Mayle made famous: — Bonnieux, Lourmarin, Menerbes. Reillanne can be rough around the edges, ruts in some streets, lanes, — especially the Impasse where we lived. Many places could definitely use a fresh coat of paint, No classy boutiques. No fancy restaurants. No locals nor visitors in designer attire. Jeans and tattoos and plenty of funky, folksy charm.
Reillanne is ancient, with origins dating back to the 6thcentury. In its early years it was a fortified village with a hilltop chateau and ramparts. The chateau is long gone, but vestiges of an 11thcentury chapel remain. And, a new (1859) church, St. Denis , which is the town landmark and a favorite photo subject. I must have hundreds of St. Denis shots. Parts of houses in the vieux village (old village), a maze of skinny, serpentine alleys, date to the 11th century.
During the ’60s Reillanne was a hippy enclave. Joan Baez is said to have had a home in Reillanne – or at least vacationed there. Some residents of that era remain, geezers easily recognized by their hairstyles. Some of today’s younger residents are seeking the same alternative lifestyle that attracted their predecessors. They are joined by artists – painters, photographers, ceramicists – who have settled in Reillanne.
Reillanne’s Sunday morning market is a star attraction, and not just for locals. We went faithfully every week to buy from our favorite vendors, to meet friends and share a coffee or glass of wine after shopping.
We can’t look back. But, I can share these photos of some of my Reillanne favorite things.
The quick sale of the house, finding a new home, then emptying a big house loaded with furniture and far too much stuff for a move to a partly furnished apartment, plus packing for the move, engulfed my life . No time nor energy for talesandtravel.com Life is returning to normal. I am happy to post again and hope to do so more regularly. Stay tuned. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up, upper right. Your address is kept private and never shared.
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They tied the knot in Agra, India, in April. We were invited to the festivities. Indian weddings are legendary, days of interesting, lavish events. This was something not to miss.
Two years ago on a trip to northern India with a German tour group, I met Alok. (see previous posts, Intriguing India and more ) He was our guide – affable, knowledgable and fun. He speaks fluent German, as well as English in addition to his native Hindi. Among the many wedding guests were others from his tours.
We wanted to follow customs, so we sought the advice of friends who had lived and worked in India. They looked over the invitation, a large elaborate card in bright red with gold lettering. Four events. Four different days. Each, we learned, required special attire. I was lucky. My friend Sigrid, a very talented seamstress, had been invited to an Indian wedding in London several years ago. She made two gorgeous outfits, both of a golden fabric that had been purchased in India. Perfect. I could borrow them.
Bob was not so lucky. When we arrived in Delhi, we showed the invitation to the
guide/driver who would take us to Agra. He agreed. Bob needed to go native and wear Indian clothing for the events. We were whisked off to a classy shop where the salesman, after checking the invitation, convinced us Bob needed at least two Indian outfits. He tried to sell us three, but we stopped at two.
To make sure that we committed no grave faux pas, at our hotel in Agra I asked a receptionist to come to our room and check out our wedding wardrobe. She looked over the invitation and announced that my golden outfits were OK, but would not do for the main event, the actual wedding. For that, a genuine sari was de rigeur. Bob’s newly purchased Indian garb would do, but his shoes would not. He needed Indian foot attire, a type of slipper.
Determined to do it right, we set off to the bazaar the next morning. Bob refused to go for the slippers, but he did acquiesce and purchase a type of loafer. I bought a sari, sapphire blue, but later leaned that I should have gone for a brighter color.
The salesman skillfully wrapped the sari, nothing but a long piece of cloth (saris are from five to nine yards long), around me. No way I could ever master this. “Just google it,” he advised.
Festivities kicked off with the ring ceremony. Swathed in golden cloth, and Bob in his dark green sherwani (?), Indian tunic and his new Indian loafers, we set off to a hotel where the event, attended by several hundred guests, was held. As they paraded in, we began to feel very uncomfortable. The men did not wear traditional Indian garb, just basic western street clothes. Most of the women, however, wore colorful saris with their arms festooned in tiers of sparkling bangles.
The groom arrived wearing a business suit, albeit a very smart, stylish one. Bob was not happy, feeling a bit ridiculous in his Indian costume. (I thought he looked cool). I also felt my golden garb was way over the top. So much for the advice of experts!
As this was a Hindu wedding, no alcohol. There was an assortment of very tasty hors d’oeuvres. Folks mingled around and kept busy with cell phone cameras. There were plenty of photo ops for all, including several professional photographers.
After the bride arrived, bejewelled and clad in a glamorous sari, ceremonies got under way. There were numerous different rituals: certain ones for the groom, others for the bride, and lots more photo ops.
We started to leave when the rituals ended — oops, not so soon. Guests were lining up in an adjacent room for a buffet. We joined in – delicious.
The following day Alok invited us and others from his tours to his home. We enjoyed chatting with the guests, mostly Germans, and savoring tasty delicacies, some prepared by Alok’s father. Alok had plenty of beer for his German friends.
That night a type of cocktail party and buffet hosted by the groom for his family and friends took place on the rooftop of a hotel/restaurant. Bob wore a sports coat, approved by the hotel receptionist. I ignored her advice and did not wear golden outfit number 2… fortunately. This was not a dressy affair. Not all Hindus are teetotalers, we learned. As this was Alok’s event, beer and Indian whiskey were available.
When it came time for the wedding, two days later, again I requested assistance from a hotel receptionist. No way could I google “sari” and conquer the wrap. Another helpful young woman came to the rescue and dressed me. Bob wore the luscious red tunic (sherwani). He rejected the gorgeous vest and matching pants, but the Indian loafers were on his feet.
The wedding began with the “barat,” a raucous parade from the groom’s house to the party venue.
We first joined others at his home where he was seated at a kitchen table being dressed by his mother and others. They sang as they worked. This time he was in full traditional attire, turban and all.
The parade was incredible, dancing guests following a “band,” lots of horns and drums. Fireworks along the route added more noise. Traffic had to stop. The groom, seated high up in a horse-drawn carriage under a garland festooned canopy, brought up the rear.
All manner of stands offing a wide range of food ringed the huge, open venue space. The bride and groom sat on a stage at one end. A band played. In addition to numerous photographers, the momentous event was captured by drone cameras.
Guests lined up to offer best wishes to the pair, showering them with rose petals. This went on for several hours, but the real wedding ceremony, more Hindu rituals, took place much later and was attended mainly by close family.
We will long remember Alok and Ankita’s wedding, like no other. And, just in case we get invited to another Indian wedding, our wardrobe is ready.
A Word on Indian Weddings
In India, “When a baby girl is born, the family starts saving for her wedding,” said Sunil Kumar Nair, resident manager of the DoubleTree Hilton in Agra where we stayed. “The bride’s family pays for all. The boy gets everything,” he added.
Average cost: $50,000 to $60,000. That accounts for about 200 guests, but it is not uncommon to have many more, up to 2,000 guests with a corresponding price tag. During our stay, many weddings took place at the hotel, outdoors on the lawn in a football field – sized space.
And, many weddings that week in April all over Agra, a popular wedding site with its iconic Taj Mahal considered a symbol of love.
Wedding dates are decided by the Hindu calendar. There are two main wedding seasons, we learned, September to February, and April/May. A priest consults the horoscopes of the couple, the positions of the planets and the stars, and fixes the date. Sunil said one year on February 2, a particularly auspicious day, there were 80,000 weddings in Delhi.
Alok and Ankita’s marriage was arranged, as are about 80 percent of marriages in India. It usually starts with a search in the Sunday Times of India: a full page of “Wanted Grooms” and another of “Wanted Brides.” The ads are divided into categories by caste. India has four main castes, and it is important to marry within one’s caste. Both Alok and Ankita are Brahmins.
When a probable match is found, background info, references etc. , are exchanged. If all looks good, the parents meet. If that goes well, the couple meets with the parents. Alok first met Ankita during a stop at a highway restaurant on one of his tours.
Sunil said traditions are changing, and more and more couples are marrying for love. Yet, the arranged system has its merits. According to one source, the divorce rate in India is the lowest in the world.
After the wedding, we toured spectacular Rajasthan. More in coming posts. Don’t miss out. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up, upper right. Your address is kept private and never shared.
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Mimosa – not a cocktail with champagne and orange juice, at least not in southern France. Here it is “a tropical shrub or tree of the leguminous genus Mimosa, having ball-like clusters of yellow or pink flowers and compound leaves that are often sensitive to light or touch.”
High in the hills above the French Riviera, and along the coast, those blossoms are bright yellow, bursting forth in February, heralding the beginning of spring. The glorious show of nature calls for celebration.
La Fête de Mimosa in Tanneron, a tiny town at the pinnacle of the Route d’ Or (golden route), honors the colorful spectacle every year. Garlands of yellow decorate buildings, cars, posters. Stands sell local products. Bands play. Shots are fired. Folks come from afar to enjoy – and photograph — the splendor.
The narrow, twisty road leading to the town, the Route d’Or, offers magnificent photo opps of the blazing trees against a background of gorgeous scenery. But, to get that perfect shot, you may need to risk your life. There are no places to pull off, and traffic when the blossoms are at their peak is heavy.
We joined friends of the American Club of the Riviera at the festival, then continued on to Menton, our favorite coastal city on the border with Italy. We have decided the time has come to downsize, sell our house, and move closer to civilization. We love the tranquility and beauty of our surroundings in the Luberon countryside, especially the ever-changing view of the hills from our porch/balcony. But, it is probably not the best place for old folks (us).
I love the Med … and Menton. It is almost like being in Italy. Lots of Italian is spoken. Answering machine messages are in two languages, French and Italian. I have been studying Italian on and off for years and relish the opportunity to speak. Italian restaurants abound. You can walk across the border to Italy.
Perfect. We’ll move to Menton … that is, we’d be happy to move to Menton. Our mini trip was a reconnaissance mission, basically to check with real estate agencies on the availability of large, vacant apartments to rent on a long term basis. We no longer want to be property owners.
We rented an Airbnb studio in the Vieille Village, the city’s ancient town with narrow alleys and steps, lots of steps. It is pedestrian only, no shops, no restaurants. Those are below in the centre ville, town center, down many more steps. The old town is not the best place for my decaying knees, nonetheless fascinating, charming, and, had the weather been better, super photo opps.
Our Menton dream came to a depressing crash with reality: the type of apartment we seek is almost non-existent.
This is the Mediterranean coast, vacation/tourist territory. Apartments to rent are furnished, rented for the season, and mainly small. Nonetheless, we left our contact details with numerous agencies just in case something with our criteria becomes available. We expanded the search to nearby Roquebrune. There a few realtors did offer a glimmer of hope for the future.
We did visit one apartment, 100 sq meters, considered large. It seemed small to us: no storage space, tiny kitchen, just one bathroom, two very small bedrooms. The living room, however, was spacious with large windows and lovely views.
This will not be easy on many fronts. We came home and surveyed our big house and all the contents, many treasures collected over the years.. No way will we be able to move all this stuff to an apartment, even a big apartment.
Bob would prefer to rent a house, which may make more sense for us. That may be even harder to find. But, we can and must begin the process: eliminate, sell, trash lots. We will put the house up for sale this summer when roses are in bloom, pool in operation, and it is at its best.
We will bug those real estate agencies. We are going back to Menton at the end of the month during the town’s renowned lemon festival for a luncheon sponsored by the British Association of Menton. Maybe some of those folks could be helpful.
We won’t give up: Menton or bust!
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I am passionate about food and cooking. Cookbooks – I must have 100s. I love trying new recipes, experimenting with exotic ingredients. Over the years I have been to many a cooking course, often during travels to learn about ethnic cuisines.
We moved to southern France several years ago, yet I had never attended a cooking course in France. Shame! The mother of all cooking schools, Le Cordon Bleu, is French with headquarters in Paris. It is legendary. My idol, Julia Child, got her start at Cordon Bleu Paris.
On a recent trip to Paris to see our American dentist, I set a day aside for Cordon Bleu. I was overwhelmed. This is indeed the Harvard of cooking schools, like no other.
This article, a post for my foodie fans, appeared on the web site: travelsquire.com
“The Art of Cooking like a Chef,” was the title of my all-day course, three hours of demonstration in the morning, followed by an afternoon cooking workshop.
Twenty-five of us from 11 different countries watched and listened as our teacher, Chef Guillaume Siegler, prepared three different and demanding dishes in the professional kitchen classroom. He spoke French, but a translator stood by to explain all in English.
First course: Pineapple and green zebra tomatoes, creamy burrata, basil, olive oil, pomegranate red pesto.
First step: Peel the tomatoes. “The skin is disagreeable to the mouth,” said Siegler. He is right, but at home I usually skip this step — never again if I want to cook like a chef.
The tangy red pesto was a mixture of raspberries, tomato pulp, pomegranate juice, olive oil, pomegranate molasses and green Tabasco, all mixed in a food processor.
As he moved from tomatoes to pomegranates, Siegler, who has worked in many famous Parisian restaurants as well as his own restaurant in Tokyo, spewed out more words of culinary wisdom: “To cook well, you must think about what you are serving.”
“Respect all products and work only with excellent products.” He put this into practice when he was about to put the finishing touches on the tomato-pomegranate-burrata concoction. He rejected the basil on hand — too wilted. — and sent an assistant to the school roof garden to pluck some fresh basil.
The finished dish was food-photo perfect – almost too beautiful to eat. It went into the frig and he moved on to the main course: Roasted rack of lamb with parsley crust, pearled jus with rosemary, and summer vegetable tian.
Lamb is one of my favorites, and I have always been in awe of a rack of lamb with the bones parading perfectly to crown the roast. Even though I adore cooking, this is not something I would ever attempt.
As I observed, deboning that hunk of meat is no day at the beach. With skill, precision and speed, he cut away, explaining the intricacies of the task.”Remove some of the skin, but not too much… Get rid of the nerve which is attached to the bone…. Make careful incisions to free the meat from the bones.”
The summer vegetable tian came next. Rows of sliced vegetables (eggplants, tomato and zucchini) were attractively layered on top of a bed of sautéed onions. I have sautéed onions zillions of times, and have never given much thought to it. That will change. There is professional approach to even this simple task.
“Sweat the onions. Add a bit of salt. Don’t color them. Mix vigorously. Taste. Salt and pepper.”
He used a mandolin to get perfect, even slices of the veggies. He showed how to use this dangerous tool and save your fingers. Start out holding the chunk of vegetable down with your knuckles, as it get smaller, switch to the palm of your hand. Having recently sliced off about a ¼ of a finger tip as I tried to slice potatoes with a mandolin, I will surely heed this.
By now I was starving, and all those heavenly aromas had not helped. Alas, we were all given small portions of his creations to sample. “Where’s the wine?” someone asked. No wine, but each dish was delectable.
The afternoon workshop was held in the state-of-the art, stainless-steel and white teaching kitchen where each student had his own work station. After we donned our Cordon Bleu aprons and chef’s hats, we were each presented with a lamb rib roast.
Oh No! The GPS on my phone sent me in the wrong direction when leaving the metro. I missed the first 15 minutes of the morning intro class. I knew we would be cooking during the workshop, but had not realized we would each get our own chunk of lamb. So, I had not paid that close attention to the somewhat complicated instructions. Instead I focused on photography, figuring this was one part of Cooking Like a Chef I could skip. If I wanted a rack of lamb, I would order the meat prepared from a butcher.
I felt dumb and humiliated, and sought assistance. Alisa, a bubbly young Russian woman whose work station was next to mine, guided me through the initial attack of the lamb. She in turn sought help from a Russian doctor next to her. They had met the day before at another Cordon Bleu course. The doctor was exceptional, applying her knowledge of human anatomy to the lamb, making precise incisions.
I could not expect Alisa to do all my work, nor Chef Siegler who raced from work station to work station, guiding, critiquing, encouraging. I was too embarrassed to reveal my total ignorance of his instructions.
“Five more minutes to finish the lamb,” he announced. We had to move on to the jus, crust and veggies. Tension was mounting.
“I love to cook. I love to share, with customers and students. But I prefer students,” Siegler told me. “I need to have my eyes on everything here. Some people have never held a knife.”
My classmates, however, appeared to have advanced far beyond wielding a knife. The dedicated chef came around to inspect each student’s lamb. Star of the class, Anze from Slovenia, managed to perfectly duplicate Siegler’s demonstration lamb. All were in awe, even Siegler. The doctor’s efforts were also impressive. Others, while perhaps less perfect, were acceptable.
Unfortunately not mine. When he looked at my massacred meat, he pronounced: “You will have a filet instead of a rack of lamb,” then proceeded with Formula I speed to show me how to remove the bones and fat from the lamb, leaving a filet.
At least I was not alone in failure. Lorraine from Shanghai also ended up with a filet. “We don’t cook like this in China,” she said.
Time was limited, so tasks were divided as we moved on. I opted for chopping and sautéing onions for the tian, figuring I could not screw this up. And, I remembered his instructions.
We each were given an aluminum container to assemble our own tians with the onions and other veggies which we had sliced. These, and the racks of lamb (and filets) went into the ovens. The reward: We each had a tian and our lamb to take home. My husband and I had rented an airbnb apartment. I called ahead. “Get a bottle of good red wine. I am bringing dinner.”
I may not have had the perfect rack of lamb, but the filet was superb. The tian: delicious. Definitely a three-star dinner. The day had been fun, enjoyable, and educational. I picked up many chef techniques which I have been putting into practice. Next visit to Paris, I will definitely schedule another Cordon Bleu course… along with our visit to the dentist. And, I will arrive on time and pay close attention to all.
Put on the apron and get out the rolling pin. Time for Christmas cookies. See Today’sTaste, above right, and my recipe for Greek Crescents, a winner of a cookie.
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6,500-kilometers from our home in southern France to the top of Germany, back down to the bottom with many stops in between, then home through the French Alps.
We were happy to be back in Deutschland where we lived and worked for many, many years. We saw old friends. We made new friends. We visited old haunts and new places. And, we enjoyed culinary favorites – great beer and wurst.
The down side: weather (mainly gray) and traffic. We moved to France for sunshine, and after a month of mainly depressing, grim weather, I think we made the right decision—despite sweltering last summer. On those legendary autobahns with sections where there is no speed limit, we encountered too many “staus” (traffic jams).
First stop: two towns in northern Germany from whence my ancestors hailed long ago: Cloppenburg and Vechta. We were not overwhelmed with either. We could not even find a Gasthaus for a beer and bratwurst in Cloppenburg, only pizzerias and all manner of ethnic restaurants. Unfortunately this seems to be the trend throughout the country.
On to Bremen which is overwhelming with its fairytale perfect Markt Platz. We stopped in Bremerhaven to check out its famous Emigration Center and fascinating museum. We used their computers for some ancestor research. One could spend hours, days, on this project.
We moved on to Hamburg which has grabbed headlines worldwide with its glittering new landmark, the Elbphilharmonie, an astonishing structure which has been in the works for more than 13 years, grossly surpassed cost estimates with a final price tag of $843 million, and has sold out the 2,150 seats for each performance in its Grand Hall for more than a year.
Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city and largest port, is all about water. The open waters of the North Sea are 65 miles from the maritime city, but it’s water that imbues the city with a distinctive, enticing flair. We took a harbor cruise, and a cruise on the city’s two lakes, the Binnenalster (Inner Alster) and Aussenalster. (Outer Alster).
To experience the North Sea, we traveled on to the coastal resort, St. Peter Ording. I had hoped we could bike along the dikes. Rain. Downpours. No biking for us. However, between the deluges we managed a few invigorating beach walks. The North Sea winds make the Mistral seem like a gentle breeze.
Wismar and Stralsund, two cities on the Baltic in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (part of the former East Germany), were next on our agenda. Both are medieval treasures which were about to crumble before reunification. They are now restored
jewels. “But, it is thanks to our (western German) money,” a friend in Stuttgart reminded me. Wismar’s ancient churches are a marvel. Stralsund has a wonderful new Ozeaneum musem, in addition to its antique structures.
I will be writing articles for the magazine German Life on many of the places we visited, including an article, “Lodging in Noble Homes.” These are homes still occupied by royalty, friendly nobles whom you can meet, even dine with. We stayed at three such homes/castles, and had delightful times with the owners, all of whom encounter monumental expenses to keep their royal residences intact. Income from tourists helps with expenses.
More photos from Germany below:
Coming soon, the Maldives and more on Germany’s noble families and castles. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared.
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