At the summit of a hill just outside our village is the tiny Chapel of Saint Pierre.  It was built in the early 1800s.  Every year on the Feast Day of St. Pierre the village celebrates mass here, outside as the chapel would hold only about 10 people.  After mass there is a dinner with very mediocre food but much better wine.

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The marker lists the date as 1805.
The chapel was apparently in a very deteriorated condition after 100+ years of neglect.  A small group of Abeilhan’s older set, who remembered how important the chapel was to their ancestors, took on the project to rehabilitate it.  Their pictures are on the chapel wall, most are dead now.   John remembers Uncle Nene, the fellow wearing a beret.  

 The chapel  is now fully restored with a new roof, repaired walls, and an ornate metal door.  The man who made the door was there to show off his work.
The priest said Mass under the trees.  We didn’t attend but could hear sweet French voices singing hymns.  The evening was cool and windy.  My friend Suzette tells me that every year during the Mass at St. Pierre’s you can barely hear the priest because of the cigales’ loud buzzing in the trees.  However, due to the cool weather this year the cicadas are late and so it is quiet except for the wind.

After mass is the dinner.  The majority of the crowd is on the elderly side, I guess we sit in.  We came prepared with our own silverware but most of the folks have brought their full dinner service including dishes and wine glasses.  We make do with paper plates and plastic glasses.  We are with a jolly crowd, our friends Jack and Linda, John S. and his new lady love, and four delightful Irish ladies.  We have a lovely time despite being very cold (I thought a sweater would be sufficient).  It is a long evening and there is no bathroom on site so several of us have to visit the bushes by the parking lot!  Everyone has a merry time.  This is a good tradition.
 
Just north of our village the low mountains begin.  The Herault river, which gives its name to our re gion, creates a gorge in the limestone.  The stone is quite porous and water seeps through it easily.  For a million years this action has created a gigantic cave with enormous stalagmites and stalactites.  I visited the cave before but John had never seen it so it was fun to take him.  

The caverns are huge.  It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to be one of the early explorers crawling about in the dark inside the earth.  There are now easy walkways and it is well lit and reasonably dry inside.  In one very large "room" the tour guide turns off the lights and there is a magical light show with an organ playing the "Clamouse Concerto".  Impressive.

We drove further up the road to St. Gillhem de Desert for lunch.  This is one of the most picturesque villages in France.  It is nestled in narrow shallow ravine just above the Herault river.  It is a popular tourist site so, unfortunately, it is always crowded.  This day since we were a little late for lunch it was really tough to get a table as many of the places were already done with lunch service.  Eventually we managed to get a seat and were happy to get something to eat, even if it was not very good.

On the way home we came upon three mares, two with new colts.  One was so young he could scarcely stand on his own.  We fed his mom some apples.

 
We've been back in our village for two weeks now.   We've spent much of our time getting the garden in shape.  It is a priority as when the weather is warm, which is most of the time in the summer, we spend most of our time outside.  John put in a wood trellis leading up to the upper garden and we've planted two climbing yellow rose bushes - no blooms yet.  We brought quite a few seed packets back from the USA with some things that are hard to find here - Asian greens and hot chilies.  Most of the herbs from last year are still doing ok.  I did plant quite a lot of basil.  French grocery stores don't carry packets of fresh herbs like in the USA.  I guess they figure if you use fresh herbs, you have them in your own garden.  I did plant a bunch of cilantro too (hard to find here). 

Last year we planted a very southern France garden with aubergine (eggplant), courgettes (zucchini), and tomatoes.  These were the exact vegetables that we received with frequency from our French neighbors who have an abundance in their gardens.  Seems much wiser to plant what we can't find here.  Already one of our closest neighbors has given us at least a bushel of his ripening cherries.

The weather has been unseasonably cool and windy; everyone is complaining about it.  It has really been too cold to cold to go to the beach but John and I went one day to have a moule (mussels) lunch in a little restaurant.  The water was very rough with actual surf.
One day we took a drive down to Bouziques, the village on the bay near Sete, where they farm oysters.  We went to our favorite little café where they’ve just harvested oysters that morning and serve them immediately.  We get the large ones.  The place is nothing fancy and the fare is limited to raw oysters, mussels, and some other crustacean along with bread and wine.  Yummy.

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The abbey courtyard
 
Giverny is a short train ride north of Paris in the Normandy region.  Monet spend many years, from his middle age to old at his garden creation.  He always favored “the light” in Normandy and most of his paintings were done in the Normandy area whether they are of the seaside, snow scenes, or lush gardens. 

When he purchased the Giverny property which is 4 km from the nearest town of Vernon he created one of his greatest works of art by diverting a portion the Seine into his property and creating beautiful pond.   He planned all the plantings himself and was greatly influenced by the newly discovered art of Japan.

He lived in the pink and green house with his large family and visiting artists studied with him.  After his death the gardens and house fell into disrepair and his son donated it to a nonprofit organization that still owns it.  Donors, including many Americans, raised the funds to beautiful restore Monet’s treasured gardens and home.  It is now one of the most popular attractions in France.
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We took the train from St. Lazare station. A piano is provided for anyone who wishes to play. We were serenaded by a very accomplished classical pianist.
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The station looked much as it did when Monet painted it.
A short train ride, shorter bus ride and here is what you see!  An abundance of flowers and vines all arranged with an artist's eye.

Apparently every season has its own unique beauty here.  We are seeing it in early summer.  The tulips are gone.
The peonies are my favorites! 
The old fashioned roses have strong perfume.  I love these.
There is obviously an army of gardeners needed to care for this place.
Today is a cloudy one but that makes the nicest reflections.
This must have been such a lovely place to live.  From inside the dining room you would have a full view of the garden.

We loved our day here.   It was less crowded than later in the summer.  If you come take the first train of the day and have a
 
On warm Paris evenings Parisians flock to the banks of the Seine for picnic dinner.  We meet in front of Notre Dame and descend the stairs to their picnic spot.  Her friend Phillip, her beautiful daughter Charlotte, and her neighbor Francois have spread a blanket and claimed a cement bench for the evening.

We feast on camembert, hummous, bread, strawberries, prosciutto, and olives.  The wine is opened.  We wave at the batou mousche passengers.  Our view is the Seine and Notre Dame, what could be more perfect for our second evening in Paris?  Angel is happy for attention (and treats).

We’ve watched some dark threatening clouds moving toward us up the Seine.  Since we have finished our meal and it is after 10 pm we pack up the picnic and climb the steps to the bridge across the Seine to Isle le Cite.  A couple of wet drops and then a deluge.  There is nowhere to escape it.  We wave goodbye to our friends and run to the closest café.  We spend the next hour laughing with two 20 something Aussie fellows.  We are drenched, soaking wet, but very happy.

 
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Angel and I arrived in Paris Friday mid day and fortunately John met us at the Customs exit - I was so glad to see him  and also so happy to have his help with my "way too much" luggage.

This Paris day was hot and muggy and the metro ride to the Chatelet station was oppressively crowded and steamy.  The hotel's location is perfect, especially its close proximity to the metro station.

We napped for several hours then took a nice walk by Notre Dame, Isle Saint Louis, and to the Bastille.  Afterward we had dinner on Avenue Beaumarchais at a delightful seafood restaurant.  Great oysters from Brittany and Normandy and then a nice light Dourade fish.  At 11 pm we ambled through the Marais with its little alleyways.  There were quite a few Hasidic Jewish men and boys hurrying home from the synagogue.  Back to the hotel for a good night's sleep and I awoke in the morning feeling fresh and jet lag free.


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It is a beautiful sunny Saturday morning so we decide to explore a park.  We ascend into the sunshine from the stuffy subway air at the end of the line at the Vincennes station.  A welcoming soft breeze greets us.  Ahead lies the verdant  park with curving pedestrian paths lined with oak trees.  We amble along looking for the Chateau that is supposed to be directly across from the metro station but it is nowhere to be seen.  A middle aged man in a business suit carrying briefcase comes running past us, obviously late for something.  We walk into the woods a bit further and decide that we must be heading away from the Chateau.  We walk back to where we started at the metro station.

“Ou le Chateau?” we ask the man with the briefcase as he boards a taxi.  He directs us straight ahead and to the right “You can’t miss it.”  He is right, there it is just ahead and it is gigantic and consists of many buildings, several obviously very old castle, newer ornate structures that resemble apartment buildings, and crumbling forts from long ago.  The assemblage of buildings seems more like a town than a single chateau.  A tall wall and empty moat encircle it.  We enter over a drawbridge past an unmanned ticket office.


Inside there are large grounds and booths are set up in preparation for the end of a marathon run.  We proceed through the entrance to what appears to be the central building which looks older than most of the others and has turrets on top.  The woman at the entrance explains that entrance is free to day due to the marathon event.

This building was the original seat of power for the French kings.  Originally it was a hunting lodge for the King in 1100.  Later it was a castle and then eventually a more modern chateau.   It was well located quite some distance from Paris as it was easier to defend than it would have been within the City.  There are four stories to this castle, many rooms including the King’s closet, latrine, and bedroom.   There is also a prison that held many famous political prisoners.

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After the Chateau we want to visit the “Park Floral”.  There is also a zoo here but it is closed for a major renovation (I wonder where they sent the animals).  Its manicured gardens are filled with bright blooming flowers purple, red, pink, white, yellow, and blue.  My favorites, peonies, are in full blossom.


Being Sunday, the park is crowded with families picnicking in the sunshine.  Some are napping on their blankets.  A young couple practice gymnastics.  Children sail their small boats on the lake.  The scene reminds me of a painting by Seurat which I think is titled “Sunday in the Park.”  Maybe it was painted here.

Later there is a concert which we listened to briefly but it was rather “new age” jazz and quickly put us to sleep.  The afternoon is hot and muggy.  We need to head back to the hotel as we are meeting our friend Marielle and her friends for a picnic on the Seine this evening.