Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Uzès, Day Nine: Markets and Social Blunders

Today was what we call a rest day – a day meant to allow us to recover from more extended outings like yesterday’s trip to the Pont du Gard where we focus mostly on in-town activities. I think it helps us not lose our minds navigating the French roads and it also allows the pre-schooler to recover from missing his naps. He’s on the verge of not needing them, but boy can we tell when he doesn’t get one.

We got a late start to the morning, heading up to the Saturday market around ten AM.  This was much later than our previous trips to the market, and we could tell just by the packed crowds. I would love to take some pictures of the stalls for you, but to do so would inconvenience people doing their shopping, and there’s nothing that sends me into a spiral of anxiety like inconveniencing people who don’t speak English.  Navigating the tightly packed stalls selling everything from fresh olives and tapanades to giant wheels of cheese to fresh duck meat with a group of four adults and one little one was nigh-impossible.  Eventually, I took some of the items on the shopping list and went off to collect them on my own. I just can’t seem to handle the anxiety of feeling responsible for four other bodies in such tight quarters.  We gathered up all we wanted and more (I don’t know how we’re going to eat all this cheese in time), and that allowed Sarah and I to wander back on our own while the little one played on his iPad with his grandparents.  I picked up a couple of French comics that looked interesting and yet more cheese (…so I think I have a problem).  Sarah bought some breakfast radishes. My muddled french gets me through basic transactions pretty well most of the time, and when they don’t speak English, Sarah is typically there to save the day.  This trip is a lot of work on her language skills, but I don’t know how we would do it without her, honestly.

With the shopping done, I settled in to get some work done on Ye Olde Laptop.  I’m working on my annual update to my base WordPress theme code.  I’m finally breaking things out into a core functionality plugin (I know, I know) and adding some new flexibility I’ve wanted for a while.  Along the way, I’m testing the new Gutenberg editor with the other tools that are needed for the complex sorts of back-end coding I use to build things like customized book pages.  So far, its awful and I hate Gutenberg. I hope they fix a lot of things about it before foisting it on us.  To my clients, I don’t recommend testing Gutenberg just yet. It’s still got a long ways to go before it’s ready for your sites.  But when it is ready, I’ll hopefully be much closer to being ready to develop custom blocks and such for it.

My code refresh is coming along slowly–I’m not sure that I’ll actually finish things completely before we go home. That’s probably okay. Maybe I’ll take things slow in June while I finish it up and get re-adjusted to Central time.  I really need to start earning money pretty quickly, though.  I wish there were about 50% more working hours in any given day, I swear.

As far as blunders, it took us until nine days to completely fluster a wait person at a restaurant.  Really, we should be proud, but the entire time I wanted to crawl under a rock. This was a pretty complex blunder, actually, so it took us some time to figure out what went wrong. There’s a nice pizza place a couple of blocks away.  We know it’s nice because we picked up a couple of pizzas from there as takeaway a few days ago. This is wood-fired oven, high quality pizza, very Italian style.  The two pizzas were more than enough for us. The problem came when we attempted to dine in and order roughly the same number of items.

The waitress tried in her English and then in French to explain that two pizzas was not enough food for five of us.  We tried to explain that we’d ordered take away and it had been fine.  Eventually, she went ahead and put in the order, but seemed pretty frustrated and annoyed by us.  Maybe not as much as we felt, but we apologized every time she came back, and I just wanted to run away and hide.

Sure enough, when the pizzas came, they were a bit smaller than the takeaway ones had been, or at least they seemed to be to me.  We tried to make up for things by ordering a lot of very tasty dessert. Still, I think they were happy to see us go. And it was a relief for us to get out of there.

Sarah felt especially bad because her French is the best of all of ours, but I think what we probably should have done was, when it was pointed out that we’d under-ordered, was went ahead and ordered a pizza for each person, as that seemed to be expected. These are the kind of stupid, low key social mistakes that haunt me for years for some dumb reason. I’ll probably have unpleasant dreams about it years from now, like those dreams in which you show up naked for a college final for a class you never knew you were signed up for.

Tomorrow will likely be another rest day – perhaps a visit to the local candy factory / museum in the afternoon, but otherwise, we’ll soak in some French life around the rental (and I think everyone is going to go to Mass except for me). Right now, it’s raining, the bells are ringing, and even the smell of the rain is different enough to remind me that I’m not in Kansas. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll make fewer faux pas.  And if not? C’est la vie.


Uzès, Day Eight: Pont du Gard

Today, we took a 20 minute drive out of town to go visit the Pont du Gard, which is a segment of ancient Roman aquaduct that bridges a nearby river. It’s quite enormous, and oddly, covered with carved graffiti dating as far back as the 1730s (possibly further).

I had a pounding headache for much of the day, so while it was amazing to witness yet another Roman feat of engineering, the experience today was a bit blunted in conjunction with the headache and last night’s realization that I still have to go home and return to the life I’ve been living. Which, to be frank, I really don’t want to do.

For the past couple of years, I have been burning the candle at both ends, focused almost exclusively on my business, ot the point that I’m nearly the fattest and unhealthiest I’ve ever been. I don’t want to go home and be that person anymore, but that person manages to support a family of three on a freelancer’s income. That’s somewhat of a rare thing. I’m hoping I have an epiphany some time in the next three weeks about how I can start to live healthier and still maintain the quality of life we’ve come to expect on a financial level (or perhaps figure out things we can do without?).

Anyway, that’s been a drag on me today, as I spent a good chunk of time last night analyzing what work tasks I need to perform in 2018 still, and it’s all been a bit overwhelming.  Meanwhile, here, have some photos of the Pont du Gard.


Day Seven: The Roman Ruins of Nîmes

I have spent much of my adult life day-dreaming about visiting ancient Roman ruins.  In high school, while others were taking sensible languages like Spanish, French, or German, I took Latin, which has a huge historical component.  As much as you learn the language, you also learn Roman history. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by the Roman Empire.  Today was one for the bucket list, for we visited two different buildings of Roman construction.

Up first, we visited the Arena of Nîmes.  To our disappointment, it was currently closed to the public for tours because the arena is still in active use by the local people. For the next four days, the arena will be home to bull fighting and rodeo events.  The bull fighting of this region is not the violent, deadly kind, but involves snatching ribbons from between the horns of the bull, and does not injure the animal. We’re talking about trying to get tickets and going back over to witness this. I couldn’t bear to watch a bull killed, but this form sounds entertaining!

The arena was a Roman amphitheater built in AD 70. It’s not every day you get to explore something this enormous and this old. I was speechless. I am constantly comparing the time scales here to the age of the United States. We think a hundred years is very old in the U.S., but here in France, they live beside construction built in the height of the Pax Romana! The sense of scale just boggles my poor Kansan mind.  I hope we do get to go back for a tour later, as I would love to see inside. It’s very impressive from the exterior!

After strolling around the Arena, we proceeded to the Maison Carrée, which is the facade of a temple built around 4-7 AD! Again, the preservation here is remarkable, and considered one of the best-preserved Roman temples in the world. I have wanted to lay my hands on a Roman column for nearly 25 years, and today I did this.  Sadly, I was not assaulted with the rush of memories from a past life as a Roman centurion, but them’s the breaks.

The interior of the temple is actually just a movie theater that shows a short movie about the history of the Roman Empire in the area, in French with English subtitles. It was entertaining and a nice break from all the walking around the city streets.  Nîmes was a little difficult to navigate because there were stalls and outdoor food tents set up everywhere as part of the festival associated with the bull-fighting, I assume. We attempted to find our way inside their historical museum, but it appeared to be closed due to construction, or perhaps in preparation for a Picasso exhibit that was supposed to open in a few days.

My temper grew short after all the walking around the museum trying to find an entrance, and I discovered that when I thought my phone had dropped a pin for the parking space of our vehicle, it had instead done so 20 miles outside of town.  Luckily, we were able to find our way back to the car, and despite some close quarters in the parking garage, we didn’t have nearly the same adventures in car travel this time. As much fun as it is to tell the story afterward, my anxiety is killing me every time we’re in the car, so I’m glad we didn’t get into any literal or figurative scrapes this time.

Attached below is a short gallery of some choice photos from the ruins in Nîmes.  Tomorrow, we’re going to go check out a segement of Roman aqueduct called the Pont du Gard!


Uzés, Day Six: Medieval Garden Photos and City Panoramas

Today’s entry is going to be short on words and long on pictures, which after the 2500 word bomb yesterday should probably come as a relief to all ten of you following along. You’d think that if I can write 2500 word blog posts, I could write a 2500+ word story without so much hand-wringing, but…

This morning was spent at the market in the Place aux Herbes again, shopping for groceries and general culinary delights.  For lunch, we tore into a variety pack of tapenades and other dips along with our daily staple, fresh baguette.  I’m becoming quite the fan of tapenade, which is just strange, considering you couldn’t pay me to eat olives before this trip. I guess the secret to getting me to eat something is to turn it into a dip. So very American of me, I suppose.

This afternoon, we ventured into the Medieval Garden of Uzes, which is at the base of the Bishop’s Tower not far at all from where we are staying.  There, I took many panoramas of the town itself as well as the plants and flowers of the garden below.  In one chamber, we found ancient graffiti carved into the stone walls, much of it made by prisoners in the 1600s proclaiming their innocence.  Finding a decent translation of what that was about has eluded us thus far, but I’m hoping to research it later. Seems there was something about a tax revolt? The place felt a little haunted in a peculiar way, at the very least by rats, which scurried away into the nooks and corners when I first walked in. Like so many places here, you can feel the history all around you in a way you just don’t in most of the United States. Being here really drives home just how young the country is (I guess if you ignore the centuries of Native American culture that was wiped out before we took everything, anyway).

It’s been a relaxing day, and I’m looking forward to seeing the roman ruins in Nimes tomorrow.  For now, enjoy this gallery of photos from day six!


Uzès, Day 4

Another quiet, slow day, but a success on the jet lag front.  I may not have fallen asleep until 2 AM, but I was up by 9 AM and have yet to succumb to the dreaded afternoon nap, which gives me hope that tonight will be a completely ordinary full night’s rest.

Once again, I took the morning to find a bakery and pick up a baguette.  I had to range further than before because the usual place I’d been visiting was closed, but the place I found had far better bread, so it was a net win.  Because this town sees so much weekend tourism, a lot of local businesses are closed on Mondays.  It looks like tomorrow, things pick back up again.

Another trip to a grocery store was a bit of an adventure due to the heavy rain and our inability to read detailed product labels.  My father-in-law desired a clothing detergent sans enzymes, which proved very difficult to find. We spent at least 15 minutes reading labels, until I finally Googled the issue and found a recommended product.

Speaking of searching for difficult things, I have sought in vain a place that serves croque madames, my favorite French meal, but it seems that such a sandwich is a regional thing not available here in Uzès.  Instead, I had a tartine, which was basically an open-faced sandwich covered in greens, thin-sliced ham and cheese, and a heavy layer of tapenade.  Me, eating an olive-based product is practically a sign of the end times, but to be honest, I loved it.  Another confirmed kill in the war on my childishly limited palette!  Something about traveling helps me get over a lot of my food hangups and enjoy whatever is put in front of me.  Even Sarah’s fish soup, which smelled AWFUL, tasted good (not that I would want to eat the whole thing).

We spent part of the day planning the rest of the week, and we have a series of day trips planned around the region.  Tomorrow, we will go to a replica cave to see cave paintings by Neandertals.  It looks like a lovely experience, although I must admit I’m disappointed I don’t get to see genuine articles. Later in the week, we’ll be headed to Nimes to take in several Roman ruins — I can’t express in words how excited I am for that. I took Latin in high school for two years and those classes were as much about Roman history as they were the language.  I’m no expert, but I never really thought I’d get to see genuine Roman ruins.  My life is far more awesome than I ever expected back in 1994.

For years, I’ve had a certain type of dream.  In it, I am following the usual route home in whatever town I’m currently living in, and instead of going left at some junction, I go right, and I find myself in some entirely new location, strange, unfamiliar, and thrilling.  Being in Uzès is like living that dream every day. I spend part of each day ambling down the many narrow streets and alleys of the town. Each trip, I discover nestled avenues lined with quirky shops and art galleries. I don’t know what that dream says about my psychology except that it probably confirms my status as a neophile.  In life, I constantly seek novel experiences and places.  I have a bit of wanderlust that I suppress in order to keep a job and take care of my family, but if I could do anything I wanted, regardless of finances, I think I would travel nonstop.  Give me a small laptop and a couple changes of clothes and I would be happy wandering to and fro.

For those of you asking for pictures, I’m sorry–I’m not taking nearly as many pictures as I expected; the photos don’t really convey how I feel about the place.  My photography skills are more rusty than I expected, of perhaps it is the iPhone I am using rather than my standard SLR.  But I’m enjoying simply being here and experiencing it, though, and I am taking enough pictures to remember the experience decades from now.

Other than my quiet walks and spending times with the family, I’ve been reading.  I finished Wendy Wagner’s An Oath of Dogs last night, and quite enjoyed it.  I really look forward to seeing what she writes next.  Meanwhile, I’m about to crack open a collection of Roger Aickman stories next. I have never read anything by the author, but the description of his work I came across made me think that I would very much enjoy his work.  Having time to read something other than the internet for work is quite the blessing, and I aim not not waste it.  It’s been wonderful not feeling like I *must* spend time at the computer every day.  An hour or so to check on the status of my sites, run updates, and then write these posts.  How wonderful!  I do wonder if I might be able to make a vacation like this happen every year, even if it’s not overseas, but a disconnection from the internet annually could be quite good for me.  We’ll see!

No fiction writing as of yet.  I have half-formed ideas and thoughts, but nothing is begging me to write it.  So many half-starts in the past year, but nothing speaks to me lately.  I have relied for years on raw enthusiasm to carry me through the work of writing, and that enthusiasm has been missing.  My career has been going so well, and I wish I could find my joy for it again. I hope I do soon.  I’m hoping for this trip to help me with so many thing simply by giving me the space and time to think about them without worrying about work.  But enough about that. It’s time to read and relax once more.

Tune in tomorrow for details about the cave painting museum! I can’t wait!


Personal Life, Travel

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Uzès, Day 2 & 3

Day Two: market day.  This was what I was most looking forward to about France.  The food here is just tremendously good.  Simple meals of bread and cheese and meat and fruit are what I mostly go for, with dinners tending to be dining out at one of the dozens of local restaurants.

Sarah and I hit the Saturday market early and stocked up on the essentials (fruits, meats, cheeses, breads).  Because we’re here for about six markets worth of time (the market is both Wednesday and Saturday), our first stop was a nice basket made of woven straw.  With that acquired, we were off to the races.  All told, we spent about $70 on various staples, including an awful large chunk of cheese that we liked from a sample but turned out, once we got it home, to be a bit more bleu than we thought previously (but still good. Just not something you want to eat on a sandwich).  My favorite purchase was a $16 smoked ham… shank? Basically, the closest thing to spanish style ham I’ve seen anywhere, and it’s long been my goal to have iberico ham. We also bought four varieties of naturally preserved sausage – the kind you see hanging on ropes from stalls.  We’ve nearly finished the duck sausage already, but luckily we have the rest to keep us until Wednesday.  Dinner was at a local creperie, and I had a wonderful galette.  I hope to revisit for one of their actual crepes some morning.

We capped off the evening by watching some real live Eurovision- something I’ve watched other people watch via Twitter. No truly outrageous acts this year that we saw.

Today, day three, has been a day of rest, mostly.  The temperature has dropped into the 50s, and it’s been raining quite hard.  My day has consisted almost entirely of eating light meals, cleaning up, and napping. I walked to a patisserie for a baguette a bit ago, which was rather invigorating in the rain. The family went off to Catholic mass and had a good time at church, telling stories about watching the crowd. Now we’re assembling a basic dinner for ourselves and discussing plans for the upcoming days. Soon, I’ll climb up stairs, pull a chair over to an open window, and read until I get tired.

I feel ten years younger than I did a week ago.



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Uzès, Day One

Here we are at the end of our first full day in France, and boy are my feet tired. One unfortunate reality of vacations is that you take your own body with you, and my body is a flaming heap of garbage lately. Much like my childhood hero Benjamin Franklin, I struggle a little bit with gout, which has been triggered by some other medical stuff.  I had hoped to not deal with Madame Gout while in France, but alas, it has followed me here along with other constant companions such as social anxiety and generally just being a fat bastard.

That said, I haven’t had to spend ten hours a day sitting at a keyboard, so my problems seem less significant.  The pain in my foot is mostly under control, provided I don’t tap it against anything too hard, and walking is still possible for the moment.  I’m drinking as much water as I can in the meanwhile, which can help, and I have meds which sorta help.

Today has been a day of rest and orientation. The most important thing we accomplished was finding a local grocery store and picking up some basics.  I was able, early in the morning, to make a quick walk to a small bakery and buy a couple of baguettes which we made our breakfast and part of lunch. I can already tell that we’re going to go through 2-3 loaves of the stuff a day with five of us.  It looks like our general habit will be to eat breakfast and lunch from here in the rental, and then likely head out for a dinner at any of the dozens of restaurants within walking distance.  Tonight, we had hamburgers – not very French, I know, although my burger had goat cheese and fig jam, so at least some of the ingredients were pretty French.  I’m dying to have a good steak au poivre soon.

A two-plus hour nap was sadly in the cards today. I was hoping to beat jetlag with my “stay up really long” trick but I still have some adapting to do, as does little Matty.  The nap felt great though, even if I was woken up every hour by the ringing bells from various churches around town.

Tomorrow is market day, which is renowned throughout the region, and I’ve got my euros ready so that we can stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables and cheese and dried meats and and and…



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Uzès, Day 0

Travel from the United States to a place like Uzès is not exactly easy.  We Midwesterners are used to traveling long distances to get to anywhere interesting, but I’ve noticed that especially for people not from the U.S., the distances and travel times don’t sink in until I walk you through them. Let me give you the nuts and bolts:

  • First, drive one hour from Lawrence to the Kansas City airport
  • Catch a flight to Detroit, about two hours long.
  • In Detroit, board a large plane to Paris for about eight hours.
  • In Paris, board a bus from Charles de Gaulle to the Gare de Lyon train station for an hour.
  • Wait four hours for your train to arrive.
  • Take a three to four hour bullet train from Paris to Nimes.  Get yourself a rental car at the train station.
  • Drive about 30 minutes from Nimes to Uzés on roads that probably were first laid out in the time of Caesar.

If you’re me, and you can’t sleep sitting up, this means you stay awake for a very long time (about 32 hours for me).  No big deal though when France is your destination! We pulled into town at about 7 PM on Thursday, after having been awake since 7 AM Kansas time the previous day. I was feeling the exhaustion, but my plan for dealing with jet lag on the first day was to roll on up to bed time local time, take my meds, and then crash.  So far, that seems to have worked.

After getting a lovely tour of our AirBnB from the owner, Pierre, we unpacked a bit and then headed out down the cobblestone streets looking for something to eat. We settled into a little pizza parlor on the place aux herbs.  We had a platter of meat and cheese, pickles, and various other finger foods, some wine, and for our main course, a couple of wood-fired oven pizzas that were delicious.  Uzés is positioned such that it has many different regional influences on its cuisine, and I don’t think these pizzas would have been out of place in Italy.

Within minutes of sitting down, a local boy a couple of tables over had roped Matty into sword fighting with him using a pair of plastic swords.  As the sun set and the fairy lights came on in the Sycamore trees around the plaza, the pair, who didn’t share more than a couple of words, darted around the large stone fountain and dueled.  We spoke with their parents briefly, who were very kind and welcoming and encouraging of their play.  We couldn’t have asked for a better welcome for our family in Uzès.  So far, everyone is incredibly kind, friendly, and welcoming.

By 10 PM, we headed to bed, and as far as I can tell, we all got a good night’s sleep on the local schedule. It’s now early morning of day one. We plan to stock up on a little groceries, unpack some more, and generally decompress. I expect a nap in my future after lunch.

Initial reactions: everything is amazing here and I’m never going home.


Place aux herbes

Personal Life, Travel

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