Traveling with Rob in La Belle France-Part 2

In the soft evening light the pastoral landscape is flying by like a series of beautiful paintings. My memory is blurred like a dream. I only remember, meandering little rivers, soft wooded hills, small orchards, vineyards, and villages nestled into the valleys. Over the ages houses and walls built out of local rocks and materials have become an integral part of their natural surroundings. I wished to have more time to explore and to meet the local people.

200701311328340.Wine-RegionsDarkness is setting in, when we arrive at Brays et Mons. Rob has no problem finding his destination. There are only a few houses built out of gray rocks almost looking like fortresses. We reach a beautifully fenced in yard. A dense profusion of blooming shrubs and budding leaf trees is hiding the residence from view. Rob drives slowly through the decorative iron gate onto a wide driveway leading through a small park towards a charming white building. It looks like an elegant mansion or small castle. Big windows, balconies, terraces and airy French doors are leading from all directions into the garden. In contrast to the well-kept building, the flowerbeds and lawns are overgrown with weeds and winter debris and look neglected.

Here we are, at the Castello de Bray et Mons,” says Rob with a big smile.

I am delighted. It has been a full day, progressively getting better after a stressful start with our vehicle. And there is the prospect of a grand finale.

The patron of the estate meets us at the colorful stained glass doors of the entrance. He is a stout, middle-aged man of medium height with unremarkable features. He greets us formally in French. Obviously he has been expecting us, and as he indicates, a bit sooner. Grabbing our luggage, he immediately leads us up a flight of an amazing spiral staircase. It is the masterpiece of a noted French architect whose name I forget. The bedrooms are situated in a circle around the landing. The patron deposits our luggage in front of one of the doors and unlocks it with a big old-fashioned key.

spiral staircase

Voilà,” he says with a discreet side-glance at me.

I am riveted to the floor. After having seen the dolorous black room decorated in somber colours at Chanonceau this room is a dream in white. The enormous bed dominating the chamber is covered with starched, immaculately white linen adorned with precious lace. The wall tapestry is of a shining white silk material. The soft white carpet is spotless. Delicate sheer curtains like bridal veils are gently moving in the evening breeze in front of the open French doors. On a lace covered table stands a magnificent vase with blossoming branches in it. White petals have fallen on a small statue of stone lovers intertwined forever in a passionate embrace. The end of the room is partitioned off by a white Dutch gate barely hiding a huge white enameled bathtub standing on golden feet in front of a mirrored wall. Two luxurious white bathrobes are hanging over a bench. The room radiates such untouched beauty that I envision a delicate princess, like Snow White, lying on that immaculate bed, forever waiting for her prince.


Rob and I are standing at the entrance spell bound. I don’t know for how long.

Ça vous plaît?” the proprietor suddenly asks breaking the silence.

Enchantée”, I reply, “mais…” I stumble nervously searching for appropriate words to explain that I cannot sleep in this enchanting bridal chamber with my son.

C’est mon fils”, I finally manage to say in French.

The patron seems unperturbed. “Votre fils, votre frère, votre mari, ça ne m’intéresse pas. C’est votre affaire,” he answers shrugging his shoulders to show his indifference.

Rob,” I whisper panic stricken in English, “we have to get another room. This is a honeymoon suite.”

Yes, Mom,” Rob agrees, “but it is getting late, and I don’t know if there are other hotels in this small village.”

Trying to take control of this embarrassing situation, I ask in an assertive voice, “Une autre chambre, s’il vous plaît?”

The proprietor staring into space with a bored expression mumbles, “C’est dommage, but..,” he continues in perfect English, “ we have one more room available, which, however, will cost you more.”

Oh, you speak English!” I exclaim surprised. Taking a deep breath I almost shout, “In my fax I told you that I would come with my son. How can you offer us this inappropriate room and charge us more for another one!”

Provoked by his arrogance I am not afraid to create a scene. Rob, however, immediately interrupts my attempts to fight for a fair deal saying in a firm voice, “Mom, leave it to me, I am paying for the room.”

Grabbing our luggage the proprietor quickly leads us to the adjacent hunter’s chamber.

Voilà, Monsieur,” he says completely ignoring me.

Rob whose face had disappointment written all over moments ago immediately lights up. This room is more to our liking. Two solid rustic beds with beautifully crafted thick quilts look very inviting. Original paintings and precious tapestries depicting local wild life and colourful hunting scenes adorn the walls. Fresh scented air is wafting in from the garden through the big open windows. I am happy that there is a door in front of the bathroom allowing for privacy. The bathtub is not standing on golden feet as in the white room but is spacious and comfortable. To my great joy there are also two thick, luxurious bathrobes at our disposal, one pink and one blue. Would Peter and I have enjoyed sleeping in the white room I briefly ask myself. Definitely not!

hunters room

Blissfully relaxing in soapy suds before changing for dinner I call out to Rob, “This is so wonderful Rob, I feel like a queen!”

We arrive in the floral dining room around nine, which for French standards is not late. The tablecloths, napkins, curtains and tapestry are all printed with boldly colored oversized spring flowers. The small bouquets of real flowers on the tables are lost in this overpowering display. A tall, young waiter with a sad look in his dark eyes seats us at a corner table with velvety green benches. Only two other tables are occupied. One with two formally dressed middle-aged couples from Belgium, overweight and red faced, talking loudly. On the other table are two elderly couples from Britain, sprightly thin and wrinkled, engaged in a more subdued conversation. I wonder with a chuckle, if they have also been offered the bridal chamber first.


Rob decides to be adventurous and orders snails for his entrée. That would be my last choice. Only under the ultimate threat of starvation would I try them. But for Rob’s sake I make a special effort to hide my feelings of disgust. I order salmon mousse. Both Rob and I are pleased by our first choices.

Snails taste a bit like squid,” Rob informs me.

Animated by a second glass of delicious house wine, we try to select the main course. We both have developed a hearty appetite.

Rognons de boeuf seems like a good choice to me,” I tell Rob who is seeking my advice.

Rognons I think means little round pieces and boeuf is beef. While studying the menu, I realize that my language skills are still very limited when it comes to deciphering specialties of French cuisine. At least I know that boeuf is beef. A safe choice, I think.

We are on our third glass of wine and in animated spirits, when the serious looking young waiter quietly serves us our main course. I notice a faintly sour smell coming from my plate and those little round pieces in the whitish sauce are definitely not pieces of beef.

French beef looks very different,” I say jokingly to Rob discreetly inspecting a small round specimen on my fork.

Mom, this is not beef, these are kidneys you ordered,” Rob says with a disgusted look on his face.

I hate kidneys!” I had not seen kidneys since my early childhood when my father sometimes used to eat them.

I am immediately overcome with the same strong feelings of nausea, which this dish used to provoke in me then. Trying to keep control, I quickly push the plate aside. In an instant the young waiter arrives at our table.

Is something wrong?” he asks in perfect English pointing to my plate.

I am perplexed. He had stood there silently waiting for our orders when I had explained to Rob that ‘rognons de boeuf’ mean little round pieces of beef. I had assumed that he did not speak English. He could have helped us with our selection. But I will not blame him.

Sorry, we made a mistake ordering this dish. We both don’t like kidneys,” I say.

For the first time this evening the young man’s face lights up in a sympathetic smile and he answers, “I don’t like them either. I’ll take your plates back and you can order something else,” he offers. “Maybe I can convince my father not to charge you extra for these,” he adds.

But I have my doubts. “No!” I say firmly brushing aside Rob’s protests. ”This is my mistake and I’ll pay.”

Anyway,” the young waiter briefly interrupts, “I’ll bring you another glass of wine which is on me and I’ll help you with the selection on the menu when you are ready.”

Having lost our appetite for meat this evening, we choose a local seafood dish, which turns out to be a tasty choice.

Where did you learn English so well?” I ask the young man who seems to like talking to us.

In Florida,” he answers. “I was born and raised there by my Francophone parents. After their divorce two years ago, my father bought this place and moved back to France.

You must love it here!” I exclaim. Impressions of the beautiful countryside and castles are still vivid in my memory.

Not at all! I hate it here!” he says emphatically, looking sad again. “I want to go back home to the States.”

Lingering over a delicious desert of crème brulé, we are the only guests left. The young man takes the opportunity to join us again. In an animated conversation, he and Rob, both natives of North America, amicably exchange their thoughts and impressions of their life in Europe. I sit back relaxing, sipping my wine, enjoying the moment, and the transient friendly relationship with this young man. Before he can say good-bye, he is abruptly called to the kitchen by his rude father. I am glad he does not take after him.

We have a wonderful sleep under those heavy warm quilts protecting us snugly from the frosty night. Crisp, chilly air has invaded our room. It is early morning. We have to return our little car to the dealer in Tours before lunch to catch an afternoon train to Paris for the wedding. Shivering in my light spring outfit, waiting for Rob to finish shaving, I can hardly wait for breakfast. The prospect of steaming hot coffee and warm croissants with melted butter is already warming me up.

Go down and start breakfast without me. I’ll join you in a while,” Rob shouts from the washroom. He is not a big breakfast eater.

Today I have a ravenous appetite and decide to have a substantial meal. I almost fall down those famous spiral stairs in my haste to get to the dining room. Everything is quiet there. No one in sight. After my third “hallo” tentatively called into different directions, the proprietor shuffles in. He is well protected against the cold by wearing warm fleece slippers and a beautifully knit heavy wool sweater, which must have cost a fortune. It looks very new. Seating myself on a small round table close to the entrance, I eagerly ask for the breakfast menu.

Breakfast is not included!” he answers curtly avoiding my glance.

Although a continental breakfast is almost always included in the price of an overnight stay in France, I am so starved and in need of coffee that I am ready to pay extra.

I’ll pay,” I reply quickly.

Oh, no!” he says with emphasis turning to leave. ”We are not serving breakfast today.”

I am shocked. “O.K.,” I plead trying to hide my disappointment, “you can serve me at least a cup of coffee!”

It will take a while,” he replies and reluctantly shuffles into the nearby kitchen.

The door is left ajar and I can hear him putter around. Obviously there hasn’t been any coffee brewed yet. Suddenly I hear the shatter of glass, followed immediately by a loud expletive, ”Merde.” In a flash the patron dashes out of the kitchen door with a brown liquid dripping from the front of his precious sweater. After a few moments he returns heading straight back to the kitchen. This time he is wearing an apron and an old flannel shirt. I hear some more clanking noises, and eventually he serves me with a stony face a cup of steaming hot, black coffee. He does not say a word and I refrain from expressing my sympathy at his mishap. It would have been hypocritical to say the least. To his credit, the coffee tastes wonderfully strong and I enjoy every sip of it.

There is frost on the windshield, when Rob puts the luggage in the car. I pity the flowering fruit trees, which had burst so early into bloom. Nibbling on some cookies and apples we drive off to Tours. Trying to ward off our hunger pangs, we are planning to have an early lunch before catching the train to Paris. Late morning we safely arrive in Tours. Before returning our car to the dealer, Rob drops me off at the train station with the luggage. We want to store it there before going out for lunch. I am amazed how deserted the train station is at this hour. Not a soul in sight. And to my dismay I remember that you cannot store luggage at train stations in France because of threats of terrorism.


It takes Rob about twenty minutes to return and I am puzzled that nobody enters the station during that time. Very strange, I think. Tours is a big place. Don’t people take trains? None of the ticket counters are open, either. Stepping out of the building for a moment, I spot a policeman. I manage to ask him in French why the train station is so deserted. “En grève”, he informs me laconically. Quickly looking up ”grève” in my pocket dictionary I am shocked to find out that it means strike. We quickly forget our plans to find a place to eat but rather try to find a way to get to Paris. Still debating what to do, we are suddenly approached by the policeman. He informs us that at around four o’clock at near-by subsidiary station one train to Paris is coming through. This friendly policeman also helps us to find a small office close to the station where we can temporarily store our luggage. Obviously we do not look like terrorists to him.

View of the 'Place Plumereau', located in the old city of Tours, with its café terrasse and famous half-timbered houses. The french city of Tours is located on the lower reaches of the river Loire, between Orléans and Saumur. It has a central location in the Loire Valley for anyone eager to discover the World Heritage site composed by Chateaux de la Loire and the Loire river.

View of the ‘Place Plumereau’, located in the old city of Tours, with its café terrasse and famous half-timbered houses. The french city of Tours is located on the lower reaches of the river Loire, between Orléans and Saumur. It has a central location in the Loire Valley for anyone eager to discover the World Heritage site composed by Chateaux de la Loire and the Loire river.

Downtown is in walking distance. The streets are bustling with people on this wonderful spring day, and there are lots of different eating establishments. Rob selects an Italian restaurant, which serves his comfort food, spaghetti with meat sauce. I seem to have lost my appetite and go for a salad. After retrieving our luggage, we take a taxi to the near by station. The taxi driver, a young passionate man, with a slight accent is very sympathetic to our predicament. Hearing that we are from Canada going to a wedding, he is raving and ranting about the stupidity of the government, which lets these apparently frequent strikes happen. Apologizing for the inconvenience, which this strike is causing us, he is adamant in not accepting any fare or tip. He even carries our luggage into the station wishing us luck and “bon voyage” like a friend.


Canada is a good country,” he says in parting with a big generous smile. We are deeply impressed by this unexpected hospitality of a complete stranger.

The station is packed with people. On the quay where the train to Paris is supposed to arrive crowds of people are standing, sitting or even lying around. Strangely enough, it is very quiet. There is definitely no holiday atmosphere. Most people have an apprehensive look staring silently in the direction from where the train is to come. No one knows the exact time. I have visions of people in war times, fugitives, soldiers, families, desperately waiting for a train to escape danger. There is no danger for us, only inconvenience.

Eventually, after a long, silent wait, we hear the train approaching. My fear that people will brutally force their way into it, pushing and shoving, does not materialize. Everyone quietly and civilly waits their turn and boards in orderly fashion. Miraculously no one is left behind. A courteous gentleman with a friendly smile even offers me his seat in the overcrowded compartments. People start relaxing. Lively conversations spring up even among strangers as if everyone is trying to make up for the long silence. In this cheerful atmosphere we travel to Paris and make it from there safely to Saint Etienne to Richard and Agathe’s wedding. But that’s another long story.

Traveling with Rob in la Belle France – Part I 1997 ( Another Detour from my Childhood memories)

Dear friends.  On this post I take another break from my  childhood memories and travel to the future.  I’ll return to my past very soon.  Hope you like the interlude.

When we travel we have to expect the unexpected. The most memorable events of our journeys are often unplanned. In retrospect we can laugh about stressful or embarrassing situations. They are the stories we tell our friends. For over 25 years I hardly had the opportunity to travel far, especially alone, without my husband and family. Our budget was stretched to the limit by the financial demands of raising five sons. However, we had a constant stream of visitors every summer, from far and wide who had interesting stories to tell.

Then came the time, when our sons flew out of the nest. One by one they discovered the joy of traveling in the big wide world. Our oldest son, Rob, fell in love with Italy, and our second son, Rick, with France, or rather with a beautiful girl from Paris. To our great surprise, he was the first of the boys to announce wedding plans. The marriage was to take place in a small village, close to Paris, called Saint Etienne Roilaye.

This announcement caused great excitement in our quieted down household. Since our budget would not allow for two tickets to Europe, my husband, Peter, magnanimously decided that I should be the one to go. I was overjoyed. Our oldest son working in Germany as a civil engineer supported his father’s decision wholeheartedly. He offered to take me on a short sightseeing trip to the castles of the Loire before escorting me to the wedding.

“You deserve a real holiday Mom,” he declared, “and since you are proficient in French I feel comfortable traveling to France with you.”

I was extremely touched by his invitation. It exceeded my wildest dreams. When the boys were still in diapers, I started envisioning all the exciting things we could do together in the future. Traveling was high on that list. Now my dreams were coming true! All the maternal sacrifices of the past were forgotten in an instant. What wonderful prospects lay before me! Since I was far from proficient in the French language I practiced speaking it from dawn to dusk until my German accent took on French overtones and strangers asked me if I had recently moved here from eastern Canada.

On a beautiful spring day, in the middle of April, I start my journey to the old country. Not accustomed to traveling alone I feel somewhat lonesome and insecure after saying good-bye to Peter at the Kelowna airport. These feelings intensify in the crowd of strangers at the Vancouver airport terminal. Suddenly I am embraced from behind. Two excited voices are screaming simultaneously in my ears, “Gertrud, what on earth are you doing here?”

Anita and Gerhard, two old acquaintances we had lost contact with, are bombarding me with questions. Friends of our Bavarian neighbor, they are part of the visiting crowd of seasoned globetrotters whose stories we had listened to in the past. And as coincidence wants it, they have seats right beside me on the same flight. To travel with friends is like having guardian angels accompany you. Engaged in animated conversation, the time passes quickly. Before I know it, we have crossed Greenland, Iceland, the North Atlantic and Scotland. We are preparing for landing.

Since I arrived late at night, my travel agent had arranged for a stay in a hotel in Frankfurt. It is located at the outskirts of the city beside a huge and lifeless computer terminal building heavily fenced in like a prison. On the other side is an idyllic little park with a fishpond and bird sanctuary. Waking up at dawn, not accustomed to the time difference yet, I have the opportunity to admire the sunrise. The distant city on the horizon is bathed in golden light. I listen to the cheerful chirping of birds greeting the new day and watch two wild rabbits playfully chase each other on the strip of grass around the computer terminal. I even venture on an early morning walk to the nearby fishing pond, a quiet green oasis. The bushes and trees are just bursting forth with fresh new leaves. Usually, I am not an early riser. Therefore, it is quite an exciting experience for me to walk before breakfast. The girls on the reception desk of the hotel who I had asked for directions are relieved to see me come back. They had worried about me walking all alone so early in the morning. They welcome me back with friendly greetings.


Mystical Morning – Photo Credit: Mike Saupe

I had phoned Rob when I arrived late last night. He had asked me to compose a short note in French, to confirm a hotel reservation in Mons, the last destination of our planned sight seeing trip. All other arrangements he had been able to do in either English or German. Glad to be able to show off my French skills, I took this task very seriously and sacrificed quite a bit of time and paper in the process. Finally, this note, written in my neatest hand writing is faxed off to the hotel with the romantic name of “Le castello de Brays et Mons.”

The next day I meet Rob in Stuttgart, and together we have a wonderful excursion to Heidelberg. I had never been to this famous tourist attraction before. After climbing on a cobble stone road up to the imposing ruin, we enjoy sitting in the shade of a budding Linden tree in the idyllic garden cafe. While eating a delicious apple Strudel, we are watching little sparrows hop from branch to castle wall cheerfully chirping, and nimbly picking up seeds and crumbs. I remember old photographs of my mom in her youth posing as a charming tour guide with groups of mostly American tourists in front of these walls. Sitting here with Rob, I suddenly feel her spirit surround us.


The train we take to Paris the following day is crowded with noisy schoolgirls who are going on exchange programs to France. The exuberant holiday atmosphere is contagious. Many of the teenagers practice their flirting skills on Rob. For a while he enjoys being their centre of attention until they become bothersome like persistent flies. I am free to look out of the window and see the beautiful spring landscape pass by. Even old dilapidated walls look lovely when adorned with fresh leaves and colorful blossoms. Nature appears to be so tame in Europe. Forests are tended like parks and lack the pristine beauty of the Canadian wilderness.

Rob is relieved when we reach Paris. For hours the girls have been swarming over him like bees. No way to escape their pestering presence. Good-naturedly he endures their teasing. In Paris we have to change from one train station to another. For each cardinal direction there is a train station, which is connected to the other terminals by the Metro. In transit to Montparnasse we meet Rick, the prospective groom, at the station and deliver a suitcase bulging with wedding presents. Packed with Canadian whisky, Okanagan wine, smoked salmon, maple syrup and other gifts, it feels like a ton of bricks. Coming from so far, I am still amazed at the accomplishments of modern travel. We actually meet Rick exactly at the right time and appointed place among the crowds of strangers.

From Montparnasse we take a TGV (train de grande vitesse) to Tours. These famous trains reach a speed of 350 km per hour. At that dizzying pace the scenery is flying by in a blur of colours and shapes. Overcome by jet lag, I fall asleep as soon as I nestle into the comfortable seat of the luxurious compartment. Rob is disappointed that I do not show more enthusiasm for this momentous train ride. But all I want now and long for is a clean and comfortable bed.

tgv duplex train at Nice station

tgv duplex train at Nice station

I do not remember how long it took us to get to Tours. I vaguely remember stumbling out of this famous train like a sleepwalker rushed on by Rob. In spite of his limited French, Rob manages to get a taxi and tell the driver to take us to l’Hôtel d’Opéra. Before I have time to nod off again, we stop on a quiet side street in front of two ruined buildings. One is a completely dilapidated shell overgrown with weeds. Only broken down walls are remaining. The other appears in a slightly better condition. Although ravaged looking, the walls, windows and the roof seem to be still intact.

L’Opéra!” the taxi driver announces pointing to the ruins.

A cigarette in the corner of his mouth, he is stopping the taxi, opening the doors, removing our luggage with great speed from the trunk, depositing it on the sidewalk, and pocketing his fare.

Suddenly wide awake, I ask in disbelief, “L’Hôtel d’Opéra?”

“Là,” he replies jumping back into the cab.

On this once imposing but now dangerously crumbling flight of stairs, we enter the building with some trepidation. The glamour of days long gone by is still evident in the chipped and dusty chandeliers, the stained, worn out purple carpets, the faded murals, and the elegant interior design. A glowing bouquet of red tulips and yellow daffodils, beautifully arranged with blossoming branches on the reception desk in the entrance hall, detracts the eyes from the shabby surroundings.

Contrary to all expectations, our chamber-like room, on the second floor, has charm. A single bed standing close to the entrance is partitioned off by a screen. Rob graciously offers to take this and grants me the big double bed facing a huge open window leading out into a park. The branches of a blooming chestnut tree are almost touching the panes. Numerous birds have chosen this beautiful tree for their happy home. They are singing, twittering and chirping at their heart’s content. Taking a rest from their nest building they are enjoying the last sunrays of the declining day. A warm breeze stirs the delicate curtains. The air smells fresh and fragrant with the aroma of spring flowers and blossoms.

After a short stroll, admiring some of the interesting facades of the old buildings downtown, Rob and I are lured to a cozy restaurant by the enticing aromatic smells wafting out of the open door. The taste of grilled lamb chops swimming in a sauce seasoned to perfection lingers in my memory forever. Back at the hotel, I take a relaxing bath in the enormous, antique bathtub. I start feeling like a queen. The bed is comfortable and the sheets clean and smooth. I have a wonderful deep sleep until the birds’ jubilant morning concert wakes me up to another brilliant spring morning.


In the cheerful breakfast room the sunlight is making the fresh daffodils on the tables glow like miniature suns. While I am still savoring an extra cup of strong coffee, Rob returns with the car he has rented for our sightseeing tour. It is a Renault, so small that Rob’s head almost touches the roof and his knees the steering wheel. Settling comfortably into my seat I am full of joyful anticipation of our trip.

Ranault car

Rob is nervously manipulating the clutch to get out of the tight parking spot when suddenly the car jumps into reverse almost hitting the vehicle behind us. I am instantly on the alert.

“Are you familiar with the controls of this vehicle, Rob?” I ask trying to keep a calm tone of voice not to shock him into further erratic moves.

Slightly annoyed Rob answers, “Yes, Mom, but the clutch seems to be stuck.”

I am holding my breath until he succeeds to maneuver the vehicle onto the road. There it stalls momentarily and then starts bolting like a bucking horse. Luckily, there are no other vehicles on this quiet side road.

A bit jerkily Rob enters the main traffic route leading through the city. In the morning rush hour it is congested. For a while we are moving along smoothly and I start relaxing until Rob has to slow down at the bridge entrance. The clutch seems to get stuck again. The car jerks into reverse almost hitting the vehicle behind us. An instant cacophony of honking horns adds to our panic. Rob’s face and knuckles are ghastly white from shock, but he immediately manages to regain control and safely crosses the bridge moving along with the traffic. My heart, however, continues to pound wildly with fear. I feel faint but dare not say a word lest I might cause another disturbance. I have visions of Peter bemoaning the loss of his wife and oldest son in France. I am so nervous my mouth is parched. All I want is to get out of this vehicle and walk along the quietly flowing river to our right.


“Rob, can we stop for a while. I need a little walk,” I whisper in a hoarse voice.

“Mom, you must be crazy. How can I stop in this traffic?” Rob replies with irritation. His face has regained some color and his expression some assertiveness.

“Look for the sun, where is the sun?” he asks impatiently.

“What do you need the sun for?” I cry out in disbelief.

“To turn west,” he replies curtly.

I manage to locate the sun peeking behind some buildings to the right. Without stalling Rob succeeds to turn west onto a secondary highway. I am fervently praying for safe passage.

My prayers seem to get answered. The traffic is easing, the car continues to roll smoothly, and my heartbeat is slowing down. After successfully entering a deserted country road, Rob utters a sigh of relief.

“I can handle this baby now. The funny pin I have been pulling is only for the reverse gear. The dealer didn’t tell me. I had to find out the hard way,” he smiles stopping the car on a slightly sloping parking spot near a country lane. Freshly plowed fields of white chalk like soil stretch before us. A rooster is crowing from a farm near by. Birds are singing. The morning is still young.

“You can have your walk now,” Rob laughs jumping out of the vehicle and sprinting with his long legs towards a blossoming orchard. Rob had talked too soon. The capricious “baby” of a car starts rolling as soon as I step out. Trying to hold on to the open door I start screaming in desperation. In one leap Rob is there and with unexpected presence of mind corrects the problem. He had left the clutch in neutral.

We silently walk for a long while along the quiet country road trying to recover from our last shock. The air is crisp, the sky a hazy blue, and the early morning sun radiates gentle warmth. We come to a small river leisurely meandering through the pastoral landscape. We sit in solitude on a bench listening to the water’s soothing prattle. The meadow is lush green, and bees are buzzing around buttercups. Suddenly, as if on cue, we both burst out laughing. Racked with laughter we run back to the capricious little car. Our tension eases. We are ready to continue our adventure with restored confidence.

Miraculously, from now on we have no more trouble with our little French vehicle. I start enjoying the landscape painted in pastel colors by an early spring. Blooming meadows, yellow rape fields, flowering orchards, greening vineyards, small orderly villages, blossoming trees, spring flowers against ancient stone walls create a colorful kaleidoscope in my mind. We journey on at a reduced pace stopping here and there to briefly visit a less known castle, an ancient fortification or a charming village. The old stone houses with low rock walls encircling their front yards have become part of nature. They are overgrown with vines or other trailing plants. Even flowers grow in the stone crevices.

At Loches, an enchanting medieval looking town, we buy fresh strawberries at the market place admiring the colourful stalls selling the first produce of the season. Fresh asparagus, lettuce, peas and strawberries are a tantalizing feast for the eyes of a seasoned housewife like me. The air is perfumed with the scent of spring flowers. Beautiful bouquets of violets, daffodils, tulips, lilacs and roses are offered everywhere. An ancient cathedral is overlooking this timeless scene, a silent witness to countless market days of the past. There is laughter and good cheer as people of all ages mill around enjoying once again the wonderful gifts of a beautiful spring day.


For lunch we stop at Moulin Pierre, a small garden restaurant on the way. The ancient water mill is turning with a monotonous gurgling sound as in days long gone by. Sitting at a rustic table enjoying the warm sunshine and peaceful atmosphere we leisurely feast on an enormous platter of a great variety of aromatic cheeses and fresh crusty bread. I indulge in some red wine and Rob slurps with contentment a refreshing raspberry drink. Our spirits are wonderfully revived by this relaxing repast.

In the early afternoon we reach Chenonceau. The spacious parking lot and reception area is full of people. Enormous tour busses with license plates from different European countries are spilling hordes of noisy and excited tourists. Lots of boisterous school children are also milling around heading for washrooms, souvenir shops and refreshment stalls. Past the tall entrance gate of wrought iron, colourful groups of sightseers are walking on the wide alley, which used to lead horse drawn coaches and carriages to the castle in days gone by. The old shade trees flanking this imposing driveway have recently sprung into leaf. The fresh green is a delight for the eyes. I wish they could talk of the romantic history of this unique and beautiful water castle.

Chenonceau is built over the river Cher. The gallery or long reception hall is spanning across the gently flowing water like a bridge. Looking out from the big, recessed windows of stained glass, you have the feeling of floating on a riverboat. For most of its history Chenonceau has been in the possession of queens whose legacy has survived the ages. Queen Louise, widow of Henri III, created the black room after the death of her husband. The sad beauty of this lasting testimony of mourning is still haunting visitors today.



I was especially impressed by the huge vaulted kitchen, storage and work area located at the foundation pillars of the castle. I visualized wonderful feasts being prepared on those spacious heavy oak tables and counter tops. Only robust chefs with strength and stamina would be able to operate those heavy cast iron and copper cauldrons, pots and pans over the gigantic spits and artistically crafted wood stoves. And yet they also had to possess the exquisite finesse and gastronomic savoir typical of French cuisine. The grounds are artfully landscaped. Trimmed hedges, manicured lawns, trellised vine arbors, pruned trees, shaped flowerbeds and paved paths are skillfully arranged to create symmetrical designs. After a leisurely walk through the forest-like park, which has retained some of its natural wildness, Rob and I feel pleasantly tired.

Late afternoon, we reach the famous Villandry castle and gardens. The air is still balmy and the sky without a cloud. We seem to step into a picture book. Against the background of the flawless sky, the architecture of the gleaming white castle and the arrangements of the meticulously groomed, terraced gardens seem so perfect. We are awed and delighted by the intricate geometrical designs and patterns created by the artful interspersing of colourful flowers, herbs, vegetables, shrubs, hedges, small trees and trellised vines. We feel transported into an époque of the past when splendour was a way of life and natural surroundings were shaped into pieces of art.


In the golden glow of the setting sun we drive off to our final destination, the Castello de Brays and Mons.

There will be a surprise for you, Mom!” says Rob with a promising look on his face.

On my next post I’ll tell you about the surprise.  Until then…..

Time Travel to May 2015

My dear friends.  Sorry for taking a detour from my chronological life story again.

This week I have been very busy working in the yard and garden because it is planting season.  And I am also preparing for the visit of our second son Richard and our precious granddaughters Azure and Emeline from Montreal.

Azure  will be six years old in September and Emeline two years old in June.  We last saw them a year ago at our family reunion at the Lake. Mateo, their beloved half brother is unable to accompany them,  He’ll be 16 in June.  When he was Azure’s age he would fly out from Montreal every summer to spend several weeks  with us.

Mateo girlsI am so excited.  We went shopping this weekend for toys and goodies.  i am baking and making ice cream. and Tira Misu.  Stefan. our youngest son is also coming.  All the beds are freshly made and ….

IMG_2273These  rag dolls I made a long time ago.  Maybe they will like them.

IMG_2259This is the custard for the ice cream.  Stefan introduced us to the ice cream maker.  It’s fantastic.  So delicious.

IMG_2267This is one of the many sticker and activity  books.

IMG_2262Some toys,  Bubble blowing should be fun.

These are just samples.   I’ll close my post now.  Maybe next week I’ll talk about the visit and then back to my past.


Settling into Our New Home My Mom the Beloved Host

On my last post I took a short break from my life story to insert a story about my relationship with trees.   Now I will continue where I left off with my biography.

We had finally moved to our new home, a small but brand new apartment situated at the outskirts of town.  From our back windows we could see a mostly deserted rural road.  It was flanked by  fields and meadows,  In the distance  it led to forested hills. My father loved this view especially when there were spectacular sunsets.

My brother and I had a long walk to school along a busy major highway.  But we could also take the public transit bus if we were pressed for time.

As you remember, being late was a major offense in our school and we made sure we always were on time.

One morning, i had overslept, because our mother was ill and did not wake us up in time. When I  was running down the three flights of stairs I remembered that I had forgotten  my bus money.  I tried to run up again as fast as I could.  Almost there, I slipped and banged my forehead against the stone step.  I was bleeding profusely from a wide gap.

My mother frantically called my brother back from the kitchen window and told him to walk with me to an emergency doctor in town since she was not feeling well and could not take me.

My reluctant brother and I walked furtively to town ashamed  to be seen by people who could assume we were playing hooky.  Skipping school without a major reason was considered almost a crime,

The doctor was the father of one of my classmates.  He was very kind and made me feel at ease with his friendly talk.  He did not x-ray my head because he thought it could cause more harm in the long run.  He stitched up my wound and sent me back home.   My brother went to school and I think the principal accepted his excuse for being late.   I was more stressed walking through town on a school day  than by my injury,

As I mentioned before my mother was very hospitable and enjoyed company.  Most of my friends would come to our place to do homework and so did my brother’s friends.

My girlfriends were excited because this way they would have the opportunity to meet some boys.  Since I did not have the best relationship with my brother at that time i was not interested in his friends either and could not understand my girlfriends’ attraction to them.  I will tell some anecdotes about that time in a later post.

My mother was very popular.  She would always provide us with delicious refreshments.  Especially the growing boys always had a ravenous appetite.

IMG_8145One hot day my mom did not have any baking to offer,  So she opened a jar of canned apricots.  She passed them out in little glass bowls,   One of the boys kept on staring at the bowl without starting to eat.  Finally he handed it back to my mom and said with an apologetic tone in his voice,  “Frau Panknin,  I really don’t like raw eggs.”   Needless to say,  we all went into hysterics laughing so hard.  His single apricot in the pale juice did look like yolk.



My   young-at-heart  mom also had a sympathetic ear for all our friends and they would value her advice or feel comforted by her genuine kindness and understanding.  I still have contact with a few friends of that time and they still talk fondly of my mother.

Today is Mother’s Day and I will cut my post short to go out into the sunshine to celebrate Life.   I wish all the mothers a loving and joyful day.  I think mothers will always live in our hearts forever. Forget-me-nots (Vergissmeinnichts)S

I love you forever Mom!



Two New Paintings

Two weeks ago I added a new page to my menu. I named it Art Gallery. Each week I will publish one or two pieces of my art. As time goes by, the Art Gallery will grow and unlike my posts will become a prominent and stationary place for everyone to view my paintings. Today I will add a wolf and an owl painting to the gallery.

Remembering Trees (Past. Present, Future)

In this post I am taking a short break from my chronologically written biography.   Right now we are enjoying an exceptionally beautiful spring.   All of nature is dressed in their finest.   The flowers are blooming in glowing colors and the trees are bursting forth with fresh green leaves in a multitude of shades and hues.  Nature is reviving with a vigorous and joyous explosion of life

sticky l

I want to share a story i wrote a few years ago because right now I am overwhelmed by the  beauty of glorious trees coming back to vigorous life after the winter  .

From my earliest childhood on, trees were a fundamental part of my life. I took them for granted like the air, the water and the soil. Until I was nine years old, I lived in Thuringia, one of the most densely forested areas of Germany. Trees were all around us. Huge apple and pear trees in our backyard, planted by unknown previous owners, supplied us with abundant crops of delicious fruit every fall. With wonder in my eyes, I would watch golden juice ooze out of the cider press. The spicy aroma of apple sauce simmering in big cauldrons over the fire would permeate the house. Strings of countless apple and pear rings would dry over the stove. Jars of canned fruit would pile up on the counter. How grateful we were to have these faithful trees during the post war times when food was scarce in Germany.

CanningOur street was flanked by shady linden trees. I can still hear the buzzing of thousands of bees attracted every spring by the clusters of tiny flowers emanating an intoxicating sweet fragrance. My mother would dry the blossoms for a soothing tea.


I hardly remember the building of our school. But, I still see the enormous chestnut trees framing the school yard delighting us every fall with shiny seeds bursting out of prickly round casings. These trees still symbolize home for me, although I was terribly allergic to their pollen.


Our town was surrounded by vast coniferous forests. One of my earliest, vivid memories dates back to the first years after the war when food was in scant supply. I was about three years old. Every weekend my father would hike many miles through dense woods to isolated villages and farms in the hope of trading precious valuables for fresh victuals from the farmers. Taking turns, either my twin brother or I would be sitting snugly in the ruck-sack on his back. On these walks, I would have the shady canopy of trees above me. Occasionally, twigs would scratch my cheeks like scrawny fingers. I would watch curious squirrels scurrying from branch to branch and vivacious little birds pecking at pine cones. I still remember the time, when the haunting eyes of an owl, looking like two luminous will-o’-the-wisps, startled me in the dark forest. Sometimes, on our way home, the first star or the moon would lurk through the swaying treetops. The monotonous motion would lull me to sleep.

OwlAs soon as my twin brother and I could walk and talk, my father would take us, one on each hand, to the near-by castle park. In this beautiful stretch of land grew a rich variety of domestic and foreign trees planted long ago by the lords of the principality. The noble trees, some of them centuries old, yet still growing healthy and strong, had outlived the royal family and the once imposing but now ruined castle. The park, however, legacy of the tree loving princes, was still there for us to enjoy. Although it had grown wild, no longer regularly tended by human hands, it continued to flourish under  the care of Mother Nature. Native and foreign trees from faraway countries grew together on the same plot of earth in perfect harmony.

On each walk through this awesome park, my father would teach us the names of the trees, tell us their characteristics and show us ways how to identify them. Before we even went to school, my brother and I could recognize a great number of trees. They became our friends through the seasons.

In the spring we would watch the swelling tree buds miraculously burst forth with sticky leaves or fragrant blossoms. I can never forget the first time I experienced the beauty of a blooming orchard. I felt like a princess in an enchanted fairyland, walking under clouds of delicate flowers that snowed their perfumed petals on my hair.


In the summer we would enjoy the soothing shade when playing, running or dancing under enormous deciduous  trees. We observed birds, butterflies, insects and small animals who had their habitat in this enchanting realm.


Fall was our favorite time of year, because we could collect delicious beech nuts, hazelnuts, shiny chestnuts, acorns, pine cones and colorful leaves. We had great fun and excitement hoarding these treasures in big baskets. They would often amuse us more than expensive toys.

BieneEven winter was exciting, when snow adorned the bare branches of deciduous trees and dusted the evergreens. We were delighted by the cascades of soft snow coming down at unpredictable intervals. The cheerful little birds fluttering and skittering in the feeders provided us lots of entertainment.


As we grew older, our parents took us on long hikes through the forests. We would collect berries and mushrooms, pick flowers and observe wild life. The wind whispering in the trees, the bubbling creeks, the rushing waterfalls would soothe us with their rhythmic sounds. The birds’ singing, the small animals rustling under the leaves, the hammering of the woodpecker, the hootings of the owl, the chatterings of squirrels, the cry of the buzzard all contributed to the joyous song of Nature. In my mind the smell of the moist earth, the sun warmed pine needles, the perfumed flowers and the aroma of berries and tree sap lingers on forever.


Deer Posing for a Portrait 2We enjoyed freedom, solitude and excitement. On these hikes. my father would tell us fascinating stories, legends and fairy tales of trees, inciting our imagination, instilling awe. He told us that all over the world, from the beginning of time, people worshiped trees and regarded them as sacred abodes of divine spirits, or souls. Remarkable oak or beech trees were revered by our forefathers in Germany until the Middle Ages. Many villages had holy groves where tree deities or powerful spirits with oracular powers resided. The erection and celebration of the ‘May Tree’ is one of the ancient ceremonies which has survived to the present day. It was regarded a sin or crime to willfully injure or damage a tree. People who had to fell trees out of necessity asked them for forgiveness.

I still remember shivers creeping down my spine when my father told us how severely people were punished if they only peeled bark from a living tree. “The culprit’s navel was to be cut out and nailed to the part of the tree which he had peeled, and he was to be driven round and round the tree till his guts were wound about its trunk.” Thus, he was to replace the dead bark with his own intestines. The life of a tree was as sacred as a human life. He also told us the Biblical story of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. Thus, even at a very young age, I intuitively understood that our physical and spiritual life depended on trees.

Life without trees was unimaginable to me. But I came close to such a condition when living on the prairie as a young wife. My husband had found his first teaching job in a small town in Alberta, near the Saskatchewan border. At first I felt as though I had been transplanted to a different planet, a world without trees. However, to our great relief and joy, we discovered a small grove of hardy alder, birch and aspen trees near the saline Gooseberry Lake, 20 miles out of town. We would flock to this oasis whenever we could. All the important social events of the community took place in this precious tree sanctuary. Even in the midst of winter, we would have picnics there. People would take any opportunity to visit these trees.

6482-Aspen-forest-webEvery little stick of a tree was cherished on the prairie We planted a few in our backyard and tended them with almost as much loving care as our children.

However, we increasingly missed the lush trees and forests, we grew up with in Germany. Finally, after eight years living on the tree-barren prairie, we found a new home in an isolated logging community in the interior of B.C. Once again we are surrounded by an abundance of different kinds of trees and vast stretches of impenetrable, primordial forests.

In our own backyard alone, we now have cedar, pine, fir and spruce trees, fruit trees, nut trees, willow trees and ornamental trees, all growing on the same plot of land. We are grateful to the unknown people who planted many of the trees on our property long before us. A huge mountain ash proudly graces our front yard, feeding innumerable migrating birds in the fall with its intoxicating red berries. When we first moved here our boys used to jump over it. Now it stretches up to the sky. It is a reminder of the passing of time.

Our TreeMost of our neighbors and friends make their living from logging. Even our sons worked on and off in the bush to earn money for their college education. In spite of my love for trees, I accepted logging as part of life. “We harvest from nature in order to survive. We depend on wood since the beginning of time. There are enough trees to sustain us all. As long as trees are logged in remote areas, we are not directly affected by their loss. Nature will replenish the forests in due time.” With these kind of thoughts, I tried to reconcile my conflicting feelings towards logging.

forests-why-matter_63516847One day, however, I personally felt the impact of logging in a more personal  way. My husband, Peter, and I had discovered on the other side of the lake, an area of old growth forest which could only be accessed by boat. It became our favorite mushroom spot, because it grew an abundance of tasty chanterelles and precious pine mushrooms. For many years, in the late summer and fall, we would paddle in our canoe across the lake, often in the misty morning light, to enjoy the heavenly solitude of this wonderful forest. We would pick mushrooms growing in the dark soil or mossy patches under the graceful hemlock trees. For us, it was a piece of paradise which would restore us physically and spiritually from the daily routines and stresses of life. Every year we looked forward to these outings with joyous anticipation.

Three years ago, after the first rains in early fall, we paddled across the lake to our beloved sanctuary. We landed the canoe on the sandy beach, ran up the banks with happy excitement, labored our way through the stretch of dense brush covering the entrance of the forest and …..we could not believe our eyes! Devastation! Nothing but devastation! As far as we could see, not one tree in sight! Only dusty, stirred up soil. Gigantic heaps of discolored, dry branches and bark looked like heaps of bones on a battle field. A deadly silence. Hardly any motion, only little swirls of dust, stirred up by a passing breeze like smoke. Dumbfounded, unable to speak, Peter and I stood there for a long time….This magnificent, ancient forest, habitat of such rich vegetation and wild life, gone in a twinkling of an eye!

Forests are destroyed, but they are also replanted. We have a friend who is a tree planter. When our youngest son was born I asked him to plant a tree for him. “I’ll plant him a forest,” he replied.

seeslings1All my life I have enjoyed trees and forests which people have planted or preserved for us in the past. Now, Peter and I have started to plant at least one or two trees every year. It is our small contribution to ensure that trees  will be remembered for generations to come.