Archive for May, 2016

A Grateful Commune Remembers

May 30, 2016 @ 9:30 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

Foxgloves in the beautiful Alsatian landscape – © ATOUT FRANCE/Michel

On Memorial Day, we return to a special U.S. soldier to honor his memory and that of all of our men and women, who have served and sacrificed for our country.

Imagine, if you will, a little drive through the countryside south of Colmar. The Haut Rhine département of Alsace dresses for summer with fields of flowers, vineyards and cool forests along rolling hills and sprawling meadows. Just 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from Colmar, pull over near the soccer field in Holzwihr to enjoy a quiet walk – easily a popular pastime in this region.

You are about to discover a quiet, historic site. Tucked among trees along the side of the narrow country lane is a remarkable memorial, dedicated by Holzwihr citizens in January, 2000. The Audie L. Murphy Memorial pays tribute to the Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, whose one-man stand successfully fought back a German regiment that had counter attacked Murphy’s own Company. The people who designed the monument highlighted Audie Murphy, as one who best represented the courage, valor and sacrifice all of the soldiers made.

The inscription translates: “In memory. This memorial is dedicated to the soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Division and the Fourth Combat Command under the command of the 1st French Army who liberated Holtzwihr on 27 January 1945 after bloody combat under most trying conditions. It represents the heroic act that Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy of the 15th U.S. Infantry Regiment achieved at this site on 26 January 1945, in order to push back an enemy counterattack. For this action he was decorated with the highest American and French honors. Visitor, respect this memorial and forget not that these soldiers have died so that you live. Holtzwihr, 29 January 2000.”

Audie L. Murphy Memorial, Holtzwihr

The Memorial is located precisely where the heroic stand by Audie Murphy helped to liberate this modest commune.  Beyond all of the medals awarded to then 2nd Lieutenant Murphy by his own country, France awarded him five medals, including their highest honor, the French Legion of Honor, Grade of Chevalier.

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France River Cruise for Your List?

May 25, 2016 @ 1:01 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan
Cruise France

Viking River Cruise stateroom with your own veranda

Not that our Bucket List isn’t crammed full, but really – a river cruise anywhere in France seems a “must”.  During a recent visit with our French friends, they described several river journeys that sounded pretty heavenly.  We do know ourselves well enough to realize the smaller boats would be more appealing.

If you don’t know, the “Bucket List” term was inspired by the movie of the same name.  The main stars fashioned a list of things they wanted to do, before they ‘kicked the bucket’…like skydiving, driving a Shelby Mustang and dining at the Chevre d’Or overlooking the Mediterranean.

All things considered, we think a Viking River Cruise through France might be a nice addition. In the so-called “long and short of it”, there is a short cruise from Paris through Normandy and a rather indulgent 15-day excursion that extends that particular cruise to take you to Avignon, Arles and beyond.  Naturally that’s not the extent of cruise offerings.  You can go from Paris to Lyon or Zurich or go west to cruise around the Bordeaux wine region on the Dordogne, Garonne and Gironde Rivers.

The accolades for the Viking cruises are noteworthy.  National Geographic, for one, features Viking in their “The 10 Best of Everything” awards.  In 2012, Viking launched six new longships earning significant praise from Cruise Critic Editors.  Viking exceeds expectations with state-of-the-art engineering, balcony cabins, suites and expansive, atrium-style common areas.  Add more than 175 years of cruise experience and carefully-planned itineraries, and you understand the allure.

So back to our Bucket List addition, we might as well go all out with the combo cruise that runs, in essence, the length of France. Viking combines a Normandy adventure with cruises through the southern regions of Burgundy and Provence and visits to Avignon, Arles and Lyon.  Can you imagine a more delightful itinerary? Touches of Monet and Van Gogh. Cuisines of Lyon and Avignon. Cobblestone streets and soaring Gothic architecture. And the magnificent sights of Paris need no description.

Tournon France

Scenic Tournon

I can allow my imagination to take hold, picturing a spacious stateroom, outside – of course – with our own balcony. They have thought of everything – spacious observation lounges and bars with panoramic windows. Wireless internet service, boutique and library.

Talented chefs present a cuisine of fresh, seasonal local vegetables, regional specialties and menus adapted to your tastes. From pleasant and complete breakfast choices to a five-course dinner, we shall be well prepared for active days and pleasant evenings.

Though we tend to strike out on our own and avoid set tours, we believe the Viking experience might be quite worthy of the “Bucket List”.

We’d love to hear from you!

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A Clear Vision of France

May 24, 2016 @ 11:38 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

Sylvie’s vineyard near Saint-Émilion

I originally wrote this after cataract surgery a couple of years ago – thus the “clever”, play-on-words title.  With no pun, though, I still enjoy very clear memories and ‘visions’ of France.

Paris … of course!  Wandering along the Seine, stopping to watch the bateau pass or the father and son snuggled together along the quai.  Finding the perfect sidewalk café for a warm coffee on a cool day.

Provence … those fields of lavender come immediately to mind … and cobbled lanes, charming shops, the bleat of sheep from our pique-nique spot.

Cote d’Azur … magnificent expanses of every imaginable shade of blue, parasol pines and red cliffs reaching into the sea.  No wonder writers, artists, rich and poor flocked to this grand arena of beauty!

The Alps … grand and glorious, bald in some areas, forested in others.  The sound of a cowbell on a lone, stray cow up the hill.  Flowers everywhere and tantalizing tartiflettes.

I comb through memories and photos, and the scenes instantly appear – the beauty, the calm, the color, the people – all of it. And always the natural sights appeal – those with water and mountains, rivers and vineyards – so inviting.

Wishing you a wonderful trip to France in the near future!

Seeing … and dipping my toes in the Medterranean!

Enjoying an afternoon along the Seine

Doing my Julie Andrews thing in the beautiful Alps

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Château “Imperfection” – Loire Valley

May 21, 2016 @ 2:02 pm
posted by Sandra Sheridan

Overlooking the Loire River in Blois

1997. My first trip to France and the pleasure of staying with my best friend in her Paris apartment.  Don’t even try to imagine my excitement – it’s beyond words! After exploring every nook, cranny and cobbled lane in Paris through the week, we would take off for a weekend adventure away from the city… Chartres, Provence, the Loire Valley and even Windsor, England.  The world was ours to discover and savor.

In remembering our weekend outside of Blois in the Loire Valley, I decided to experiment, to look back on my memories and personal observations and to compare those with the many reviews we find on line today. Yes, I will share my own recollections, but the ‘truth’ I discovered in this little research project may be more important than charming anecdotes.

Some described a perfectly suitable maison d’hôtes (actually a family château) in the quiet country, quaint and comfortable but certainly lacking the pristine, crisp décor some demand.  Others were put off by the obvious need for some refurbishment.  Where we saw interesting family treasures, some reviewers saw ‘old stuff’ and dust. Where we saw a host that was friendly enough but might benefit from a Carnegie course or two, others saw a self-centered guy who needs to talk less about himself and his château memories and more about …. what, exactly?

Quite simply, the Château de Nanteuil is an old family home with a lovely back garden overlooking a petite river – a pretty special sight, especially from the large French doors in our room.  A tranquil location yet right in the middle of innumerable castles of the Loire Valley.

The château is neither a five-star hotel nor a member of the esteemed Relais & Chateaux organization.  In this case, the downside IS the upside – an authentic home of hospitality with perfectly nice meal offerings and comfortable rooms.  For those of us willing to forego free shampoo, a room television and phone; it is an idyllic escape.  For those seeking a more elegant, ‘brand’ experience, one might suggest a very careful perusal of internet reviews.

So my memories?  Allow me.  After arriving by train in Blois, we explored a bit before picking up our rental car.  Through the medieval streets we wandered past gorgeous entry doors and handsome windows covered with quaint lace curtains.  Once on the road, we wound our way through roundabouts and over bridges and to the countryside of our 18th-century Château De Nanteuil overlooking the River Cosson.

Our host, Frédéric Théry, welcomed us and chatted, as we enjoyed a café au lait and delicious île flottante dessert (floating island).  Frédéric’s English grandfather – a Trinity College Cambridge gent – originally purchased the château in the early 1900’s.  Frédéric has never been to America; and we had the feeling, he neither feels deprived nor in need of a visit.

We followed his recommendation to visit Bracieux (quite near the Château de Cheverny) and arrived in the lovely old commune, after driving among forested lanes and stone-walled cottages.  We found an enticing antiquaire, where the charming shopkeeper guided our purchase of faïence and a brass pigeon lampe.

After that satisfying journey, we returned to our enormous room with no defined décor but many touches of charm.  Our room overlooked the garden and river, with an enormous bath, eight-foot doors and a fireplace, but no television or phone (no problem!), stationery package or tiny bottled shampoo – definitely not a Comfort Inn.

Château De Nanteuil

A fire in the dining room hearth greeted us, and our corner table faced the room for the dinner seating.  Within minutes, we enjoyed a glass of red wine and, soon, a feast of lapin (rabbit), soup and an enormous crème brûlée.  A large family and a couple of other smaller parties arrived, and we tried to figure out the mothers, fathers, couples – who are they at this large table presided over with discretion and charm by a happy, bi-focaled gran père?

And so my friends, I don’t want to indulge in reverse snobbery here.  I understand that people are different as are their needs and expectations.  Those with precise requirements should carefully review on-line comments, but hopefully they will be able to embrace a less-than-perfect experience with a spirit open to the unexpected.

 

 

 

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Please take a moment to browse through … and order … my book:

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