Posted by Kirk Woodyard of Music and Markets Tours
Getting into France last week by train after 5 days in Tuscany with our daughter Sunshine, her husband and our 9 and 12 year old grandchildren was excruciatingly SLOW. It was the grandkids’ first time in Europe and their parents’ first since before they met 15 years ago. We had to make an extra stop in Ventimiglia, the last town in Italy because of a strike by the French railway employees. Nobody wanted to lug the baggage off one train and back on to another one (after already doing so three times) – we were all justifiably frazzled.
But instead of orchestrating everything so that it would be just like their home, in Orlando, we were determined to enjoy Europe like the Europeans. So we stayed four days in an apartment in Florence. It had no concierge, elevator, or room service, but it had a huge heavy front door, a gardening neighbor, and a consignment shop across the trashy little lane under our 2nd floor window. This approach isn’t completely free of the risk of stress, but we did get to greet, shop with, and live nearby some real Italians.
In France we moved in to a townhouse on a tiny lane in a medieval village southwest of Bezier in the Languedoc. Vias is not most people’s choice for a first visit to France, but it’s certainly deep enough in the vines for a good chance to rub shoulders with some authentic locals. We bought this place, naming it La Belle Cour for its dreamy courtyard, five years ago and visit here in the off season when it’s not occupied by weekly renters. We’d often visualized the place swarming with grandkids and sure enough as soon as we got there, they were figuring out how to get up on the balconies overlooking the courtyard,
Before long, two neighbor kids, Sara and Dylan, came over and asked if our grandkids wanted to come out in the lane in front of our house and kick an old soccer ball around. Of course the dads (and granddad) couldn’t pass up a chance to show off our skills and soon we were teaching them to play dodge-ball while their moms sat on the curb smoking and keeping a close eye on us. We got word that it was our dear 86 year old keyholder’s bedtime so we had to knock off the ruckus.
After a late dinner under the evening sky of the courtyard, we unpack, settle in, and relish the grandchildren’s giggles as they watch a DVD of Mr. Bean in the south of France.
We can’t imagine anything better than a multi-generational vacation. We thoroughly enjoyed holidays with our own kids when they were young; but I’d have to say it’s even better to be far from home and experiencing life in a special place with our grandkids!
We got into the rhythm of the village, getting in line at the bakery for breakfast goodies, taking a break for a good couple of hours from everything at lunchtime, and joining the buzz at the outdoor market on Wednesday and Saturday. Our grandaughter had told a friend at home about the funny English sayings on some T-shirts in europe. She found one boasting, “I feel me very sporty” – just the thing for a big laugh back Orlando. We laughed as we tried to figure out what the T-shirt designer REALLY wanted to say.
A highlight was a visit to nearby Carcassonne. This town, fortified with two protecting walls in 100 BC has been the site of many medieval battles and we’ve seen lots of 21st century boys walking around the town in Charlemagne helmets and knights’ swords, bows, and shields. Soon enough at a VERY hands-on museum – Musée de la Chevalerie – both Cassidy and Connor were decked out in chain mail, and full medieval regalia.
Because Sunshine and family fly home from Marseilles very early, we’ll spend the last night in Aix en Provence, about 25 minutes from the airport. An early start on the two hour trip gives us lots of time to show off our favorite city in France. And as we enter Aix around 10:15, Anne spots a poster advertising a Vide Grenier (community yard sale, literally “empty the attic”) today, on Cours Sextius. Fabulous! For shoppers like us, there’s no better way to interact with real Aixoise and stretch our French skills.
And it is a Vide Grenier like none we’ve seen – Cours Sextius is about 50 feet wide from sidewalk to sidewalk and there is stuff along both sidewalks for blocks and blocks. Local families displayed some interesting cast-offs that looked like they were actually in their attics this morning. And there were some obvious pros with stacks of art, comic book paraphernalia, old maps, or carpets. This Monday is a holiday – Pentecost – and it feels like the entire town of families is out on the shady Cours.
Sunshine finds an elegant bust whom the seller says was of Ann d’Aragon, a beautiful woman who was a mistress of Louis the 14th or 15th. Anne and I found a couple of paintings, one for the Vias dining room an oil of a terra-cotta roofed village by the sea, and one for the Virginia house – a pastel of Aix’s town hall square.
So with a little help from some really slow travelers, our family got to experience a side of France not even seen by tourists who ride on big buses and stay at big hotels. We surrounded them with real people getting through life. Sometimes it may cost a half day to get back on schedule, but the rewards are worth it.
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The best way to describe us (Kirk and Anne Woodyard) is that we’re interested in the stories that make the places we visit come alive.
We’ve visited Europe more times than we can count, learned some entertaining stories there, and met some warm and helpful people who also enjoy the wonders of music and life in Europe.
Between our music-related travels, we split our time between our homes near Washington DC and the Languedoc in the south of France. We look forward to sharing these stories and friends and experiences with our Music and Markets guests.
While both of us have experience in organizing travel and music groups Kirk’s background is in project management and competitive writing, and Anne is an accomplished pianist with over thirty years of teaching experience, and a travel and food writer specializing in France and Italy.