My boys and I used to make the annual Fête Médiévale de Provins whenever possible, but–with my children grown–it had been some years since I’d been. When David and I decided to move back to Paris for the year, I looked up the festival, put it on my calendar and signed up for the festival email list. Then, I packed the “Guinevere” dress I bought some years back just for the occasion and crossed my fingers that we’d work the Provins fête into our schedule. Despite early summer heat and the possibility of storms (that didn’t materialize) we made it out to the picturesque walled town this past Sunday for the 38th annual festival. Les Médiévales de Provins was packed with visitors, entertainers, vendors, craftsmen and more, lots of whom sported elaborate medieval (or fantastical quasi-medieval) costumes in a perfect setting. What fun!
Corsica is a French island in the Mediterranean southeast of Nice and just north of Sardinia. It’s the birthplace of Napoleon I and a place of rugged beauty with a culture all its own. I wanted to visit Corsica for decades, but despite living in Paris on-and-off for years, I never made it. The time had finally arrived!
After finishing a house-and cat-sitting gig in little Thoiry, France, we flew EasyJet from Geneva to Ajaccio, Corsica, an 1h10m non-stop flight. We picked up a rent car at the Ajaccio airport and drove two and a half hours through rocky mountains to Bonifacio at the southern tip of the island, stopping a long the way to admire views and snap photos. We had nine nights in Corsica and I’d agonized over where exactly to spend our time. With all the winding roads, driving times in Corsica can be long and I didn’t want to fall into the trap of rushing around trying to see everything and being rushed everywhere. I settled on Bonifacio as one of two places to stay because it was just so dramatically beautiful. And given how many dramatically beautiful places there are in Corsica, that’s saying a lot. Wow, was I happy with my choice of Bonifacio!
I had to share a quick post about the charmingly pipe-happy town of Saint-Claude, France, and the nearby Trou de l’Abîme, an enchanting hiking spot in the Jura region of France. With the June weather getting a little too hot for us in the village of Thoiry where were spending a couple of weeks house-and cat-sitting, we were off for a day in the low Jura mountains searching for somewhere cool. The pipe-happy town of Saint-Claude and the nearby Trou de l’Abîme riverside hike were the perfect finds.
Decades ago, I was intrigued to learn it is possible to take a cable car over the Alps from Chamonix, France, to Italy. I’d wanted to make the trip ever since, but I learned that weather was a huge factor. The Aiguille du Midi (“Needle of the Midi”) is a 12,606ft mountain peak in the Mont Blanc massif. The Aiguille du Midi cable car is the highest cable car in France and the closest you can get to the summit of Mont Blanc without climbing. Weather can turn bad quickly at such high altitudes and the cable car can be halted without notice. Losing visibility is also a risk if clouds form on the mountain peaks. Even when living in Paris, a dash for the Chamonix cable car (a 6+ hour drive or multi-stage train trip) on a day forecast to be sunny just never made sense. With two summer weeks to spend house- and cat-sitting near Geneva, I realized we were only an hour and twenty minute drive away from Chamonix. My time might finally have come to visit the famous ski town and the Aiguille du Midi cable car!
Wanting to take full advantage of our time house- and cat-sitting in Thoiry, France, I avidly browsed local websites and scanned any tourist brochures I came across. I was excited when I discovered that Voltaire’s home-in-exile-from-Paris for 20+ years was in nearby Ferney-Voltaire, France, only 15 minutes away. I’m a fan of the famous, witty and irreverent French philospher and writer. We had to go!
Banished from Paris by Louix XV, Voltaire (né François-Marie Arouet) lived at Ferney (later Ferney-Voltaire) from 1758 to 1778. Among other well-known works, Voltaire wrote Candide at the château in Ferney in 1759.
I’ve known several people from Annecy, heard about it for years, but had never had the opportunity to visit. With Annecy just under an hour drive away from our house- and cat-sit in Thoiry, now was the perfect time.
The route took us over the Rhône River and through the Haute-Savoie region of France. We arrived on a warm, sunny June holiday (Lundi de Pentecôte) to find Annecy absolutely buzzing with people. Despite the hordes and lack of street parking, we found ample cheap parking in the château parking lot just a short walk up the hill from the city center. I was worried about the crowds at first, but the city absorbed them well and the atmosphere was festive rather than claustrophobic. For lunch, we surprisingly had no wait for an outdoor table in the shade at the café of our choice, Café Bichette. We enjoyed trying award-winning local beers – a blonde for me and a triple for David – from Brasseurs Savoyards.
It had been awhile since David and I did a pet- and housesitting gig for someone new, but we had a couple of weeks to fill between our latest cat-sit in Antwerp and the time I’d set aside for a long-wished-for trip to Corsica. On whim, I searched Trustedhousesitters.com for something that might work. (See my earlier posts on pet- and housesitting here and here.) I was intrigued to find a two-week cat- and housesit in Thoiry, France, a small village nestled against the Jura Mountains just outside of Geneva, Switzerland. I wrote the owner, Lydia, right away; we had a great video chat and it was a done deal. Her tomcat, Leo, turned out to be the easiest cat-sit ever. He roamed at night and came home in the morning for breakfast and to socialize and nap. He never even used his litterbox during our stay. Lydia’s home was cute, comfortable and modern and a breeze to maintain with techy touches including a robot lawn mower and big, retractable awning over the patio.
This post is not as fun as some, but I wanted to share practical travel-during-Covid info that took me awhile to pull together for our recent travels to Belgium (via the UK), France, Kenya and South Africa.
This year was a big birthday for me, so I was hoping we’d be able to do something special after last year’s pandemic isolation. We were thrilled when Europe opened up to (non-essential) American travelers again after we’d been banned for so long during the pandemic. When Antwerp friends asked us back for a favorite house- and cat-sit in September, we decided to launch my birthday trip there. I came up with a 2-month/4-trips-in-1 birthday trip that included Belgium, Paris, Kenya and South Africa. I made plans with the understanding that any portion of our travels could be canceled at any time given the vagaries of ever-changing Covid restrictions. I researched travel requirements throughout the summer, thinking early on that South Africa might be out when that country raised its Covid Level from 2 to 3 to 4. A ban on all alcohol sales and the closing of many venues would make our planned Garden Route exploration and wine tasting impossible. Fortunately, South Africa was back to Level 2 by the time we traveled there. When –just prior to our September 2 departure– the EU recommended member nations consider banning Americans as our Covid numbers spiked, we started to wonder if we’d even make it to our first stop in Belgium. I decided each and every step of the trip would be a gift. As each portion of our trip materialized, we counted ourselves lucky and crossed our fingers for the next. In the end, all four portions of our trip worked out and we had a wonderful time: We spent three weeks in Antwerp, two weeks in an apartment in my beloved Paris, a week on safari in Kenya, and 15 days in the Western Cape of South Africa.
I recently sent the following to a family member. I can’t count how many times I’ve forwarded this to friends and family and it occurred to me (finally) that I ought to just post it on Wanderwiles. Et, voilà!:
A MONTMARTRE WALK
I always tell people that Montmartre is worth a visit and makes a great walk. A lot of people skip Montmartre because it’s more down-scale and crowded and has some steep walks, but it does have some of the best views and most classically Parisian locales and can be done mostly downhill if you follow the route I’ll set out. It’s not unsafe (I have a friend who owned a jewelry store there and loved the area), picturesque (beyond a certain grunginess) and charming in its own way. There is a large immigrant population in Montmartre, it’s the bustling fabric district of Paris, and it’s full of tourists and a fair amount of party-minded types in addition to merchants and the like, so expect bustling activity, noise and a colorful international vibe going in. Here’s my favorite route:
David and I are happily back in Antwerp, Belgium, for 6 weeks once again cat- and house-sitting for some of our favorite people and cats in one of our favorite cities. As always when in Belgium, we’ll be exploring this beautiful country and scouting great beer. We’ll spend a month in Paris when we leave here, just to touch base in my old home and enjoy the holiday season before heading back stateside.
Coming up in the spring [March-June]: Another Korean Air First Class mega-flight from DFW to Seoul to Singapore(!), a few weeks in Indonesia (Bali, Java, etc.), then back to Singapore to catch a month cruise to Europe (via Sri Lanka, India (Cochin, Goa, Mumbai), Oman, UAE (Dubai, Abu Dhabi), Suez Canal, Jordan (Petra), Greece, Italy). When we get off the ship in Italy, we’ll spend a couple of weeks in Umbria (in an agrotourism farm) and Tuscany (at a small-town apartment) before flying from Florence back to Antwerp.
If any of these interest you, check back in. I’m also always open to suggestions!