Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up
I tend to be the type of traveler who overthinks my agenda,
laboriously maneuvering to map out the "perfect" holiday.
And of course that's when negative thinking creeps in
and tries to foil my sweet anticipation.
Worrying thoughts and sleepless sunsets cloud my vision,
succumbing to the prophet of doom monster under the bed.
You'd think I'd learn....
That's why, whenever doubt creeps into my travel plans, I try
to visualize past experiences, concentrating on those
devil-may-care moments we've stumbled on something truly spectacular.
Unconventional finds often surpass some of the
big ticket thrills we've wrapped our plans around.
From time to time, it's as simple as a stopover, a pause between
our central -- and often over-thought -- sightseeing destinations.
Perhaps we've heard of a village that warrants a quick look or
a museum, church or park that sounds worthwhile.
So we'll take a risk, park the car and plunge right in.
You'd be amazed how often that results
in some of the best moments of our trip.
Those simple stops are the milestones we often treasure
the most -- minus the hand wringing efforts and second guessing.
Such straightforward encounters materialize in a blink of the eye,
effortless and free spirited.
No need to book an overnight room or even calculate the best place to eat.
Just a few delightful attractions where the name of the game is simply
Stop. Look. Enjoy.
You know the kind of towns I'm talking about --- little dots on the
map that generally offer up just one central square or principal street.
They have few talking points but my oh my, how they offer up a mix of
charm, chemistry, history, beauty, solace, often all in one easy stop.
One such discovery, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert comes back to me in a rush,
it's long main artery meanders past pretty stone houses
that end in a cozy central square.
The ancient village has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
and also as one of The Most Beautiful Villages in France.
Just a hop skip and a jump away from Montpellier where we were
staying, it's considered one of the great examples
of old Languedoc (now referred to as Occitanie).
Growing up around an 11th century abbey that allegedly held fragments
of the true Cross, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert's monastery became a refuge
for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
You can still spot the scallop shell emblems of Saint James as you make
your way along the winding streets of the village.
With its breathtaking natural setting, it's a good bet you'll want to
settle into a chair underneath the shade of the massive plane tree
in the village square -- Place de la Liberté -- and count
your blessings for being such a wise traveler.
Nearby are opportunities for both canoeing & caving if that's your cup of tea.
My preference is to make like the locals and just kick back and relax with
a glass or two of the region's famous wine.
If you can, make the easy drive to another nearby landmark,
Pont Diable -- Devil's Bridge, a medieval bridge that's strong as Superman,
still standing after nearly a thousand years, despite Mother Nature's best efforts.
Appointed with striking Roman arches, its legend includes a preposterous
saga involving Satan, a dog bone and a hero saint, guaranteed to make you
all the happier you made time for this perfect pause in the Languedoc sun.
It can be liberating to ditch all the rules and just let it happen.
Without a plan, without expectations.
And in the blink of an eye,
you've added another treasure to your travel memory vault.
"Just one look, that's all it took."
That pretty much sums up my gut reaction when I got my first look
at a place called Place aux Herbes in a very special village in southern France.
Uzès is the town and though it holds much more promise than just its
central square, if you only have time for a quick look, it's well worth the effort.
Completely smitten at first sight, we weren't satisfied
with our typical ogle-and-sigh rubber-necking.
Feeling desperate to make the moment last, we spied a "for sale" sign in
one of the apartments on the square, just above the beautiful arched colonnades.
Momentarily demented with desire, we instantly resolved we needed to
make this moment last a lifetime and make that flat our very own.
Needless to say, the memory is now embarrassing.
We called the realtor and he arrived within minutes.
The tenants didn't seem to mind the intrusion, continuing their card game
as the real estate agent pointed out all the "advantages" of the property.
It turns out, the only upside of the apartment was its location and view.
All other virtues were hidden behind ugly pipes, ancient kitchen cabinets, countertops, and appliances as well as a floor that tilted
as psychotically as my emotions that day.
Thank goodness my husband gets a kick out of my wacky love of France.
"The only people for me are the mad ones:
the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved,
desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who
burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles."
Jack Kerouac, American Writer
The central square -- Place aux Herbes -- is not just gorgeous;
it's the commercial hub and beating heart of the town.
This breathtaking natural setting offers a twice weekly market as well
as a fine selection of designer boutiques, wine bars and cafes.
Because of our unplanned house-hunting adventure,
we missed a couple of good sightseeing opportunities.
Look for the bell tower and the duke's residence and do your best to
enjoy the local chevre, foie gras and other gourmet treats on offer.
As for me, I had to cut and run.
The draw of Uzès was far too intense.
My passionate longing to live in France is sometimes bad for my tender heart.
But at least I can honestly say, in the blink of an eye,
I got to see and feel everything my heart desires.
"It is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."
Alfred Lord Tennyson, British Poet Laureate
but need to satisfy your curiosity with just one or two major stops
that showcase French beauty, history or culture.
Such was the case when we paused in Bayeux,
a well-known township in the heart of Normandy.
We were in a hurry, anxious to hustle to the more famous D-Day
Landing Beaches but knew it was an important stop so we made the time.
We longed to see the monumental Bayeux Tapestry,
one of the most iconic and unique pieces of history in the world.
If it sounds strange that a needlepoint can be utterly fascinating, you're not alone.
The Bayeux Tapestry is actually a hand made embroidery -- needlework not
woven -- so technically it isn't a tapestry; but whatever you want to call it,
it's downright remarkable.
The embroidered tapestry is 270 feet long and 20 inches tall.
Consider this: a football stadium is 360 feet long end to end.
No one knows exactly who made it but the why is crystal clear.
It's a re-telling of the most important events of the day, leading
up to William the Conqueror's victory at Hastings, a juncture
in time which changed the course of history for many years to come.
Fifty different "scenes" and over 600 human figures tell a tale
as rich and detailed as all six seasons of "Downton Abbey."
Hundreds of animals, too, tell the story, many of which are
horses tragically depicted in mortal combat.
Viking-style ships, medieval weaponry, funny looking helmets
and oblong shields help illustrate the gruesome tale.
Yikes, take your pick, an arrow piercing your eyeball
or an axe splitting your skull open?
There's even an illustration of Halley's Comet, likely the first sighting ever recorded. The storyboard is a bit comic strip like in its depiction but there is nothing
funny about the Battle of Hastings and the conquest of England.
Astronomer Carl Sagan once referred to this long piece of embroidered linen
as "the newspaper of its time" and I certainly have to agree.
It definitely qualifies as a Pulitzer Prize winning piece of journalism.
the French Revolution and WWII in particular.
At one time, head-creep Heinrich Himmler wanted to plunder the treasure
for Nazi Germany so who knows -- perhaps Indiana Jones and his Raiders
could have been the story of a search for a missing tapestry instead of
the Ark of the Convenant.... Steven Spielberg, are you listening?
The tapestry was displayed just once a year in Bayeux's beautiful Cathedral
and another time in the Louvre, but has since found its rightful home in a
welcoming museum with much needed (it's all in Latin) audio guides.
For someone who can't properly sew a button on a shirt,
I found the needlework fascinating.
Though cross-stitch is not my element, I cross my heart and promise you,
the Bayeux Tapestry is a must-see if you're anywhere near
the famous beaches of Normandy.
How many years did it take to complete the tapestry?
No one really knows, but lucky for us,
we get to re-live the story in the blink of an eye.
on my sister's prized collection -- a French village in miniature.
It's always "open" for a quick stopover and in a blink of an eye,
I'm on the road again, back in my home away from home.
"If you look at how long the Earth has been here, we're living in the blink of an eye. So, whatever it is you want to do, you go out and do it."
Jamie Foxx, American Actor