Jane's Travel Blog

New Chapter: Explore the World


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Springtime in Paris

Our Arrival…

We said au revoir to Venasque April 4th and took the fast train from Avignon to Paris. Our seats were on the second level of the train and we relaxed watching the French countryside pass by. “I’m not on Amtrak anymore,” was all I could think. This train was modern, clean and fast. It’s sweet.

Two and a half hours later, we arrived in Paris. Our next step was to find the metro and catch the 1 line. Naturally, we needed subway tickets, and since we are in Paris for the month, I made the executive decision to buy unlimited passes.  

The woman at the service desk oozed kindness, debunking the rude Parisian stereotype, and explained how to prepare our passes. We’d need to sign the cards and get photos to tape on the cards. I’m thinking, “great, we can figure all that out tomorrow,” and we’re off to the turnstile to catch the metro.

I scan my card, the gate opens (think the beginning of a horse race) and I plow through with my large black duffle in tow. I get through, but my duffle does not. The gate closes and my duffle is trapped. Bob is on the other side with his duffle and guitar wondering what is going on.

I’m pulling, pushing, laughing and attempting to problem solve this one. A tall Frenchman walks to my gate and I wave him off, explaining in English, “I can’t get out. I’m stuck, so use another gate.” I have no idea if he understood me, yet he knew exactly what to do. He waved his Metrocard over the reader, my gate opened, and with one easy pull, my duffle was free. The Frenchman smiled, walked through following my duffle and I said, “Merci, merci, merci,” with a namaste bow. I’m free and now for Bob.

Having watched my less-than-graceful attempt to navigate these gates, Bob was a bit more cautious. There was no way he was getting through those skinny gates with a duffle and a guitar. Wisely he returned to the service window, used his proficient French and learned where to enter with a wide load. We are on our way. So we thought…

The metro arrives quickly, and we are zipping along toward Neuilly, our neighborhood. All good. We get off the train and head to the escalator to go above ground when we are stopped at a checkpoint. They ask to see our tickets and we produce our unsigned, photoless passes and the woman says, “Wait here. You need to speak with my manager.” Ugh.

The manager asks when we bought the passes. I explain about 20 minutes ago and that we have just arrived in Paris. We have not had a chance to sign our passed or get photos. He asks for our receipts.

Shit, where did I put the receipts? Did I even keep the receipts? The kind woman at the original service desk sold the passes as two separate transactions (why I don’t know). I find one receipt in my wallet, show it to him and then he says, “This is only for one pass. Where is the other receipt?” I look him right in the eyes, and say,  “I have no idea.” I start to dig.

My duffle has an outside pocket where I stuff last minute stuff, so I open it up, and voilà, the other receipt is sitting on top of two maps of Paris that were included with the second purchase.

We received a small reprimand for not having photos, and we were off to our Airbnb.

So, the next day we find a Woolworth style photo booth. We sit down on the stool, push some buttons and for 5 euro each we have pictures for our passes. We are ready to explore and yes, the receipts will be in my wallet until we leave Paris.

Exploring Paris…

Since the purchase of our Metro passes, we’ve taken total advantage, traveling all over Paris to see the sites. It’s spring. The trees are leafing out, the tulips and daffodils are in bloom and the grass is green. The temperature climbs as the weeks pass. When we arrived, it was in the 50s and now for our last week, it will be in the 70s. No complaints here.

Notre Dame, the Rodin Museum and garden, The Marmottan Monet Museum, and the Eiffel Tower were a few of our first stops. We jump on the Metro with a destination in mind, visit the site, and then explore the neighborhood, often stopping for a light lunch and a glass of wine. It’s a great way to just soak up the Parisian scene.

Paris has everything, including friends from our past. We met up with Kaye and Tom, who just happened to be in Paris at the same time as us.  We met them in our first year of travel in Cuenca, Ecuador where they were escaping the cold of Upper Michigan. I couldn’t believe that we were all in Paris at the same time.  We shared a Parisian lunch at Le Balzar Brasserie. Perhaps we will meet again somewhere else in the world!

Neuilly, where we are housesitting, is a gorgeous suburb of Paris. Rio, the dog, is our new best friend and he helps us explore our new neighborhood.  Its wide sidewalks, gorgeous gardens, and churches make it the ideal dog walking scene. He has ideas on which turn to take, and I have ideas, and most often we agree. He’s a fun one to hang out with.

We have a few days left in Paris and I’m planning to visit a few more museums. On Saturday we fly to Mijas, Spain for the month of May.


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Notre Dame

I write this blog with sorrow and with great hope.

Notre Dame burned on the evening of April 15th. The world mourns the tragedy at Notre Dame. It is not a total loss. The roof and the spire are gone, but the walls and the bell towers remain.

The quick thinking of the French fire department saved many precious artifacts, and the venerable pipe organ survived.

I went to this iconic cathedral the next day. Hundreds of people gathered. An eerie quiet fell on the scene with only whispers when needed. The respectful silence reflected the love of Notre Dame.

The city, the county, and the world can feel hope.

Next week, a blog with a different mood sharing our adventures in Paris.


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A Return to Venasque, France

In December, January and February we were in the US visiting family and friends. Lots of laughs and more memories created and I’m grateful for all.

This March we returned to Venasque, France for a  housesit with Lolly, our favorite Jack Russell Terrier. She’s a happy spirit and makes me smile many times each day.

Venasque is a quiet village atop a mesa in the Provence region. We are here on the offseason, so it’s fair to call it sleepy. One bakery and one small grocery shop that sells the basics is all that’s open and only for limited hours. There is a post office too. Since we arrived, one shop/cafe has opened and I’m taking complete advantage of it. In fact, this blog was started there.

The woman at the bakery is very patient with my lack of French and speaks slowly, attempting to teach me a little French. I go once or twice a week for some fine bread and maybe a tasty sweet.

Most of our time is spent walking with Lolly, a little gardening, hiking, and traveling to the nearby villages for bigger grocery stores. A giant THANKS to Dan for taking me shopping on Tuesday and Thursdays. I love the adventures and the many stories we have shared.

Lolly and I walk every morning. She lets me know when it’s time to go. First, she sits up perfectly straight, directly in front of me with a loving yet determined stare. I do my best to ignore her as I enjoy my last sips of coffee, but when she walks over and puts her white and brown head on my leg, I know it’s time.

At this point, I go upstairs and dress for the walk. She follows me every step of the way making sure I know it’s time for the walk.

I have two favorite walks. One takes us through a cherry orchard and the other into the rocky cliffs. Every hike offers spectacular views. I know they are coming, and yet I’m still surprised by their beauty each time I turn a corner. Mountains, rock formations, and distant villages are everywhere.

Lolly’s favorite part of any walk is when she is off lead. She sprints, sniffs and smiles, enjoying the freedom.  She runs ahead exploring and taking in all the new smells. She’s a lucky dog.

Oh, and the weather. All I need to say is that it’s strawberry season and they are the sweetest strawberries I’ve ever eaten. Yummy!

Venasque’s laid-back scene allows time to us to regroup and immerse in nature. It’s the perfect balance as we leave for a month in Paris tomorrow.


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Venasque & Martinique & More… Jane Catching Up

Well, I’m WAY behind on the blogs. It’s time to catch up with a quick look back. France, Martinique, Philadelphia, Albany, Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Stevens Point, and now Costa Rica. There, you’re all caught up!

Now for a few, but not all the details.

We left Dubrovnik, Croatia Dec 8th (yes, that’s how far behind I am, yikes) and headed to Venasque, France for a three week house sit. We found this house sit through Linda, a friend of Bob’s from over 40 years ago. We house sat for her neighbor. Linda and Dan took us under their wings, included us in all the holiday celebrations, introduced us to wonderful people and showed us the sites.

Venasque sits high on a mesa creating striking views in all directions. At least once a day, I was compelled to pause to take it all in.  It’s a hiking community with well marked trails, so a perfect stop for us.

Lolly, the Jack Russell with never ending energy, kept us moving with at least three walks a day winding us through those trails with the stunning views of the Provence countryside.

Our time in Venasque was too short and we hope to return for more of its beauty and time with Linda and Dan.

The next stop was Martinique for a three week dose of ocean and sun. A bit of hiking, lots of exploring and a fun week visit from Michael and Randy filled out the time. Again, too short.

We spent February in Philadelphia at a fabulous house sit around the corner from our grandkids. We took care of a cute little dog named Yaffa, who stole our hearts. In March, we visited the rest of the family in New York and friends and family in Wisconsin.  Now we are near San Ramon, Costa Rica for a 2 month house sit.

Sorry for not blogging and thanks to all who so kindly reminded me to get my butt in gear and get writing.


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The French Alps

On August 14, Bob and I left Scotland and headed for the French Alps.

We had a week before our next house sit in Chambery, so Bob set us up in Chamonix, at the base of the highest mountain in the Alps, stunning Mont Blanc.

We arrived in Chamonix under the darkness of night. I woke up, looked out the window, and “Wow”. That pretty much describes the place. Every direction has a view of the mountains, some so high they are permanently capped with snow. I got dizzy looking up at the beauty.

Paragliders floated down from the mountain just outside our window. I signed up to tandem glide, but it was canceled because the lift up the mountain wasn’t running. Slightly disappointed, I wrapped my head around the idea that it wasn’t meant to be. BUT, I will jump off a cliff another time.

Chamonix, which is a popular ski resorts in Europe in winter, has gondolas, tramways, and cable cars that take you up to the mountain peaks where all the great hiking happens. So, that’s where we went, to the top.

One day, we rode a cable car up, hiked across the mountain ridge to another peak and took a gondola down. I forgot my camera in the cable car on the way up and realized it about 10 minutes after we got off. Panicked, I hiked back to the cable car station, pantomimed that I forgot my camera and without missing a beat this kind Frenchman called down to the bottom and my camera got it’s very own cable car ride up the mountain. Now that’s some luck.

Another day we went all the way across the glaciers to Italy on a cable car. Yep, traveling in three different gondolas, we climb all the way to a mountain peak overlooking Mount Blanc that’s so sharp it’s called a “needle” in French. We’re talking serious altitude here, over 12,500 feet. Today, however, the needle is covered in clouds and the visibility is zero.

It’s an eerie feeling to look out and only see white. Getting off the gondola, I start adding my layers as the temperature has dropped by 30 degrees. Brrr…. We walk through a short hallway dug out of the mountain to the cable car to Italy. We get in, the door closes behind us, and the tiny little cable car, with just us inside, slides out into the white nothingness.

I’m a bit nervous. When we first start out, the only thing I can see is the cable piercing the clouds. We are descending a bit now, so within minutes we travel out of the clouds and realize that we are above a gigantic glacier. Again, WOW. What a view.

We get out at the top of an Italian peak and  wander around the station, looking at the spectacular views in all directions. One mountain looks just like the peak above Whoville where the Grinch lives. I listened for the Whos singing, but no luck. By the time we got back to the “needle” in France, the clouds had cleared, and there was Mont Blanc so close we could almost reach out and touch it.  We had incredible views the whole way down. Once again, all I  can say is, “Wow.”

Chamonix was a short six days and soon Sunday came and we were off to Chambery, still in the French Alps, to start our six week house sit for Sabrina’s furry friends.

Sabrina introduced us to a few of her neighbors and we’ve been adopted. Guido and Felicia took us on a fabulous hike to La Croix du Nivolet. To get there we drove half way up the mountain through the beautiful countryside, surrounded by mountains.

We started the hike serenaded by the clang of cowbells, not for a Wisconsin football game, but around the necks of actual cows.  The mostly wooded trail took us to the top, but not before the rain. Just in time for lunch, we turned a corner as it really started to pour, and there was a refuge filled with hikers waiting out the rain.

We were warmly welcomed as people scooted over, making room for us to sit on the benches. Cookies, coffee, wine and some amazing homemade cordial were passed around. I like French hikers! We hiked up to the cross despite the rain. The view was a bit cloudy, but still great.

After the hike, Guido and Felicia drove us to a spectacular overlook to see the Chambery valley stretched out far below and promised more hikes in the future.  Then we descended down the mountain and home.