Archive for July, 2022

July in Essoyes: Birthdays, Bicycles, and Champagne!

July has been a busy month for us in Essoyes. In mid-July, due to record-breaking temperatures, one of our sons decided that working from home in Essoyes was preferable to working from his apartment in Paris, so he and his girlfriend asked if they could come and stay with us for a few days.

Of course the answer was yes.

It was delightful to have them here. My son’s birthday is just five days before mine, and our dessert of choice for our birthdays is always a raspberry tarte (tarte aux framboises). Our patissier makes a wonderful tarte, and so we enjoyed one together a few days before his birthday.

Sometimes birthday celebrations can be frustrating to plan, especially with summer birthdays–getting everyone to be in the same place at the same being often challenging. This time we were very lucky to have all the stars line up so that an unplanned visit from two dear friends who live nearby coincided with our son’s unplanned escape from the heat wave in Paris, and voila! we had ourselves a delightful unplanned birthday party.

The last week in July began with a two-day birthday celebration for my birthday; first we had dinner at one of the two lovely riverside restaurants in the heart of Essoyes, the day before my birthday. Then we had dinner again the next day in the other one, when we realized that our other son, who lives in Lille, would be able to join us for that; and of course there was no better birthday present than to have him here.

Then on Wednesday, July 27, the Women’s Tour de France came through town. There has only been a women’s race five times in the 113-year history of the Tour de France, and this was the first time in more than 30 years. According to the director of the race, it was a great success, with enthusiastic crowds greeting and cheering the cyclists on all along the 640-mile route.

In Essoyes, pink bicycles beautifully decorated with handmade crepe paper flowers, and crepe paper flowers gracing the grillwork and the bridges over the Ource River, helped point the way for the cyclists to make their several turns through town.

The Troyes to Bar-sur-Aube étape went right past our driveway as the cyclists came speeding downhill out of the forest, on the stretch from Gyé-sur-Seine to Essoyes. So we were the very first Essoyens to greet them with enthusiastic clapping and cheering as they entered our village. It was lots of fun; I hope they do it again next year. (Though if they do, they will no doubt take a different route: the Tour de France likes to spread the excitement to different villages and towns every year.)

The end of the week brought Son #1 and his girlfriend back to Essoyes, and this time a few of their friends also, who came to celebrate the Route du Champagne en Fête, an annual celebration in our department (l’Aube) of–yep, you guessed it–champagne!

We often feel like our swimming pool doesn’t get used enough; but the fun they all had in the late afternoon–swimming and sitting poolside, then hanging around talking, eating pizza, playing Uno, drinking ratafia until late in the evening–more than made up for some of la piscine’s more idle days.

And, as usual, evening fell with the gift of a very beautiful sunset.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You and is currently working on her next book, A Long Way from Iowa, a literary memoir.

July 31, 2022 at 11:26 am 1 comment

Beautiful Italia, and then back home

On TrenItalia, in Tuscany. Masks required!

This is the summer when people really began to travel again, and I was lucky to be able to do so also. There was that fun trip to London in May that I wrote about here. Then in June I participated in a Meet the Authors event in Nice, where I had the opportunity to tell people about my book Demystifying the French. And–super conveniently–I was also invited to join a friend for a few days in a beautiful Tuscan villa she had rented. When her family couldn’t be there for as much time as they had planned, she decided to invite some of her friends to enjoy this beautiful place with her. And I was one of the lucky ones, especially lucky since starting from Nice I was already halfway there.

Although traveling by air was recommended by several friends, that didn’t make sense to me. The closest I would have been able to get by air was Florence, which was still quite a distance from my destination. And since I always prefer travel by rail in any case–and since the scientists of the world are telling us we all need to stop flying as much as possible–I made the trip by train. It was fairly long–I got on the train in Ventimiglia, just over the Italian border, at about 6:30 in the morning and arrived in Sinalunga, where my friend had come to pick me up, at about 4:30 in the afternoon. So–it was quite a few hours on the train–and I enjoyed them all. (I always do.) And it was FAR less expensive than traveling by air and being harassed and interrupted all along the way. Much more peaceful time to read, and write, and look out the window, and think…and see Italy, close up!

This was the farthest I had been into Italy–about 50 miles south of Florence, in the heart of Tuscany. And what a beautiful part of the world! Warm, friendly people, a lyrical, beautiful language, stunningly beautiful landscapes and architecture, wonderful food. (For example, for me the discovery of a new favorite cheese (pecorino). And the chance to spend some relaxed, leisurely time with a good friend. What’s not to like in all of that?

We did some touring of the little Tuscan hill towns, including Pienza, where we had a lovely lunch one day (pictured above). Another day we had a hair-raising drive through a tiny little town the name of which I do not remember; but I will never forget trying to tamp down the anxiety I felt as my friend negotiated a series of hairpin turns in her rented Jeep, on a very steep slope on a very narrow street that we hoped (as we went around each blind turn) was a one-way. (I was very impressed that she was able to keep her cool. I had enough trouble keeping my cool being the passenger.) We also developed a favorite local trattoria near the villa where we began to get to know the staff, and the menu, and feel like regulars.

Then it was time to head home to Champagne. I had purchased an Air France ticket to return from Florence, thinking my friend would be going there to meet her next round of guests, but lo and behold, in the end my preference for train travel won out again. The night before my trip, the airline cancelled my flight and proposed that instead I should fly to Paris from Bologna–which was quite a bit farther away from where I was staying–and that I would have to get there earlier than my original travel time.

I said “no thanks” and requested a refund instead. I am hoping the airline will see fit to refund my money since the substitution they offered was in no way acceptable. Not only would I have had to travel farther to get to the airport and get there earlier, but I would have had to change planes in Amsterdam, of all places. Not even close to “on the way.” (As it turned out, ultimately the flight I declined as a substitute was delayed to the point where I would also have had to stay overnight in Amsterdam. 😦 !)

So I opted instead to take the train from Florence to Paris. This was a delightful nine-hour ride through beautiful Alpine country in both Italy and France. I will fight hard to get the refund that I have coming to me, and maybe even look into the possibility of getting compensation for a bungled flight because of EU rules protecting consumers from such nonsense. But the truth is that even if I don’t succeed I will be glad I decided to spend nine peaceful hours on a train than twice as many hours being aggravated in a series of chaotic airport scenes in unfamiliar airports, and then either sleeping in an airport or having to negotiate spending a night in an airport hotel in a city I had no interest in being in (at that time) (!)

Anyway enough of the complaining part of this post. Well, almost.

I finally had my turn with Covid immediately on my return to France. But I can’t really complain about that: I was thrice vaccinated, so my case was mild; I was in a very nice place to recover, and a place where it is very easy to self-isolate.

My place of self-isolation

Now I’m fine, the isolation is over, and much of the rest of the summer remains. As the new French Minister of Health advised us all last week, I will be wearing my mask more frequently again, even though it is not yet obligatory. Apparently Italy has that right, and France does not (yet).

Stay well everyone. The virus is still here–but by now we’ve all learned a lot about how to try to avoid getting it. So let’s do it!

And enjoy your summer, wherever you are.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, A Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

July 8, 2022 at 2:51 pm 1 comment


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