Friday, April 16, 2010

Back in France

Puylaurens, France —Wow! We are sitting in the garden at Hans and Angela’s house (our new HelpX hosts) facing an amazingly beautiful valley in the Torn region. Behind the miles of crop-covered rolling hills, the dark Pyrenees Mountains emerge in the foggy distance. The sun is delightfully warming us after a chilly night in the 17th century village house. Tulips of all colors and a cherry tree in full bloom brighten up the garden and the soft hum of the bees drones in the background.

We are glad to finally be settled in a place where we will be spending more than just six days. So much has happened since last we wrote. We left Israel on Tuesday (after three “last” shawarmas), and headed to Bordeaux via Paris. In Paris, we had a very tough time with the trains. The ticket teller at the airport train station was very rude to us and blamed us for our ignorance of the French train system. We finally saw some of the stereotypical French insolence as she sent us to the Montparnasse train station across Paris, an hour and a half metro-ride away. Then, we found out that the first train to Bordeaux in which we could use our Eurail passes wouldn’t be for several hours and we would get in to Bordeaux at 10:00pm, four hours after we had hoped.

But once we got on the train it was hard to stay mad at France. The countryside is so beautiful as fields of yellow rapeseed and vineyards checker the rolling hills. As soon as we got out of the train station, we fell in love with Bordeaux. It was probably the most beautiful city we have seen on our trip. It is hard to know exactly why we were so enamored so instantly, but a few contributing factors include street scale, typical French architecture, and grand but manageable plazas. Actually, Bordeaux reminded us at times of Pittsburgh, particularly Oakland near the Carnegie Library and Schenley Park.

We succeeded, I think, in making the most of our shortened visit.  The city was very walkable and the weather was gorgeous, so we spent a long day meandering from landmark to landmark, munching macarons and soaking up the city. We spent the morning along the Garonne River, drawing the Place de la Bourse and admiring the Roman-style Pont de Pierre. Betsy saw her first Gothic Cathedral, St. Andre (Andy!) and we climbed the 231 steps of its adjacent bell tower for a panoramic view of Bordeaux. A stark contrast was the Tribunal de Grande Instance , the very modern courthouse designed by Richard Rogers with wood-slatted, egg-shaped courtroom pods. A lovely dinner with Lillet and Bordelais wine rounded off the busy but incredible day. We certainly left Bordeaux hoping to return.

Yesterday morning it was off on the train again, this time with fewer troubles despite a transit strike. We made it to Toulouse in time for lunch and a brief walk in the area around the station. We then bussed for about an hour to Puylaurens. Unlike Gaby and Ton, Hans and Angela live right in the village, amist scenery different from anything we’ve witnessed before. They are very nice and we are looking forward to learning green building techniques as we help them restore their house. 

1 comment:

  1. I confess I am relieved to hear that you are safely situated back in France. It sounds magnificent, and Ben's vivid descriptions give a good sense of the surrounding beauty. Wow! I must have missed something because I'm not sure about HelpX. Is this a part of WWOOF or something else? Keep me posted!

    Love you,