Woodswoman Abroad

Sometimes a travelogue, sometimes just a vehicle for wistful thinking about Italy or France . . . always ready to go back again.

Friday, April 13, 2012

This blog is moving!

Thank you to everyone who has viewed this blog over the years.  In an attempt to consolidate my scattered internet presence, I am moving this travel blog to woodswomanabroad.com.

All current and past posts from this site have also been transferred to the woodswomanabroad.com website, though a bit of the format leaves something to be desired. 

France Women 2012 begins on May 4, and I invite you to follow us in Provence and Paris for a bit more than two weeks.  We'll stay in a beautiful St. Roch villa in Robion, venturing out on day trips to wineries, hill towns, open markets, the French Riviera.  Chef Ronald will prepare our meal one night at the villa, and of course anything one eats in France is delicious!  In Paris, our extra treat is seeing James Taylor in concert at L'Olympia, near the Opera House.

So come along to the website, hosted by Wordpress, and I'll attempt to paint word pictures of our trip that convey even a sliver of what we are experiencing . . . so follow us.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Italy Women - September 6-23, 2012

Italy Women 2012
Rome, Siena, Florence, Lucca, Venice

Ah, Bella Italia!  Wouldn’t we love to explore her majestic art, architecture, and cuisine, her serene villages and vineyards, her romantic coastlines and waterways for half of the rest of our lives?  Well, on this Women’s Adventure, we’ll have to settle for just a bit less than that, taking in some of the spectacular sights in the top half of “the boot”. 

We’ll begin in Rome, one of the most cultural cities in the world, and we will stay four nights here.  We’ll visit the Colosseum, the Forum, and the Vatican.  Throw your pennies in the Trevi Fountain and make your wishes come true.   Spend a leisurely evening eating dinner on the edge of the Piazza Navona or the Campo di Fiori (or both!).  Shop on the exquisite Via Condotti, sit on the Spanish Steps, and spend an afternoon at the Borghese Gallery, where Bernini’s statue of Apollo chasing Daphne will take your breath away. 

Then we’ll travel by train to begin our stay in Tuscany, beginning with one night in Siena, where the Palio is held each year at the Campo.  We’ll have a half-day private tour with my friend Viviana Girola, and explore the walkways, churches, shops and alleys of this old world town. We will then stay five days in Florence, strolling on the Ponte Vecchio to the other side of the Arno, listening to the monks chant their 5:00 Mass near the Piazale Michelangelo, stopping at a frutta e verdura market for a fresh afternoon snack.  After a half day private walking tour to get a feel for the history of Florence, we will visit the old masters in the Uffizi Gallery and the exquisite statue of Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia.  Franco treats us like queens at Il Porcospino, a local ristorante near the Medici Chapel.  And always there is espresso, cappuccino, gelato and other delicious culinary delights.

Day trips to Fiesole and Vinci will give us a taste of some northern Tuscany towns, and are easy to reach by train or short bus.  If we have time, we might even have a language lesson or two, taught by my Italian tutor, Leonardo d’Amato.

After kissing Florence goodbye, we will head to one of my favorite old Tuscan towns, Lucca.  Nestled just near Pisa, our Lucca stay (two nights) will allow us time to stop in Pisa on the way, to see the Leaning Tower, of course, as well as the Baptistry and the Duomo.  Siena and Lucca have become the happy substitute for Cinque Terre, since quite a bit of the Cinque Terre villages were damaged or destroyed by flood and mud slides last month. 

Finally, we will again travel by train to the waterways of Venice, where the common substitute for a car is a long boat called a vaporetto. Walking in Venice across the hundreds of footbridges is a treat, and easier with your StreetWise Venice map, a must in this maze of canals.  We’ll have a half-day tour here, through the Church of San Marco, the Ducal Palace and the Bridge of Sighs.  Mask shops abound, and I’ve discovered a little place that makes and sells wonderful journals for those of you who like reflective writing. 

If you choose, you can take a boat to Murano and Burano, famous for beautiful Venetian glass and lace.  Or you can just sit in any café that appeals to you and watch the people go by.  After four nights in Venice, we’ll bid farewell to the welcoming residents of Italy and head for home.

Our trip will include AIRFARE FROM DENVER, sixteen nights’ lodging (double occupancy), RailEurope passes, other private transportation and/or transfers to and from our hotels, Roma Passes for major sights, A Vatical visit, walking tours in Florence and Venice, vaporetto tickets in Venice, a half-day trip to Pisa, sixteen breakfasts, three lunches, seven dinners, Rome, Venice and Florence Street-wise maps, travel journals, and ME, your planner, guide, and all-around fire extinguisher!

Cost for above, (including airfare from Denver) is $5950.00**  A $500 non-refundable deposit holds your space. A referral discount of  $250 is yours for early registration by December 1 OR for bringing a friend not on my list . . .

For questions, please contact Joannah L. Merriman, Lifeprints, 970-481-6339 or 970-226-5676.  E-mail me at jetlost@lamar.colostate.edu and check out this blog, www.woodswomanabroad.blogspot.com for samples of previous trip adventures!

**Double occupancy.  Single occupancy available for additional cost. If you are flying from somewhere other than Denver, or if you have miles you’d rather use, please talk with me about arrangements.  Travel insurance is a must, I’ve found, but I will offer a group rate or individual policy for the full value of your trip as well as for lost luggage, trip delays, medical coverage etc.  Details about that upon registration.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2011


May 4-20, 2012

Imagine yourself strolling through streets in villages in the Luberon Valley of Provence. Goult, Gordes, Lourmarin. Imagine sipping a lovely wine from the region, crumbs of a fresh croissant on the tip of your tongue.

Imagine the smell of lavender, herbs de Provence, the baked goods waiting in the shop on the corner. Antiques at the market in Isle de sur La Sorgue. Visits to castles, abbeys, picturesque towns in the Provencal hills. Cafes and shops abound.

A week at a beautiful Provencal villa in Robion awaits you, with heated swimming pool, and garden benches. Day trips to Aix-en-Provence, St. Remy, area wineries, the red hills of Roussillon. Springtime in Provence brings wildflowers, and the cherries are in season. Longer daylight allows for an evening’s relaxation outdoors with a glass of wine. Delicious meals are prepared with ingredients fresh from the village markets, enjoyed at area restaurants or by a personal chef at our own villa.

After our week at the villa, we will spend one night at Les Florets, a
favorite and beautiful little inn just outside the town of Gigondas, north one hour from our villa. Thierry will serve us wine his family makes on the property, cheeses to die for, and a dinner that will leave your palate watering for a week. On our way there, we will stop in Sault, the lavender capital of Provence, and though it will be early for the lavender, it is in the air, everywhere.

At the end of our time in Provence, we will board the TGV, the “fast train” to Paris, and spend the next week immersed in the beauty, excitement, tranquility (and food!) of one of the most stunning cities in Europe. With museum passes and metro passes, you are free to wander wherever you want, whenever you want, visiting some of the most famous paintings in the world, or finding the tiniest galleries in back streets. Paper stores, button stores, bookstores, artwork sold on the Pont Neuf. Just sitting outside the Louvre transports you to a different world.

We will stay in a small hotel in the Rue Cler district, the 7th Arrondissement. From there, your feet or the metro or a cab will take you anywhere you want to go. The Hotel Muguet is just a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower. Sometimes lit in red, sometimes blue, the tower is an especially spectacular vision at night, walking through the park from our hotel!

Our trip will include AIRFARE FROM DENVER, all lodging (double occupancy), train from Paris to Avignon and back, rental cars, gas and tolls, transfers to and from our Paris hotel, 5-day museum pass, metro pass, seven dinners, eight breakfasts, Paris Street-wise map, travel journals, and ME, your planner, guide, and all-around fire-extinguisher!

Cost for above, (including airfare from Denver) is $5800.00* A $500 non-refundable deposit holds your space. A referral discount of $250 is yours for registration by October 15 OR for bringing a friend not on my list . . .

For questions, please contact Joannah L. Merriman, Lifeprints, 970-481-6339 or 970-226-5676. E-mail me at jetlost@lamar.colostate.edu and check out my website, www.lifeprintsjournal.com as well as my travel blog, www.woodswomanabroad.blogspot.com for samples of previous trip adventures!

Bon jour!

Joannah L. Merriman, M.A./Lifeprints

*Single occupancy available for additional cost. Travel insurance is a must, I’ve found, but I will offer a group rate policy for the full value of your trip as well as for lost luggage, trip delays, medical coverage etc. Details about that later.

Activity level: On our Lifeprints Journeys to France and Italy, we walk a lot. You don't need to be a hiker or a runner, but you will be happier if you are in fairly good shape for strolling along the streets both in hill towns and in Paris. There are plenty of cafes that afford us a bit of a rest here and there, so if you can be on your feet for more than a couple of hours at a time some days, you'll have great fun with us. Ask me for more specifics if you have health issues.

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Monday, November 01, 2010

Paris Days

Monday, October 18, 2010. Last night we walked quickly to the Rue Cler, at least six of us did, looking for a quick meal. Kay, Marie and I found Chinese food appealing, while Anne, Tonda and Sue decided the next-door restaurant looked better to them. One way or another, we were all exhausted from our day of driving the French highways, and we were very glad to tumble into our respective beds at the Hotel Muguet.

Monday, October 25, 2010

On to Gigondas and Paris

Saturday, October 16, 2010. Today we pack up for one more Provencal destination, the lovely Rhone Valley village of Gigondas. But first, the drive over the mountain, which is quite spectacular and a diversion from the kind of terrain by which we've been surrounded. We began by loading our two cars at Fontaine du Faucon and heading toward Apt. All week, we've been "heading toward Apt", and never quite get there because our real daily destinations are elsewhere, but this morning, we were able to actually drive into that small city, and found that but for the village center, it was just an ordinary town, with light industry on the outskirts and the usual lovely Provence architecture in the center.

Our first stop was perhaps 20 minutes past Apt, in the village of Sault, known as the

Lavender Capital of Provence. I'd surely love to be here in late July, when the lavender harvest is in full swing, because what we could see as we drove were fields and fields and fields (get the picture) of cut la

vender mounds. I can only imagine the gorgeous vistas of purple during the summer.

As is our group habit each time I visit this area, we park the cars just in the center of town, walk to one of the two very available bakeries, grab the sweets of our choice, and take them to the Tabac across the street, where we can sit with coffee and our goodies for a nice break. Today we met a delightful young French woman who grew up in this town and is at university in Marseilles, but was home for the weekend. H

er parents are lavender farmers, and they are preparing some housing for visitors which might be completed by next summer. Hmmmmm . . .

After wandering through the little shops, purchasing lavender sachets, lavender honey, etc., we are back on the road again, headed over Mont Ventoux. There are many bicyclists on this road toward the top of the Mont, which is always baffling, because the hill is so steep, the terrain becoming more and more ghostly, but there are hardy folk around here, apparently. Thus the Tour de France . . . On the way to the top, there is an eerie forest, and then Sommet Mont Ventoux, 1912 meters. One would think we'd arrived in Alaska or the Arctic Circle. But we are only one hour from the lush fall foliage in the Luberon Valley, Provence.

After a stop for a few photos, and a chance to watch the cheering cyclists as their buddies arrived at the summit, we got back into our cars and headed down the Mont. Another stop in Malecene for lunch and then on to Gigondas.

And to be accurate, we're not really going to the village of Gigondas, we're going THROUGH the village to our next eating-and-sleeping stop: Les Florets. See http://www.hotel-lesflorets.com

Our hosts, Thierry and Dominique, are always so welcoming, and their inn is enhanced by a beautiful stone area (it’s too large to just be called a patio), with tables, a dry well (cats and kittens are often found there, playing together in the sun), and a most magnificent view of the valley below. Thierry’s family grows grapes, makes delicious Rhone wines, and we choose one or two of them to accompany our exquisite dinners. You read the superlatives in this post, but it is because Les Florets and its charms are hard to describe without those words . . . delicious, beautiful, exquisite, magnificent . . . (and yes, I'm using photos from 2008, because our arrival this year was not accompanied by sunshine. It was a bit cloudy and darker than last time, but you get the picture!)

We began the “routine”, if you can call anything in Provence routine . . . we parked the cars, checked into our rooms, took a breath, and headed to the dining room for what we knew would be another mouth-watering meal. Only one wrinkle for me . . . a tiny detail . . . the TGV trains were on strike, so our planned car rental return the next day to Avignon and what we had hoped would be a long and leisurely train ride through the countryside to Paris was now disrupted by the strike, and though one in three or one in four trains were still running, ours was not, with no alternative times that made sense. So that little wrinkle cost me four hours of phone conversations and exploration of alternate plans with Travel Guard throughout the night.

Sunday, October 17, 2010. Our final “best plan” was to keep our cars, drive to Orly airport on the south edge of Paris, and have our ATS Paris shuttle driver pick us up there, rather than at Gare de Lyon. A much more nerve-wracking proposition, but better than sitting at the Avignon train station all day hoping to get out. As it stood, the drive was relatively uneventful for both cars, though of course as soon as we were off the A road, we lost the signs to Orly and wandered through two towns past our destination. But after all of that, we arrived at our Hotel Muguet only three hours later than originally planned.

I have never been more grateful for Travel Guard insurance than I was during that weekend. Leslie at the Concierge Services for TG called me over and over, checking to see that we were doing well on the roads, making sure we got to our hotel, and offering all manner of other help as we determined how best to get out of Provence. Thanks, Leslie!

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Last days in Provence

Friday, October 15. Today was a day to stay near the villa town and its neighbors, do short visits here and there, do laundry, pack up and get ready to move on to the second half of our France adventure.

We slept in, made breakfast and headed out toward Roussillion again to check out the color, the shops, and the countryside. Gordes was also on our list, a beautiful hill town north of our village of Goult. Again, walking the town, stopping into bakeries and lavender shops, gathering fresh bags of herbs de Provence, and finally lunch at a little cafe, L'Estaminet Cave a Vin, where we ate outside in the glorious sunshine. I had the most delicious pate foie gras, buttery and rich, accompanied by toast points, a fresh Mesclun green salad, and sweet onion chutney, chased down my throat with lots of water and a delicious glass of local red wine! YUM . . .

My car, with Kay, Ellen and Gena as my passengers, then nosed its way down the hillside to the Village des Bories, a renovated ancient stone site, with the most amazing dwellings, all out of stacked stone without any mortar.

A final stop to LaCoste, where Gena was determined to see the Marquis de Sade's castle, and though we couldn't drive to it, no matter what the signs said, we parked and she took her determined self up the hill to get more than a glimpse of the crumbling facade. Pierre Cardin is said to be restoring the castle to its original sadistic brilliance, and we'll see how long THAT takes!

Back to the villa, everyone was finishing the last of the soup, cheeses, olives, and all manner of bread goodies. We have to be up and out of the villa before 10:00, headed north over Mont Ventoux to our next stop, Gigondas, in the Rhone Valley.

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

More of Our Villa Week in Provence

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ah, the best laid plans . . . I know, I'm behind on my Provence details, because we've been having such a lovely time, though the weather hasn't been as warm as we had hoped. Yes, we've been eating, drinking, talking, reading, walking, laughing, etc. Wonderful villages, beautiful countryside, not any real progress learning any French. We try, but it's a hilarious effort!

I left you in St. Remy on Monday, walking around with the Van Gogh "stations of the cross". Tuesday, we drove to Aix-en-Provence to the market, met our Chef Daniel and walked around the mouth-watering stalls of food, while he carefully chose the ingredients for our dinner that night. Small shiny aubergine, my favorite color. (Eggplant, that is). And zucchini. Girolles and sep (mushrooms to die for), some sea bass, goat cheeses, pears, and honey. Then he went off to the villa to begin preparation for our evening meal while we found a lovely restaurant for lunch (I'll get the card from my stash and enter the name here soon) and agreed to do a bit more market looking/shopping before we met at the cars at 3:30 to return to the villa.

Later that afternoon, Daniel set out cutting boards and sharp knives for each of us and we chopped and sliced, stirred and tasted, according to his direction, finally sitting down to our evening meal, accompanied by sparkling wine, white, rose, and red.

Of course we again went to our bedrooms stuffed to the gills, I with a cup of tea in my hand.

Wednesday, October 13. The winery St. Esteve de Neri, owned and operated by our villa hosts, Allan and Alexandra (Alex) Wilson, was our destination today. This morning we didn't have to leave very early, and we took the opportunity to lounge around the kitchen table in our pajamas before heading to St. Esteve. The winery is located outside Ansouis, so we drove through a charming two-level village called Bonnieux, then Lourmarin, and finally approached Ansouis and turned into the vineyard property.

Allan was awaiting our arrival and we got a short tour of the lower levels, where the enormous stainless steel vats hold the wine before it is bottled. We then had a bit of a lesson in tasting, with one white wine, one rose, and three reds. Just as we finished our tasting, Helen, Alex's sister and our chef from last Saturday evening, rang the tasting room to say that our lunch was waiting for us on the patio of the Wilsons' home.

Walking from tasting room to home patio, we passed the vineyard again, complete with turning leaves, garden cats, and that smell of the countryside nothing else can duplicate. Our table was set with delicious fresh tomatoes from the garden, olives, fish cakes, roasted chicken and fingerling potatoes, and the richest chocolate mousse I've ever tasted. Since I'm not a chocolate fan (I know, I know . . . ) I bestowed my portion of dessert on a chocoholic fellow traveler!

Later in the afternoon we stopped in Rousillon for a short visit, and marveled at the red and ochre cliffs surrounding this picturesque village. We decided we'll have to return tomorrow.

Dinner on this night was light, since our lunch stuck to our ribs nearly until bedtime. Sle
ep and a new day of adventures tomorrow, this time to the seacoast!

Thursday, October 14, all but one of our group headed south again, this time in brilliant sunlight, toward Cassis, a small town on the French Riviera. The coastline is gifted with calanques, the fjords of this area. You can take a boat ride to visit the calanques or just sit on the boardwalk at a restaurant and watch the water. I chose to do the latter because I've seen the calanques from the water, and I'm a bit motion sick to say the least. So while the women embarked on a five-calanque ride, I sat at an outside table with a delicious plate of boef tartare, its presentation deserving of a photo or painting, but alas, I dug into it before I remembered that I had a camera.

I took out my Kindle, sipped my red wine, and savored the most delicious tartare I've ever eaten. It came as a ground up raw patty of beef, with a trio of minced onions, capers and parsley surrounding it. A raw egg topped the beef and I mixed all the ingredients into a most tempting mess on the plate. Then lovingly slathered bits of the tartare on fresh crusty bread and closed my eyes, savoring every bit of my light lunch. The waiter asked about dessert and I began to shake my head, but then asked what he had to offer. In the list of possibilities, the words "flan caramel" caught my attention and I ordered a slice. Exquisite!!! With a generous dollop of fresh whipped cream, drizzled with the same caramel sauce that bathed the flan.

When my traveling companions returned on their boat, THEY were hungry, though I was now completely stuffed, and happy. So I sat with all of them while they had their share of real French Fries, crepes, and salads. Another hour of exploring shops through the harbor walk, a cafe au lait with Kay, and we were back in our cars, negotiating the roads from Cassis through Aix to our sleepy town of Goult and down the long dirt road toward our villa.

No one was famished that evening, but I made a huge pot of chicken vegetable soup, with herbs de Provence right from the source! Salad and some of that incredible crusty bread and we were full, warm and happy.

More later.

Bon nuit!

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