Sunday, April 30, 2017

April 30, 2017. A day on the farm

LOCATION:  Housesitting outside of Poullaounen, a village in central Brittany, France

WEATHER:  Cold and rainy.  High about 50


We stayed home all day as the weather was unpleasant and because most things are closed up here in rural Brittany on Sundays.  We started the day with our chicken duties....

We collected 17 eggs, 2 that were ugly and cannot sell (for us to eat) and 15 good ones.  

One of the neighbors raises cows. We get our milk there.  We take an empty bottle over along with 50 cents, leave it on a ledge, then pick up the milk a few hours later.  We had left the empty bottle and money there yesterday, but we forgot to go pick it up.  So, the neighbor dropped it by today.  We had a frustrating conversation in French.  We don't know what she was trying to tell us. We tried telling her that we would buy another bottle on Wednesday, for one of our customers who picks up eggs.  She was totally confused.  I even wrote it out on my ipad using a French translation app, to no avail.  

 George did a few little maintenance jobs, like repairing gates.  I spent most of the day reading in front of the fire.  

  The sun came out a bit.  This is the view from our front window.    
 DINNER:  Chicken vegetable soup.  I used the chicken carcass from the roasted chicken we had with the homeowners.  It was perfect for a cool, rainy evening.    

Saturday, April 29, 2017

April 29, 2017. French market day

LOCATION:  Housesitting near Poullaneon, Brittany, France

WEATHER:  Sunny and cool.  Highs in 50s


The homeowners left and we are now on our own.  We sure hope that all 21 chickens survive these next two weeks, under our care!  We collected 13 eggs plus found 2 broken ones.  We keep the misshapen ones for ourselves and store the rest to sell.

We drove about 15 miles to the closest medium-sized town for its Saturday market.  It was a nice market - vegetable, fruit, cheese, meat, cooked food, seafood, and clothes stalls.  And, surprisingly....mattresses.  This stall was selling rustic bread....
And this one, good goat cheese...
This one, al kinds of cheese...

George bought some bacon here..

We bought some paella from one of the stands.  They cook it in huge paella pans.  It was doing a great business.  We wanted to buy some of the great looking seafood, but we weren't going directly home, and were worried about spoilage.  Apparently, the western coast where we will go one day, has great mussels and oysters.  After shopping, we went to a cafe on the square for a drink and to people-watch.    

Our neighbor left us some baby lettuce which we planted.  A new set of campers arrived.  While George was opening the gate for them, the chickens got out!  He had to corral them back in.   Our homeowner is an artist and has a nice artist studio on the property.   These campers are interested in some paintings drawn by our homeowner.  We are trying to put them into contact so that the camper might buy one or two.


DINNER:  In an unsupervised moment at the supermarket, George bought some venison.  It had a picture of morel mushrooms on it, so he thought it would contain them.  It did not.  I made a risotto with onions, leeks, mushrooms and garlic, and served it with the sauteed venison.  Pretty good.  



April 28, 2017. On to the latest housesit

LOCATION:  Housesitting in a tiny hamlet near Poullaoun, Brittany, France

WEATHER:  Sunny and cool.  Highs in 50s


Our homeowner picked us up at the hotel.  We stopped in a grocery and stocked up a bit on wine, cheese and pate.  Just the essentials!  


Then, on about 45 minutes to the house where we will be housesitting for the next two weeks.  We are right in the middle of Brittany.  See red dot. 

 The hamlet where we are staying has 3 houses.  We met our neighbors (in rudimentary French) and got oriented.  We will be taking care of 3 cats.  They will be pretty easy, as they are mostly outdoor cats.  One sleeps with the chickens in order to catch mice.  The other had a run-in with a neighbor dog yestersday, and is recuperating.


After a nice French lunch, we chilled while the homeowners packed up.  Then, we got an orientation to the chickens.  There used to be 23, but now there are 21, due to the demise of 2 under the care of the former housesitters.  Yikes - we need to make sure we don't lose any!!!

In addition to feeding and cleaning up after the chickens, we will of course collect the eggs.  We learned the schedule of selling  them to their regular clients.  In addition to that, we will put some in our mailbox with a sign announcing 'eggs for sale" along with a collection jar so that passersby can buy some, too.

The homeowners own a field where people can camp at no charge.  There is a system here called "France Passion" where campers can camp in people's fields, wineries, etc at no charge.  In exchange for free accomodation, they are encouraged to buy whatever the homeowners have, like wine, cheese, etc.  In our case, it is eggs and the homeowners' paintings.    

One couple arrived this afternoon and bought some eggs.  It will be fun and challenging to communicate with them!  


DINNER:  Roasted whole chicken with asparagus, mashed potatoes and carrots.  Tasty!  

Thursday, April 27, 2017

April 27, 2017. Riding the rails of Europe

LOCATION:  Guingamp, Brittany, France

WEATHER:  Overcast.  Warm in Rome, snowy in Alps, warm in Paris, cloudy and cool in Brittany!


We had two alarms set for 4:45 AM.  One was George's phone.  He had to leave it on for the alarm, so it pinged all night long as he received Facebook birthday wishes.  I  finally gave up on trying to sleep at 4:30, and made us go directly to the station.  Of course, we got there too soon, but to me that is better than rushing.  We caught the 6:00 AM train.  

It was a high-speed direct train.  At times, it got up to 300 kms/hour (about 180 mph).  We stopped just once, in Milan. It was almost all businesmen traveling.  We arrived in Torino at 10:00 and easily made our transfer at 10:15.  The train system is very efficient.  We got to thinking how different it would be for a European to try to use AmTrack in the USA--- always late, confusing, etc.    

From Torino, our route took us through the Italian Alps. We stopped briefly at the French border for a passport check.  We stopped in several ski resort towns, including Chamonix, quite famous I think.  Then, through the French Alps, then farmland.  This train was not as fast --- lots of local stops.


We arrived in Paris at 4:30 PM.  We had a 6:00 PM connection to make to go to Brittany.  However, the connecting train leaves from a different station.  We figured out how to get there by bus and rode across Paris.  It is just full of sidewalk cafes and intersting looking places.  We almost missed the busstop for the train station, as it was not marked well.  But, we got off as almost everyone else did.  We were doing ok on time, but I needed to print our train tickets.  Nothing is translated into English so I couldn't figure out the machine to retrieve the tickets.  The alternative was a long, long line to talk to the ticket people.  We would not make our connection.  Approaching a meltdown, I kept trying different machines.  Finally, I peaked over a woman's shoulder as she was buying her ticket and figured it out.  (I think she thought I was trying to copy her credit card info or something).  We had a few minutes before the train departed, so bought some sushi to eat on the train.   This last train, from Brittany with a final destination of Brest in far west Brittany was another high-speed one.  Our first stop wasn't until 2 hours outside of Paris.  The passengers looked like commuters.  Three and a half hours from Paris, at 9;30 PM, we got off in Guingamp.  This is where we will meet our next homeowner tomorrow.  It is a small town with one hotel.  We had made a reservation.  When we got off the train, everyone scattered from the station.  Without wifi, we didn't know where to look for our hotel.  I asked the train station attendant who was closing up the station for the night.  He pointed and we headed off.  We found it easily as the town is pretty small.  However, the hotel was closed up for the night!  We pounded on the door, but no one answered.  At last, the same friendly train station attendant walked by and we asked him to call the hotel for us.  The hotel manager came out and let us in. Whew!    

It was a long, long day on the rails, but we are glad we did it.  We saw lots of pretty scenery.  Flying would have been an option, but we would have had to stay somewhere overnight along the way.  


We will be at this housesitting assignmet for about 2 weeks.  We fly out of Paris in mid-May.  We still have to figure out what we are doing for the few days after the assignment, before our flight, and how we are getting back to Paris.  

April 26, 2017. George's Rome birthday

LOCATION:  Rome, Italy

WEATHER: Beautiful.  High about 70
Today's mission was to see the remaining Rome sites listed in my book "Thousand Places To Go Before You Die". First we walked to the main train station as a dry run so we will know how to get there tomorrow for our 6:00 AM train.  (Good thing, as we got lost several times).  
We caught the subway at the main train station.  I have never ever seen so many people trying to get on a subway car.  We couldn't fit in the first two trains.  For the 3rd, we just had to push along with about a million other passengers.  There was no need to hold on to anything as we were stuffed in like sardines.  George felt his pocket being picked.  Thankfully the pocket just held his handkerchief.  
We got off at St. Peter's Square, and were bombarded with hustlers selling tickets to the Vatican and Sistine Chapel.  Their spiel is that you can avoid the 4-hour line by buying one of their "jump the line" tickets.  We had decided just to see St. Peter's Square, since I've seen the Vatican and George didn't want to fight the crowds.
The Pope was giving a special speech in St. Peter's Square, so we were lucky to be there then.  He was on a stage in the distance, but we could watch and listen to him on huge TV screens.  We pretended that he was wishing George a Happy Birthday.
This guy was in charge of crowd control. 
From there, we walked to a castle that our hotel receptionist had recommended due to the views from the top.  We stopped for a coffee at a bar on the 3rd floor.  You can see the Vatican in the background.
Then, lots of steps up to the 5th floor terrace where we had a lovely panorama view of the city.
We strolled along the Tiber River which flows through Rome, on our way to a famous plaza and palace.  The Leonardo Di Vinci Museum is here.  
We found a cozy cafe for lunch.  George got a stuffed veal cutlet.  I ordered peperoni which turned out to be red bell peppers, and not the meat I was expecting.  It was really good, though.  
We peeked into a church on the plaza.  It had this strange skeleton head hung in the entrance.  I think it is a special art installation.  Weird. 
Next on our list was the Spanish Steps.  It is just like the pictures.  
We climbed the steps (ugh) to the top where we pampered ourselves at the Hassler Hotel bar.  This historic hotel is supposed to be one of the nicest in the world, and is a "must do" in my guidebook.  George celebrated his birthday with a martini.  
I had forgotten how hilly Rome is.  Even though we were high up, after climbing the Spanish Steps, we had to walk up a lot of hills as we headed back to our hotel.  Good exercise!  
George is fascinated with these water fountains that are all over the city, with potable water.  
We rested our feet at the hotel, then found a restaurant nearby for dinner.  George had a pasta dish with wild boar and I had spaghetti carbonara.  He splurged with a tiramisu for a birthday dessert.  

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

April 25, 2017. Walking (and walking and walking) the streets of Rome

LOCATION:  Rome, Italy WEATHER:  Beautiful.  Highs in 70s   Armed with a map and a list of things to see from my book "Thousand Places to Go Before You Die", we hit the streets of Rome.  We were accompanied by about a million other tourists doing the same thing! First up were the ruins of The Forum.  Ruins are everywhere here.  We've heard that the city starts a construction project, runs into ruins, and just leaves them there for archeocological  study.  Various rulers over the years, starting with Augustus in 2 BC built their forums. 

Then, another ruler came along and built a different Forum.  These were used as courts.

Our map isn't that good, and we did a lot of walking in circles.  We finally found a famous market, also listed in my book.  

Next to the market are several restaurants.  We thankfully rested and restored oursevles with a pasta dish and an "artichoke a la Roma". Better than mine ever turn out.

Fortified, we soldiered on.  Next up was the Parthenon.  I hadn't realized it is a basilica. Too big to really capture in a photo.

Next was Trevi Fountain.  It was ridiculously crowded.  We could hardly get close enough to snap a photo

George almost had a meltdown at that point.  It was so crowded and noisy.  We wanted just to get to a quieter area.  Our map showed that we should take one of the busy main streets, fulll of upscale shops.  Today is Liberation Day, a holiday, so a lot of Italians were flooding the streets shopping.  We kept getting more and more lost, and couldn't even find where we were on the map.  George was really really grumpy, and just wanted to call a taxi to go back.  I, keeper of the budget, of course did not allow that. We had heard that taxis charge exorbitant fees on holidays. Instead, I found a tourist office and the kind lady pointed us in the right direction.    

Somewhat mollified, George continued to keep on walking, as long as we could stop for a beer along the way.  So, we did


Back home, we recuperated after about 8 hours of walking.  Our hotel is not really a hotel.  It is in a condo/apartment building.  It seems to be a condo converted to hotel rooms.  The first level has a very nice courtyard.

We have to take a creaking elevator up 4 flights.  It is the old-fashioned kind with ropes dangling from above
    Then, we enter the unit...

The price is good, location great, and the reception lady perfect.  


DINNER:  There are lots of options right around our lodging.  We found a quiet place.  We shared an order of gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce.  In the USA, I've tasted, and not liked gnocchi, but this was superb, melt-in-your-mouth quality.  We also had some grilled prawns.  All very nice.  

April 24, 2017. Arrivederci to our paradise in Abruzzo! Ciao to Rome!

LOCATION:  Lucky Doumas Hotel in Rome, Italy

WEATHER:  Sunny.  Highs in 70s


We got an early start, and said goodbye to the homeowner.  It has been like staying in a paradise here.  I would highly recommend this to anyone thinking about coming to Italy.  It is like Tuscany, but still undiscovered.
    We drove about an hour, and returned the rental car in Pescara.  Since I made us get there so early, we had time for a coffee, then hopped on the bus.  There was no bus station, so I was a little nervous when it did not come in time.  The busses are known to just not show up sometimes.  But, our 3-hour trip across the mountains was fine.  We went across a lot of long, high bridges and through some very long tunnels.

Once in the Rome bus terminal, we were a little hesitant about how to get to our hotel.  I spotted a metro station, and we figured out how to get there.  Amazingly simple.  


We dumped our bags and set off for some of the sights.  First was the Colliseum, just about a 10-minute walk from our hotel.

This is off-season but still absolutely packed with people.  George did not want to fight the crowds to enter, and since I've toured it before, we decided not to go in.     We walked around the area with more Roman ruins.  George got me to take this photo of him with the police who are everywhere.  I had to sneak a picture as they were telling the Asian tourists not to take photos of them.

We walked and walked, and stumbled upon a church that seemed to be popular among the tourists.  It turns out that it has some of Michelangelo's works inside.

The ceiling has a beautiful painting on it.  George told me to take a photo of it and say that it is the Sistene Chapel, as he doesn't want to fight the crowds there tomorrow, either.  

After all tht sight-seeing, we stopped at a cute wine bar for a rest.

 DINNER:  We found a neighbor small restaurant. It was popular as it is cheap for Rome. George had the fixed menu dinner for $9 - a huge platter of lasagne, chicken, and spinach.  I had a pizza.  

Sunday, April 23, 2017

April 23, 2017. Time to ski in the sun!

LOCATION:  Last day of housesitting at a villa outside of Casoli, Italy in the Abruzzo region

WEATHER:  Beautiful.  Sunny and warm - about 70.  Colder in mountains
Today's destination was a ski resort about 30 miles from here.  We can see the mountain where it is located from our house, but of course, the roads don't go directly there.
There is still quite a bit of snow on the mountain, but the resort will close this week for the season.  The roads were clear today, but I cannot imagine driving on them in the winter.  They are so narrow and curvy.  There are road signs everywhere reminding drivers that chains are required.
This heavy-duty snow plow has its work cut out for itself.
There were a lot of people skiing.  Many professional-looking skiers with fancy ski outfits.  Families, too, sledding down the slopes.
Snowboarders at this mountain.
Gino got out of the car to make a bit of yellow snow.  :-)
The mountain top has an elevation of 5500 feet.  In a short distance, we were back at the main town, with an elevation of 1800 feet, confirming that the road up there is super steep.  Also, being Sunday, there were a lot of bicyclists biking up the mountain. I cannot understand why or how they do this.  Looks miserable to me!
We spotted a microbrewery (of course) outside of the ski resort town.  It is nice to buy something other than a Peroni, the Italian version of Budweiser.
Then, just as we were looking for lunch, we stumbled upon this BBQ shack.
 The owner is a lady from Australia, so we had a nice chat.  She suggested that we have the porchetta.  It is a local dish, a whole pig roasted for several hours in a special oven, then sliced and served with its cracklings. The tab for a beer, wine, bread and a huge platter of porchetta was $13.  The owner gave us some complimentary liver sausage to taste, another local specialty.   We could only eat about half.  We will eat the rest of it tomorrow for lunch on the bus ride to Rome.  
Back home, we did some last-minute cleaning and started packing.  This has been one of our best housesitting assignments.  
DINNER:  Risotto with leftover seafood from the mixed grill we bought at the fish shop last week.  
The homeowner returned about 9:00 PM and picked up the animals.  We are always somewhat relieved when the homeownrs return, with a happy reunion of homeowners and pets.  (All still alive and well). :)