Jardín Botánico de Vallarta


When I gave myself a pedicure before we left Salem, I didn’t realize I was putting on bouganvillea pink polish  My toes almost disappeared on the lawn.

This has been a pretty laid back trip to Puerto Vallarta. Michael has been playing a lot of water volleyball and Mexican train; I have been doing a bit of sketching and playing of Mexican train; we both have been enjoying the many happy hours to be had and the wonderful food and incredible company.

On Tuesday, we did break out of our routine for a trip to the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Garden.  Caught the bus in front of our accommodations and half an hour (plus or minus) later, we were there.

Lots of jungle-y trails to explore and beautiful plants and flowers to see.  The restaurant, perched high above the canopy, was cool and lovely.  One disappointment was not seeing more bird life although we did see a military macaw, a pretty rust colored hummingbird and a couple of other unknown-to-us varieties.


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Fun With Cousins


Michael, Connie, Dave, Bob, Steve, Virginia, Claire, Sally after a good lunch at JoeJack’s

We’ve been basking in good Puerto Vallarta vibes for the past five days. Lots of good food, good drink and good fun with friends and family.

The gray whale migration is in full flow right now and, on our first evening at Costa Sur, they put on a great performance just before sunset.  For twenty minutes, give or take, they plowed through the water just a couple hundred yards past the breakwater. They breached at least three times, which was spectacular . . . just like the Pacific Life Insurance commercial only better.

We’ve done a lot of walking including a food tour yesterday.  The tour was “A Taste of Pitillal,” which is a community north and to the east of Puerto Vallarta.  Bob and Connie, Michael and I and seven other like minded folks joined Bernardo Sanchez of Vallarta Food Tours to taste our way around the center of Pitillal.  Tacos carnitas, seafood tostados, street tacos of various types, goat taco, poblano and cheese tamales* and paletas (popsicles) all featured. At each stop we had agua frescas in many different flavors (lima (a type of citrus NOT the bean), soursop, passion fruit, jackfruit, etc.) And, the best churros this side of Toledo, Spain: Fresh, hot and crispy.

*The masa for tamales at Zia Anita is the lightest and fluffiest I have ever eaten. It is made with 30% rice and 70% corn!

Two new, to us, restaurants have been explored.  Both are worth revisiting.

This morning, from our balcony on the fourth floor, Michael and I watched a pod of dolphins playing just off the beach.  They were in the same area for over an hour. No incredible gymnastic moves but lots of activity none the less. It’s a better way to start the day than with the news from home!

Steve and Sally headed home this morning. Michael and I have to change rooms; so, we are going to be hanging out around the pool for a while.  Michael, of course, will be joining the water volleyball folks in a few minutes. I’ll be steering clear. The closest I want to get to that much liquid is a giant margarita.

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Au Revoir, France


Saying goodbye to Helen at the Cruzy market (Note Mikey’s new shorts)

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Here I am sitting in a generic Holiday Inn Express room at Blagnac airport (Toulouse) with the air conditioner on high turning the room into something resembling a walk in refrigerator.  It feels great!  As soon as Michael returns from turning in the rental car, I will have to moderate the temperature or he will be pulling on long johns, a balaclava and moaning about the fact that he didn’t bring hand warmers or mittens.  It’s been a warm and wonderful month in France.

I’m thinking that it is time to recap the past few days before the hub and bub of flying and arriving home drives all immediate memories from my brain.

Our last full day in Cruzy was Monday, September 30, and we spent it back at the beach in Gruissan but not at the salt flats. This time we went into the town proper and wandered through its weekly market, which happened to be going on, before finding a suitable place to have lunch.  Never has a trip revolved so much around lunches and wine.  It’s been a joy but we’ll have to pay the piper in the form of major abstinence and deprivation once we get back home.  You can only ask elastic to stretch so far.

Tuesday, we struck our Cruzy tents and headed west to Céret a small town in the foothills of the Pyrenees.*  Our chichi hotel was actually in a little hamlet beyond Céret and the hotel was totally charming. Old stone buildings, lots of growing things, a path down to the River Tech, a glowing turquoise swimming pool, beautiful salon, etc.. An oasis of tranquility in our hectic world. A most spectacular thunder and lightening and rain storm entertained us our first night there.

Turns out it was also very well located for a drive (on Wednesday) up the river into the mountains and arriving, ultimately, at Prats de Mollo, a beautiful village with much of its medieval architecture still intact. The village’s proximity to Spain was evident in the many Catalan references.  We ate in a restaurant featuring Catalan cuisine and the meal was a delectable change from our standard French fare of the previous three plus weeks.

Back at our hotel, we enjoyed more wine from our private stash and then cards in the grand salon. Claire emerged triumphant at the conclusion of the game.

*As we approached Céret, we were gobsmacked at the sight of a monstrous château  rising up on our right.  It is HUGE and just sort of erupts out of the landscape.  Research (our host at the hotel and Wikipedia) reveals that it is the Château d’Aubiry.  It was built by Pierre Bardou-Job for his son between 1893 and 1904.  Apparently, papa Pierre made an obscene amount of money out of cigarette rolling paper and decided to build a château for each of his three children. At 26,910 square feet, Château d’Aubiry must have made a lovely, large gift.  The château is not open to the public, unless, that is, you are a serious would-be buyer, in which case, please, come on in.

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Match du Rugby


Scrum: Who wouldn’t love a game that has these legs on display?

Monday, September 30, 2019

Never let it be said that there’s nothing much going on in these little French towns and villages. Yesterday, Sunday, found us spoiled for choice: Art in Capestang? Music in Ouveillan? Sport in St. Chinian?  Time-wise, we could have done it all. Energy-wise, we decided we should pick two of the three. Smart-wise, we picked art in the morning and sport in the afternoon, which left us with time to be back in Cruzy, on the terrace, drinking wine and eating hors d’oeuvre in time for the chiming of the seven o’clock bells.

Although Claire and Dave, sophisticates that they are, were very familiar with rugby from their grandson’s rugby playing days, Michael and I had never seen a game in the flesh as it were.  It was great! Unlike American football, which, to me, is only moderately more interesting than baseball with its interminable stop and go action, rugby is all action with a bare minimum of halts.  And, the players wear shorts and shirts; in other words, their arms and legs are hanging out for all to admire. This is my kind of sport. And the scrums are the perfect showcase for tight glutes, quads, hammies  and whatever other muscles and tendons are involved.

It was a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon and the turnout for the game was good. The home team was Cruzy/St. Chinian and, I believe, the visitors were from Albi. Although Albi is a largish city, the Cruzy/St. Chinian men pretty much cleaned their collective clock with a final score of (perhaps) 30 to 5.  I say “perhaps” because the final goal and free kick (or whatever they are called in rugby) happened at the very end of the second half and the half-crippled, Harley Davidson t-shirt wearing geezer who was the score keeper didn’t even bother changing the score from the previous 20 to 5. He just hobbled over and took down all of the numbers . . . maybe as a courtesy to the visiting team.

In addition to the big boys game taking place of the pitch, there was a group of four or five little boys on the sideline right in front of us who had their own scrimmage going on for the entire 80+ minutes of the game. It was hard to decide which was the most fun to watch.


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Time Flies


Panoramic Collioure – Photo by Jane

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Yesterday morning, the average age at 15 place de Republique shot up 4.9 years with the departure of Jane and John.  As you would be correct in assuming, we did so much and had so much fun with them that I didn’t even have time to compose a post during their stay.

Lack of posts does not equate with lack of activity.  Seems like my last post took us over to Marseillan and the vermouth factory; so, let’s begin after that, which will be somewhat of a challenge since I took a day off due to a cold.  But I will report ever so briefly.

On Wednesday, the gang, minus me, headed down to Collioure for a Mediterranean Sea shore experience. Wednesday happens to be market day in Collioure, which makes it a great day to explore the town.  Beautiful light, beautiful streets, good lunch and handsome military frogmen engaged in exercises made for an interesting excursion. Another glorious evening on the terrace in Cruzy with fabulous company, good food and drink, and incredible light on the church steeple capped off the day.


Photo by Claire

Thursday saw the gang, minus Michael, who was now nursing his cold, drive over to Narbonne for the covered market and the little piece of ancient Roman road. We discovered that Thursday is market day in Narbonne and parking was a challenge but we finally found a space in the underground garage right in front of (or, perhaps, under) Les Halles. There were stalls filling the large square in front of Les Halles and in several of the streets in the area.

We bypassed all temporary stalls and headed straight for Chez Bebelle in the covered market. We were hoping to snag seats at the counter so that we could watch Gilles, the owner, call out his meat orders to market vendors and see him catch the packets of meat that were thrown to him in return.  We were not disappointed; we ended up with prime seats with beef flying in just left of Davey’s head and horse flying in directly above Jane.  At the risk of alienating all of my equine loving friends, I had the horse haché and it was delicious.

After lunch, we perused the offerings both inside and outside the market. Inside: Lots of high quality, high priced foods of all sorts; outside, lots of lower quality, downright cheap clothing, shoes, sunglasses, dishes, etc. We all managed to find things without which we couldn’t live.

Ancient Roman road: Check. Met Awesome Alice and Ronald McDonald from New Brunswick while we were there. Very lively, fun loving couple.

Friday morning should have been rainy and grey if it were to match our moods since that was when Jane and John had to leave to head north to Bayeux on the next leg of their French adventures.  Instead, it was another gloriously beautiful morning, which boded well for their onward journey.

We already miss them.





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The Gang’s All Here


Jane and John. I think Buster has a new BFF

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

My mother was one of eleven children.  All of her siblings had children, which means I have LOTS of cousins. Happily for us, there’s scarcely a dud in the bunch. In fact, I’d wager than any given bunch of grapes harvested in Cruzy last week contains many more duds than my bunch of cousins does.  And one of the best of the bunch arrived here on Saturday.

Jane and her husband, John, drove down from Paris via Amboise in the Loire Valley to join Claire, Dave, Michael and me for a week in the beautiful Languedoc. A bit of family history before I continue:

Jane’s full name is Catherine Jane; she was named after Claire’s mother, our Auntie Jane, and, like all of my mothers’ sisters, goes by her middle name.  Claire’s full name is Evelyn Claire; she was named, in part, after my mother Claire. Claire also goes by her middle name. I, as usual, am just odd and am not named after anyone AND I go by my first name. But enough family confusion; the point is, the gang’s all here.

Saturday evening was rainy, which dictated an evening in. No problem, Dave and Claire had made a big pot of delicious lentil soup for dinner. Even more importantly, however, Claire had been painstakingly making ice spheres, one sphere at a time, for our Noilly Prat Ambre welcome cocktails.  Turns out, we all really like NP Ambre!!  We just slugged it down.  And, then, we just slugged down some of the region’s finest, inexpensive wines.  A great reunion.

Sunday was also wet but, after a bit of a slow start (remember all that vermouth and wine?), we all piled into our Peugeot with its jump seat engaged and headed over to the market in St. Chinian.  The rain had kept some vendors away but it was still a pleasant way to begin the day and J and J’s stay.  We had a lavish and delicious lunch at the Auberge de la Croisade with its delightful, English-speaking, joke-cracking host, Bruno . . . French in spite of his English speaking and German sounding name. We rounded out the day with visits to the Cruzy church and municipal museum. And more vermouth and wine but that aspect of our days will go without saying for the remainder of my posts.

Yesterday, Monday, dawned clear and sunny, as the Weather Channel had so accurately predicted. Taking advantage of the fine weather, which is forecast to continue throughout the rest of the week, we headed over to Minerve to dip our toes into the history of the Cathars, which history figures so prominently in this part of France. Minerve didn’t disappoint.  From the handsome, young German lads Claire befriended on our walk from the parking lot, to the miniature museum that sets out the history of the Cathars in a labyrinthine structure filled with clay-figured dioramas, to the gorgeous stones of the buildings themselves. Absolutely lovely.

Not having eaten for at least two hours, we headed to lunch at La Selette, which is a beautiful French country restaurant.  Once again, too much food all of which was delicious in a gorgeous setting.

The final piece of our activity packed “away” day was a drive back to Marseillan and the Maison Noilly Prat to restock our dwindling supplies of liquid refreshments.  Although no tour was available, John and Jane were able to have a complete tasting at the bar with Tony doing the honors.  Six bottles of ambre and four or five ice ball makers later, we headed back to Cruzy, arriving just in time to gather up more food and potables to take to the terrace for the seven o’clock flurry.  AHHHHH.




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By The Sea, By The Sea


Even Buster enjoyed the day out

Friday, September 20, 2019

Yesterday, we spent another day by the beautiful sea.  This time, we went to Gruissan, which is known for its salt production. Where we were is not an area where quaintly clad local folk wade out into salt flats carefully scooping up delicate sheets of sea salt that will later be sold for ridiculous prices as fleur de sel.  No. What we were seeing were large, road building type machines pushing and shoving and scooping up mountains of salt.  Good salt but not fussy, futzy salt.

Of course, we weren’t there specifically for the salt; we were there to go to a particular restaurant for lunch.  The name of the place is La Cambuse du Saunier but it is also referred to as the oyster shack.  Given its location and name, it should come as no surprise to find that seafood, especially oysters, are its focus.

Although it had rained in the morning, by the time we arrived in Gruissan, the sky was blue and the sun was beating down; and, when you are on what are essentially salt flats, the sun beating down really beats down.  Sun hats were the order of the day.

Seating at the restaurant was on benches at long tables with other people.  A French couple sat at the opposite end of our table and the lady part of the couple came to our assistance when it became clear that we were baffled by the menu.  Not that she spoke any English, you understand, she just had a big heart and excellent pantomime abilities.

That old stereotype of French snootiness has to be firmly and permanently put in the rubbish bin of cultural misunderstanding.  Everyone we have encountered has been incredibly helpful and patient with us. From the grape harvesters here in Cruzy, to the “lady on the street” in Narbonne who helped unravel the mystery of the parking meter, to the lady in the cambuse yesterday, the French are wonderful.

Oysters gratinéed, boiled crevettes (that would be large shrimp), loup baked in salt, dorado baked in salt and duck breast baked in salt (do you detect a theme?) featured on our lunch table.  We also had frites, naturally. When Claire asked for catsup, an English speaking member of the staff asked  in a very friendly manner “do you think this is an American restaurant?”.  He recommended eating the frites ‘natural with only sel du Gruissan” as an accompaniment; but, he would have brought mayonnaise if something else was absolutely required.  We went au naturel. They were scrumptious.

Although the salt we saw was not fleur de sel, the boutique did have lots of salt on offer and the prices, while not quite as high as at the chi chi foodie stores, were substantially more than one would pay for a big box of Morton’s back home. Despite the elevated prices, Dave and Claire did their bit for the Gruissan economy and came away with some purchases.  Guess I did, too; a bag of potato chips seasoned with the local salt.

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Thursday, September 19, 2019

After my last post titled “Voilà!! Valise!!” I guess it was inevitable that today’s post would begin with “v,” too.

Several of Dave and Claire’s co-owners here in Cruzy had recommended the tour at Maison Noilly Prat in Marseillan; so, yesterday, we decided that should be our destination. None of us had been there before.

After a tiny hiccup that involved getting on the toll road going in the wrong direction, we made good time to the little coastal town.  We had enough time before the English language tour began to enjoy lunch by the water.  Claire had the oyster, shrimp and whelk starter. Oysters and shrimp got two thumbs up but the whelks were less appealing.  Once you managed to extricate them from their largish, snail-like shells, you were confronted with a corkscrew-shaped piece of discolored, rubbery stuff. I think you have to be hungrier than Claire was to really appreciate them.

I had the gazpacho starter.

Marseillan appears to be a lovely little town but we were there for the vermouth. Therefore, directly after lunch, we beat-feeted it over to Noilly Prat, conveniently located directly across a little inlet from our luncheon stop.

The guide for our tour was Pascal, a charming French fellow whose fluent English was delivered with a wee bit of a Scottish accent. What we (that would be Michael and me . . .Claire and Dave may have known volumes) didn’t know about vermouth would have filled one of Noilly Prat’s enormous vats. In fairness to us, I have to say that vermouth has never been a subject about which I was particularly concerned. Not being a drinker of martinis nor sophisticated aperitifs, vermouth didn’t figure too prominently in my universe.  But now? There’s a new star in my firmament . . . hmmm, that doesn’t sound very nice. Oh, well, let’s just continue on.

Okay, vermouth. It isn’t wine even though it has to be at least 75% wine. And, in the case of Noilly Prat, the two white wines they use are Picpoul and Clairette, both of which are grown and made locally. The wine sits in used oak barrels, many of which are repurposed Scotch barrels, outside of the facility where it is subject to the sea air, wind and sun of the environment. Evaporation occurs; topping up the barrels does not.

After a suitable period of time, the wine is pumped to large vats where the two varieties are blended and then sent into smaller vats where mistelles (sugars from slightly fermented grape juice) and botanicals are added.  And this is where vermouth is sort of like gin; many different botanicals are used in different combinations and amounts to make the various types of vermouth (extra dry, dry, red and amber).  However, all of the varieties share at least four botanicals: Coriander, cardamom, gentian root and artemisia absinthium. In fact, “vermouth” is thought to derive from “vermut,” the German word for wormwood (absinthe).

The wine mixture macerates with the botanicals and mistelles for 21 days (being stirred, by hand, for two minutes every day) before having the big chunks of stuff removed and then being sent off for final stabilization, filtering and bottling.

See how smart we have become!

The penultimate step of our tour was, naturally, tasting, which was revelatory. I think I like vermouth, pretty much all four of the varieties that Noilly Prat produces. I like it so much that at the last stop of the tour, the boutique, I purchased one bottle of the very special Noilly Prat Ambre to take home.

The drive back to Cruzy through iconic lanes of plane trees was completed without any missteps and we arrived back to our lovely accommodations moments before a rather fierce thunderstorm broke over us.*  But we didn’t care; we had a fridge full of food and bottles full of vermouth.

*It is pouring rain as I type this. And, as it is pouring rain, the streets of this tiny village are being swept by large, water-spewing machines. The racket is incredible!


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Voilà!! Valise!!


I’d close my eyes, too, if I was the poor sap who had to deliver this long lost bag.

And just like that, Dave’s suitcase appears . . . a mere 42 telephone calls, emails, status updates and 96 hours after their airplane arrived.


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Vendage In Cruzy


This is what it’s all about

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Vendage: The harvest of, or harvest time for, grapes.

The vendage is in full swing here in Cruzy.  We wake up to the sound of tractors pulling trailers full of grapes to, and empty trailers from, the wine co-op that is just up the street from our home and drink our evening wine to the same sounds. The tractors, trailers and trucks come in all sizes, shapes and colors. The empty trailers make more noise than the full ones because the empty trailers bounce more.

Yesterday, Claire and I took a walk past the school and out into the grape fields.  People were in the field picking grapes and we boldly wandered over to investigate and document.

Turns out it was a family and, perhaps, neighbors doing the work. Four people picked the bunches of grapes (a variety called Aramon) and put them into large plastic buckets. One sturdy fellow (called “Superman” by the others) carried a LARGE container on his back into which the others emptied their buckets.  Superman then hoofed it to the trailer parked on the edge of the field and dumped his load into it.  When the trailer was full, another fellow (whose name turns out to be Christian and who is the president of the Harley-Davidson club*) drove them to the co-op.

At the co-op the tractors, trailers and trucks all lined up and had their loads identified, graded, recorded and dumped. The line of vehicles at the co-op looked like  the floor of a child’s room with brightly colored toys all in a row.

We had a great time with the harvesters and have now exchanged a couple of emails with Christian.

*It’s amazing how much you can learn without a shared language but with a strong desire to communicate.




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