A Day Out at Fontevraud Abbey (Wednesday Wanderings)

F Abbey in arch

When we went to France in August, we had one day to fill between our arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport and our stay in the Dordogne region (to read about our stay in the Dordogne, click here and here). I had just read a fascinating trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine, so we decided to spend our free day at The Royal Abbey of Fontevraud.

**Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres – reading about a place before visiting brings it to life for me. Anyone else out there feel the same? What are some of the best historical fiction books you’ve read recently?**

We only booked our flights about three weeks out, so didn’t have great transportation options. We ended up taking the RER B from the airport to the St Michel-Notre Dame stop in central Paris, then (after a brief visit to Notre Dame, which was nearly empty at 8 am on a Saturday morning) we rode Line 4 of the Paris Metro from St Michel to Gare Montparnasse, after which we took the TGV train from Gare Montparnasse to Poitiers. In Poitiers, we rented a car and drove to our Chateau B&B near the Abbey. It sounds harder than it actually was, but it was still a multi-step process that took a good chunk of our arrival day, so we were ready to relax when we got to our B&B!

**If we had booked farther ahead, we could have taken the TGV directly from the airport (Terminal 2) to Tours, which is much closer to the Abbey than Poitiers.  However, the TGV was sold out from CDG and I couldn’t find an available rental car in Tours; one of the pitfalls of booking last minute!**

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We arrived at Château de la Roche Martel in the late afternoon, and were given a brief tour then shown to our room. The historic property was built in the early 1400’s and has an addition from the 1600’s. It’s a historically quirky place and the owners, a Viscount and Viscountess, are careful to share that it is not a luxury hotel (no A/C; does have private bathrooms) but rather a privately owned chateau where they are delighted to welcome guests. I spent a relaxing couple of hours enjoying the garden on a chaise with a good book, and found myself wishing we had booked more than one night. Next time!

view from chateau b&BThe view from the garden at Château de la Roche Martel

Our hostess offered to make us a dinner reservation nearby, and she recommended the Restaurant Le Montsorelli  on the terrace at the Hotel Le Bussy.

chateau montsoreau 3Our view during dinner at Le Montsorelli

Watching the sun set over the Loire River, next to the Chateau Montsoreau, while dining in the garden of the restaurant, was the perfect beginning to our French adventure!

loire sunsetSunset over the beautiful Loire River

 At breakfast the next morning (the food was AMAZING, wish I had taken a photo), my husband, son and I shared a fascinating discussion of US politics with our hostess, a retired couple from New Zealand and a young couple from Moscow (one of the best parts of staying at a B&B is the fellow guests that we meet).  After breakfast, we packed up and headed out to the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud.

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Founded in the 1100’s and now the largest remaining monastic city of the Middle Ages in Europe, Fontevraud housed, in four separate priories, monks, nuns, women who retreated here after the deaths of their husbands (as did Eleanor of Aquitaine), and a hospital for lepers, all overseen by an Abbess.

Pretty flowers and gate F Abbey

Originally in an area of France belonging to the King of England, the English royals were great benefactors of the Abbey (hence the distinction The Royal Abbey of Fontevraud). Eleanor of Aquitaine, a complex and strong woman way ahead of her time, struggled with the constraints placed on her because of her sex. She was the heir to Aquitaine, but as women were thought unfit to rule by themselves, she was married off at age 13 to the future King Louis VII of France. After 15 years of marriage during which she only gave birth to two daughters, King Louis annulled their marriage and she then married King Henry II of England, who was eleven years her junior.  She had eight children with Henry, including King John and Richard the Lionheart. After Henry died, she spent the last 20 years of her life at the Abbey, and is buried there with Henry II and Richard the Lionheart, as well as King John’s second wife, Isabella of Angouleme.

Eleanor of AquitaneEleanor of Aquitaine and her second husband, King Henry II of England

After the French Revolution of 1789, the monastery was dissolved and the last Abbess was evicted in 1792. Napoleon turned it into a prison in 1804, in which capacity it served until 1963, when the French Government restored it, opening the Abbey to the public in 1975.

Cloisters 2 F Abbey

As we wandered the grounds and explored the buildings, it was easy to imagine the life of the nuns, going about their daily routines of work and prayer in silence. Did you know they went to EIGHT services a day?? The cloisters still exude peace and serenity, and the crowds were minimal, despite it being the height of tourist season. The Abbey hosts cultural performances, exhibits and events throughout the year, and also serves as a conference center with an onsite hotel, a restaurant and casual cafes.

Best Cloister Garden F Abbey

We finally had to drag ourselves away from this fascinating place…but will be back to explore more of the Loire Valley at some point!

 

7 Easy ways to help Get Out the Vote (that don’t involve talking to people)

vote is voice hats

For those of us in the United States, Tuesday November 6th is Election Day. I’ve been spending lots of time this month working on getting out the vote; I’ve even *gulp* gone out canvassing! Like most people, I was super intimidated at the thought of getting involved and TALKING TO PEOPLE (it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it’d be), so thought I’d share some easy ways to help get out the vote that don’t require voter interaction!

poll greeter

Wear a “Vote” button, hat, or tee shirt – An internet search shows thousands of buttons, car magnets, and tees with messages about voting! You choose the message you want to wear and when you want to wear it. I ordered this tee and this tee and am going to wear them on the days I know I’ll be running all over town. I don’t want to get into any confrontations with people, so chose a simple, non partisan message.

vote buttonHelp make buttons – ever wondered where all those buttons come from that everyone’s handing out around election time? Volunteers make them! Just call your party’s county office or your favorite candidate and say “I’d like to help make buttons” – easy peasy!

postcards

Write postcards – this is a super easy way to help! The postcards to voters project is nationwide, but many candidates and local party offices/precincts have initiated their own postcard writing campaigns. You can gather friends for postcard writing parties or do a few at a time during commercials while watching TV; handwritten postcards are a great way to reach voters! My precinct wrote postcards before our primaries, and several folks came to vote with postcards in hand – so very rewarding to know our efforts mattered!

Share information about voting on your social media – You may have friends and neighbors who don’t know how to make sure they’re registered to vote, whether your state offers early voting or what the locations and hours are for voting. Its easy to share factual information like this in a non-confrontational way, along with a reminder that its important that we ALL vote, regardless of our party affiliation.

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Drop off door hangers – Our precinct printed door hangers with info about early voting locations, the slate of candidates, and other issues on the ballot. We’ve had volunteers driving around neighborhoods and putting them on doors, as another way to contact voters.  I’ve done several neighborhoods and rarely does anyone come to the door when I’m there.

**Full disclosure: I did have one lady come to the door while I was approaching. I just said “I’m dropping off some info about early voting” – easy peasy!**

Put a sign in your yard – If you have a particular candidate or issue you’d like to support, ask for a sign to put in your yard! Candidates LOVE this, particularly if you live on a street that gets lots of traffic, as name recognition can make all the difference in who gets the vote.

Text voters – Lots of organizations/candidates use texts to get their message out. You can sign up to help text voters. Most use apps with pre-scripted messages that conceal all phone numbers for privacy reasons (yours and the people you are texting). While there is no face to face interaction, I’ve received both positive and negative replies. I handle the negative ones by texting back “So sorry to bother you! I’ll remove you from our list right now😊” This is super easy – the app I’m signed up on loads the message and all I have to do is tap “send” – I can send about 800 texts in an hour or so!

**And two bonus ideas if you don’t mind a little voter interaction…**

Phone banking – Many people these days don’t answer their phone if they don’t recognize the number, so you’ll mostly be leaving voicemails. Candidates and political parties focus on calling folks who they believe will support them, so you’ll generally be calling people within the same party. You will be given a script and a list of numbers; everything is loaded on a website to make it as easy as possible. You can do a few at a time (while waiting in the school pick up line, folding laundry, etc.) or a bunch all at once. If someone does pick up, you’ll usually have a positive conversation!

booth at pride

Staff a booth at a festival or fair – I’ve worked my party’s booth at two different fairs and festivals this month, asking people if they’re registered to vote and handing out  voter materials. I’ve had some great conversations and love that I’ve been able to provide help to folks who were unsure about their registration/polling locations/issues on the ballot. I’ve broken down and cried with a couple of women and been the recipient/giver of hugs  – it’s been an amazing experience!

 

A Day Out on the Glen Burney Trail (Wednesday Wanderings series)

Glen Burney Trail

Happy Wednesday! My husband and I spent today hiking in the North Carolina mountains with our dog.  I love having these midweek adventures with him; it will be one of the things I miss most when he goes back to work!

Perfect pose!My favorite hiking buddies!

We chose the Glen Burney Trail because it showcases several waterfalls and was only about a 90 minute drive from Winston Salem. An extra bonus is that the trailhead is located a block from Main St in downtown Blowing Rock, so it would be super easy to add in some shopping, strolling and eating to round out your day! We didn’t spend any time downtown today, but I’ve loved my meals at The Speckled Trout in the past. And if you really want to indulge, Westglow Resort and Spa is just a few miles outside of Blowing Rock; my husband gave me a day package there for Mother’s Day, and it’s incredible!

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But today we just hiked and enjoyed the gorgeous sunny fall day. The trail is an out and back 3 mile route, which goes downhill on the way out and then heads straight back up. I was definitely glad I had my trekking poles with me. It wasn’t super strenuous by any means, but the poles take some of the pressure off my knees when going down steep steps. We had to scramble a little bit crossing the stream, as the bridge is washed out, but some kind soul laid a plank in exactly the right spot to help us out!

crossing bridgebridge 4

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen my recent post about being a “river through the forest” kind of girl, so today’s trail was just what I love – we meandered through the woods beside the stream and passed several beautiful waterfalls.

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waterfall 5

Scooby enjoyed exploring as well and happily posed for multitudes of photos (be sure to check out the last photo – I caught him mid-shake and it’s hilarious!) So much fun to hike with this cutie!

Can I jump?Can I jump, Mom?

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mid shake!

What are some of your favorite hikes in the Boone/Blowing Rock area? Let me know in the comments below!

 

My October Bucket List

blue glass front porchOctober is one of my favorite months…although it is 88 degrees today, I’m all about fall and am anxiously awaiting its arrival here in North Carolina (I got a quick little taste in Prague last week, where for three glorious days it was in the high 50’s).  Here are some of the things I’m excited for this month…

Digging out my fall clothes – I LOVE being able to wear clothes without sweating! It’s so much fun to play in my closet and say hello to my favorites from last year…I’m super excited to pull out my fall clothes this month! A huge closet purge will be happening – after living in Connecticut for five years before moving here, I have LOTS of winter clothes. But in the South, we don’t get super cold winters, and I’ve about given up on ever moving back to somewhere with colder winters. This year, I’m going to ruthlessly get rid of the thick sweaters I no longer wear and some of my heavier winter coats.

 

IMG_5975.jpgMy two favorite hiking buddies!

Hiking in the North Carolina mountains – Do you prefer the beach or the mountains??  I am a mountain girl all the way – I love hiking and our North Carolina mountains have some beautiful trails! Blocking out at least two or three days to head west and do some hiking with my husband and dog is a high priority for me this month.

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Working with my local party to Get Out The Vote – for those of us in the USA, midterm elections are November 6th. I spent all of 2017 being angry, then decided that working to help get out the vote was a great way to funnel my anger into positive action. Whichever party you belong to, please make plans to BE A VOTER this year – to paraphrase Barack Obama, “democracy works best when we ALL participate”!

purple reeds

The Chiluly at Night exhibit at the Biltmore – I have been so excited to see this exhibit of Dale Chiluly’s glass in the gardens of Biltmore Estate, but it closes this weekend.  So I spontaneously bought a ticket on Tuesday and drove to Asheville last night….the exhibit was AMAZING and I’m so glad I went!  If you are in the area and have been wanting to see it, I highly recommend it. The night tickets are sold out, but you can still see it during the day through Sunday.

glass ball front lawn**secret tip: You need a wristband to access the gardens after 7 PM, but if you have a daytime ticket, you can hang out in the shops and restaurants until dark and look over the wall to see a few of the pieces lit up in the front “side garden” – there’s also this beautiful piece on the front lawn that you can access up close without a wristband**

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Beethoven’s Fifth with the Charlotte Symphony – My husband introduced me to the joys of going to symphony concerts back in college – and now we go several times a year. This weekend we are heading to Charlotte to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – I’m looking forward to getting dressed up and having a date with him.

Mornings on my porch – Even though it’s still in the 80’s here, the morning temps are a bit cooler and the humidity is lower, making mornings on my porch pleasant again. One of my favorite things to do is to sit on my porch in the morning with my dog, my coffee and a good book. if you happen to pass by, wave and say hello!

IMG_7921.JPGWith Marek, our running tour guide in Prague!

Running – After doing two runs in Prague (including our running tour), I’m looking forward to spending more time running once the temps are lower. Salem Lake and Tanglewood Park are two of my favorite places to run – they both have lots of shade and beautiful fall foliage. Once the leaves start to change, I’ll be out there a couple of times each week!

What are you most looking forward to this month?