the big one- market day in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

Photo eye-candy from our 30 minute Sunday morning rural drive from Avignon to visit what's known as the grandaddy of the French markets in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. I was warned several times that parking is an issue. The town is surrounded by water and the market is popular. We found a free spot for the little car and beelined straight in. Goodness gracious! Antiques, fresh produce, baked goods, clothes, hats, flowers, soap, toys..... they had it all. We looked with wide eyes, had a picnic lunch with a duck, bought some soaps and meandered the morning away. 

Provence Road Trip- Avignon & Les Baux


Early in the dark of Saturday morning, we put Wilson on a plane headed to Amsterdam. He was graciously invited to join his granddad, Joe, for a week long tulip gazing river cruise. So off he went leaving PB with his 3 girls. We opted for a weekend long road trip to Provence.  Setting our base in Avignon, we drove about 2 1/2 hours in a small, stick-shift rental car. I drove and PB navigated. Rusty- I haven't driven in 8 weeks and never-mind it's been since high school that I drove a manual car. We survived and thoroughly enjoyed our road freedom! I loved seeing all the spring blooms, buds and fresh green along the highway.

Avignon was calm and relaxed (oh almost forgot, they were having a union strike/all nighter at the Palace of the Popes). We toured the the palace our first evening before dinner.  It's the largest Gothic palace built for a newly elected Pope from the 14th century who did not want to live in Italy. It was the seat of the Catholic Church- moved from Rome for about 100 years. 

Then, the famous bridge- Pont Saint-Benezet. It's famous now because of a nursery rhyme song. We had a Raffi tape when the kids were babies, so they knew about this bridge. When it was built in the 1100's, it was strategic- one of three built across the Rhone during the middle ages.

Les Baux

We mostly drove the scenic country roads home to Nice on Monday.  We did a one hour quick stop in St-Remy-de-Provence. That town quickly impressed us. I definitely put it one my short list of places-to-rent-a-house one day. It is the town where van Gogh was hospitalized for cutting off his ear. He then painted like a mad man for his mental therapy. 

Continuing on the scenic road, we stopped at a pull off area for a steep foot climb to a lookout over Les Baux. The panoramic Alpine view was stunning and the prominence of Les Baux in the distance was impressive. Les Baux is basically a high perched castle ruin with a medieval town at its feet.  It was not at all what I expected. So well preserved, we traversed the ruins and enjoyed several of the setup medieval crafts and skills needed back in the day. We finished noting all of the educational enrichment we covered- art, history, science, language and math. Wow! Travel School road trip score!

small signs- Spring in Nice, France

We are all still donning our coats daily and running down to the beach in hopes of seeing sun bathers. I know the pollen is coating everything back home in Fairhope. So shouldn't we see the same here in Nice? Are we not paying attention? Every single day seems to have the same high and same low. The other day, Ab and I went on a walk looking for signs of spring. They were small. But, I can tell that our clothes layers are lighter. Our smiles are brighter. The days are getting longer. And the tourists are more numerous (we don't count ourselves as one of those). It's slowly warming up and I can't wait to see all the beautiful Mediterranean, summer weather loving plants shine soon. We're pretty sure spring has sprung here! 

We're almost halfway through the Travel School Project. Here's a summary-

grandparent week

Just as we returned late by train to Nice from our Florence trip, PB's parents had arrived the same day via plane from Jerusalem. They rented a modest studio apartment right around the corner from ours for the week.  PB had one day with all of us before he returned to Fairhope. Our week was fast, relaxed and thoroughly enjoyed. We crammed in school sessions, sunsets, shopping, eating and regional sightseeing. As much as J&M have traveled the globe, they hadn't been to Nice before. It was a treat for the kids to show them around. 

Our longest excursion was taking a 45 minute bus trip from Nice up above Monaco to La Turbie. A smallish town not heavily touristed. It holds the ancient Roman ruins known as Trophee des Alpes.  It was built as a trophy high on a hilltop for all to see by land and sea by emperor Augustus. The Romans declaration that they had conquered and ruled the lands- opening roads from Rome to Spain. The ruins have a long history of decay and stone removal/repurposing, but in the 1920's it underwent significant restoration thanks to a US investor- Dr. Tuck. There is also a simple but beautiful one room museum on site. 

Now- the truth. That day we needed new tram tickets and the machines would take our credit cards. No problem. Walk to the bus office, get tickets. Take tram to bus stop. Ok. Get off at tram stop, but where are the buses? Down the hill out of plain site. Ride bus. Kids argue as we get to the ruins (no good reason). Finish and we're having meltdowns (4 out of 6). Mom to the rescue. Buy some snacks and perk them up. Just sometimes (many times) photos don't reveal the truth. 

As our moods began to lighten, we trekked back towards Nice via bus down to Monaco to get on the regional train. I voted to get off a stop before Nice in Villefranche-sur-mer for dinner. It was sunset and a perfect way to end the day in a picturesque riviera village.  Wilson looked hard for a nice dinner spot. It was tricky. But he found a small and charming local restaurant that we all enjoyed. Afterwards, we joked and laughed our way back to the train station walking under the full moon's light.

It felt like a slice of home was with us for a week.  

The Hunt for the Perfect Baguette

story and photos by Anne Lois

For each amazing dinner at the apartment, a baguette is on the top of our market list.  We usually get up each day ready to search for ingredients throughout the market. Somedays (like today), the man we like to call the "baguette man", wasn't around. So we headed off to find another bakery or rather a boulangerie.  Today we wanted something different to eat with dinner. We went looking for a new option.  As we walked down the windy streets we came across this little bakery with a wood burning oven inside.  We decided it looked great.  Each of us ordered a lunch that we could take back up to the apartment to eat too, and my mom ordered a beautiful baguette.  We paid and waved au revoir to the man running the bakery. We walked back towards our apartment, happy we had found another great place that we will definitely revisit. 

the daily grind- the butcher

by Wilson Bullington

Have you ever heard the bone-splitting, cracking, whacking, and smacking sound that a giant meat cleaver makes when it descends on what you thought was an already dead and defenseless piece of meat? Most people just go and grab some already cut and packaged pork chops from the meat section in Publix, but in France things work a little differently. As you walk down the street, any street, in Nice you are bound to find at least one, if not many, butchers. How could you not take the opportunity to buy some raw and strangely appetizing meat from one of the abundant shops? Of course, the first step is to pick out which butcher you want to buy from- which butcher has the most locals? the cleanest shop? what about the best looking meat? Next, dive straight in and test your French pronunciation of some familiar and unfamiliar products- from sausage to the entire pig's head or even cheval (horse) a French delicacy. Then, watch as the butcher reaches into the case, grabs the meat and one of his many knives, and voilà. Now all that is left is to pair your fresh cut with a nice wine and invite some friends over. 

church and Villefranche-sur-Mer

Going to church last Sunday at Holy Trinity Nice (English Anglican) far exceeded our plans for the day. Different from worship at home but unified by beliefs, we enjoyed a service of hymns, sung verses, spoken verses and communion. Truly enjoyed by all of us, we were warmly welcomed and invited to a fellowship time at the "hall" after the service. There were many interesting people and life stories that I'm confident we only scraped the surface. They were equally interested in us. Two American moms showing up one Sunday in February with 5 kids. Hard to blend. We loved our time there and plan to return this coming Sunday and attend a special after church luncheon. 

From the church hall we walked to the train station, bought tickets and took a short 5 minute ride along the coast to Villefranche-sur-Mer. A charming town that Elizabeth and Camille called home for a few weeks in 2014. They were excited to return and show us around town. I have now laid my eyes on their wifi bench. Slowing our pace, we casually strolled the town stopping at a few Sunday antique sidewalk vendors, ate a late lunch by the water, then toured to the boat port. A very satisfying Sunday and a great breather before digging into a new week.

sunset and promenade run

Only a short walk from the apartments in Old Town, is the sea front Promenade des Anglais. It's a famed landmark of Nice dating back to the early 19th century. Built by the English aristocracy, this wide and long pedestrian walkway still attracts locals and visitors alike. It's easy to see why. There's even a clearly marked bike lane. Walkers, bikers, scooters and rollerblades abound. Because I know your asking yourself, "Did Anne Lois get rollerblades?". She sure did. And her mom made her buy the wrist, elbow and knee pads. Say a little prayer.

A few days ago, I walked with Abigail to the water's edge taking sunset photos while Camille, Pete and Wilson went on a run. It's was stunning.  You can also see bleachers in some of the photos. Every year for 2 weeks, Carnival is celebrated. They have lots of bleachers set up on the Promenade as well as the big square in town. You have to buy special tickets for those prime seats. Just when we left Mardi Gras at home we stepped right into the famed rivera Carnival. It has been a special treat to take in while on our Travel School Project. 

Park and Chagall

Story and photos by Anne Lois

Yesterday, after morning school time, we all met up to grab lunch and have a picnic at the huge park next to our apartments. Next, we headed over to the bus stop to catch a ride to the Marc Chagall Museum.  Each of us enjoyed learning more about his paintings and history.  Then to top it all off, we went to a nearby bakery for some delicious desserts to share later after dinner. 

Day trip to Antibes | Fairhope family travel

There is no denying that Nice, France is loaded with things to do and see. But this past Sunday, the 14th (and Valentines Day), I asked to go find the train station, figure out how to buy tickets and take a small excursion. I wanted to tackle a task that I'm not used to doing without PB taking the lead. With WD's help, I think we'll be able to handle it from now on.

We took a 30 minute train ride to the west of Nice along the Mediterranean to Antibes. A small, picturesque town with large yachts. Luck have it that we walked straight into a quaint chocolate and specialty foods fair. Maybe we bought some chocolate truffles and artisanal cheese! Beyond the fair, we ate lunch on a square and then went for a stroll to find the Pablo Picasso museum located in the Chateau de Grimaldi. The collection is small but special because Picasso lived there for a few months to paint.  After leaving post war Paris, he was seeking a new joy in life. Many of his works are on scrapped materials and depict happy, playful characters by the sea. A light and happy art study that was a quick stop for us. It was a great place to gain appreciation for his outlook on life at that point in time and how it fits into his body of works. 

monday's antique market

No food and few flowers are found in the large market by our apartments on Monday mornings. I was eager to peruse in search for potential food photography props. One of my goals here is to take the time to plan, set up and produce food shots. I grabbed PB as soon as we awoke to get there. There was so much to take in and quickly I found myself in sensory overload. I definitely had 2 people in my mind as I "shopped" looking for the just right items- my sweet cousin, Kaye W. who would have totally find the perfect items and be charming enough to ask for  "best price" and my talented food photographer friend, Elizabeth G. . I weaved in and out of the rows and then made mental selections before circling back to them to buy. I'm not complete in props, but made got a nice start. My eyes are peeled for old and worn as I move around on my my walks in the city and nearby towns. 

the "why" story | Travel School Project

This first blog entry to the Travel School Project could be written a dozen different ways and authored by 9 different writers. There are 2 families invested in our adventure. We have cultivated and planned for an idea that started as a joke at the beginning of this school year. As much as all of our kids like school, we've always been asked by them to do something different when we travel.  We've never stopped to consider alternatives to the brick and mortar.  But, we do know first hand that they gain so much when they cross cultural borders. It grabs their attention in ways a text book never could.  They lose inhibitions to other ways of living. They gain a strong sense of navigating uncharted waters, and they get to experience a day(s) in someone else's world.    

So, the joking idea took root.  We each began to toss around so many strong reasons in favor and just as many hesitations.   The "what ifs" set in and then the "why nots" took over. Each individual slowly digested the idea and we began to dig a little. As we dug and dug a little deeper- the doors kept opening. We never hit a stop sign. The school administrators and teachers were supportive and helped us solidify our goal for traveling overseas for the spring  semester 2016. Each day, there were so many steps to accomplish in order for the trip to happen. We had to agree on location, housing, length of trip, school options, activity options, spouses schedules and life at home. All of this  kept us working quietly amongst each other. There were many pieces of the puzzle to put together for us to be where we are today- ready to leave. 

Many people get it. Many others don't. The "why are you doing this" list is long? Simply put- both of our 2 families, in their own ways, have engrained in them a love for long distance travel and exploration. Travel has been a priority and focus in our children's lives. We are making it happen and letting go of any small doubts. We will be "living" in (not moving to) Nice, France (not Paris). We have two separate, but close apartments in the Old Town (no elevators- the buildings are too old). The Bullingtons are on the 5th floor of their building. We have WI-FI (so they say) so the kids can get their school work done. They are enrolled in Virtual School (not homeschool). They have teachers for each subject. We are all impressed so far and really liking the concept. They work hard (it's not a cake walk). The husbands will be traveling back and forth at different times to enjoy family time (we are grateful they are supporting our adventure). We are hoping to explore other areas by train and maybe even plane.  We now have French visas (a long and arduous process). We are hoping to come back knowing more French than when we started. On top of flights of stairs to keep us in shape, we hope to find our favorite cafe, wine shop (moms) and boulangerie. We are laughing at ourselves as we pack saying,  "We don't need much," but finding that our creature comforts keep finding their way into our bags. We are only going in suitcases and carry-ons (no boxes are being shipped). Yes, we are on the Mediterranean Sea, but the weather should be similar to home. 

We look forward to documenting our travels and sharing our story- the Travel School Project! Bon Voyage!