Slipping confidently into our mooring in Roanne, even though it was a tight squeeze, we recognized how much our skills have improved over the last two cruising seasons. We tied off our lines, plugged into our city power supply, and reconnected our land telephone line. We suspended both of these services for the summer, and we had called ahead to reactivate them.
Every October, at the end of our cruising season, our boat becomes our house. With 30 amps of power supplied by the city, we no longer have to be careful about which appliances are on at the same time. With our landline, we can use our speakerphone to call family and friends back home, or we can search for information on the Internet with our computer. After we pick up our car from its summer garage, we will be ready to settle in for the winter.
Shortly after we returned to Roanne, friends from San Francisco called to say that they were on vacation in the South of France and invited us to visit. We hopped in our car and went to see them. They are old SFFD friends who, because they love to travel, we have seen as often over here as we did back home. This time they were trying out a house exchange in the Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur region.
Their house was in the countryside near the village of Barcelonnette, which, the owner told them, was a two-hour drive north of Nice. French drivers familiar with the roads might make the drive in two hours, but the trip took our American friends almost four hours as they wound their way over the summit on narrow two-lane roads.
We drove in from the north along similar roads, at one time getting stuck behind a tractor. We followed along slowly behind the tractor, thinking that we had no other options on such a narrow road. Suddenly a car came from behind and flew around both of us, disappearing around the bend. We were flabbergasted! Soon other cars came up behind us and without hesitation did the same thing! It didn't matter that they passed around blind curves, with the mountain on one side and a steep drop to the valley below on the other. This death wish style of driving would explain the discrepancy between the two-hour French driving time and the four-hour time for our friends.
We arrived, only one hour behind schedule, and as planned, and found our friends waiting for us at an outdoor café in town. They had been to the town's farmers' market and wanted us to come back to the house for lunch. But first, we sat in the warm October sunshine and toasted our meeting with a glass of champagne, a custom we have enjoyed since our first reunion in Paris. When we went back to their house, we opened the guest room's shutters and found a fabulous mountain view.
Our friend Jim is a chef, and he and Mary have authored cookbooks, so not surprisingly, our lunch was an inventive and delicious salad that we enjoyed with local wine, bread, and cheese from that morning's market. We talked the afternoon away as we caught up on the news from home. Reveling in the pleasure of a lazy lunch on the back deck, we asked each other, "Where are we?". Later, as we took a walk along the river, we felt more like we were in California's mountain resort area, Lake Tahoe than in southern France. In Tahoe, if we crossed the mountain, we would be in Nevada. Here, in the Ubaye valley, if we crossed this mountain, we would be in Italy.
We found Barcelonnette to be a unique village because it has a strong Mexican influence. You can buy all kinds of Mexican clothing and trinkets in the shops. The Mexican shops and restaurants were exotic in an area where the surrounding mountains made you feel like putting on lederhosen and yodeling. We were a bit confused as to what country we were visiting.
At the Mexican tourist office, la Maison du Mexique, we learned that in the early 1800s, some young people from this valley made a trip to Mexico, stayed, and became successful. Others followed over the years, and in 1845 when two men returned with fortunes in gold, and a rush to Mexico began. While many people stayed in Mexico and became citizens, several returned to France and, with their newfound wealth, brought prosperity to this mountain village. They built beautiful mansions and gave the town its Mexican flavor.
When it was time to say good-bye to this beautiful corner of France, we helped our friends clean and closed up the house. They had been using the owner's car during their stay, so we offered to drive them to Lyon, where we could all enjoy a few days enjoying the city before they had to catch their train to Germany.
Toby jumped in the back of our car, as he always does, but was disappointed to find his view out the back window blocked by luggage. He wiggled into a nap-size spot, and we didn't see him again until we arrived at our hotel in Lyon.
Lyon is a city that you could imagine Hollywood had created. Peeking into the restaurants around Vieux Lyon and Presqu'île, they all look precisely as French restaurants would look if set designers were in charge of their creation. Building murals scattered throughout the city are reminiscent of the facades created for movie sets. The farmers' market that runs for blocks along the Quai St. Antoine on the Saône River is so French in its sights, smells, and sounds and so cinematography perfect that walking through you would not be surprised to hear a movie director yell, "Cut and print.".
Lyon is not far from Roanne, so we come here often during the winter. Returning with friends who enjoy good food and are enthusiastic traveling companions was a real treat. We took them to some of our favorite restaurants. We like simple bistros and traditional bouchons, places where the waiters greet Toby like an old friend, and we always feel welcome, even in our comfy clothes.
The weather was warm enough for us to enjoy dinner outside on Rue Mercière, a restaurant street crowded with outdoor tables, where the atmosphere was as delicious as the food. We ordered the rum baba dessert so that our friends could see how they bring a bottle of rum to the table in case your baba is not rummy enough.
We went to La Voûte-Chez Léa for lunch. We wanted our friends to taste their mixed green salad with fresh herbs vinaigrette so that they could try to help us figure out the secret ingredients. It is said to be the world's best salad, and we hope that our friends will be able to recreate it in their kitchen and then send us the recipe.
We had a light lunch but then ordered dessert. We were, after all, on vacation. We laughed about the rum baba dessert of the night before when our waiter placed a full bottle of calvados on the table to accompany the apple tart with calvados.
We tried walking and sightseeing to make up for all of the meals we enjoyed, but we kept stopping at outdoor cafés for refreshments instead. Sitting in the sun, enjoying how the light reflected off the old buildings, we decided Lyon would be the right place to visit if we were actors required to gain 20 pounds for upcoming roles.
Since we aren't actors, we went home.