2018 Road Scholar Friends and Two More Days in Toulouse

Dave and I met such nice people on our April trip to France. To remember them, I am including photos and first names.Sandrine, our tour guide is French. She is multi-lingual, married and a great guide.Evelyn (top) and Richard. The only couple I didn’t get posed together. He a chef and she a lover of art and wine.Charlie and Annie on the left are from Washington State. They have RV’d all over the USA and were going on to Italy from France.Aileen and John are from Canada. They had been on many RS trips. Originally from Scotland, they spoke French and English with an accent. John shared the honor of being the eldest traveler with another scholar, Charles.Alice (pronounced in the French way, Aleece) in the top photo and Shuhan, below, are friends of more than 20 years and hail from Delaware. Alice was born in Israel, Shuhan in China. Alice spoke fluent French. Both teach language in a lifelong learning program in their hometown. Both are seasoned travelers and are engaging, vivacious and friendly people.Phyllis and Carol are also friends traveling together. Phyllis lives in New York City and Carol is from Oregon. Carol, originally from Iowa, had a midwestern warmth even though she has lived in many states. Phyllis was a fabric curator before she retired. She loves living in NYC with art and culture nearby. We had a fun conversation about food and cooking.John and Gary worked together for many years. Both enjoy travel. John had just been in Spain and Andorra (just to say he had been there). Gary was joining a bird and butterfly tour after this one. Both guys were engaging and thoughtful. Gary and I shared our love of birds. John gave Dave a line that he used in the song about the tour, the line about getting on the scale when finally home.Charles and Ellen are seasoned travelers. He enjoys photography and she is at his side helping him out. Charles shared eldest traveler honors with John. They had an anniversary while on this trip. Was it 60 years? They were headed next to Paris to meet a man who befriended Charles’ father in WWII.Sylvia was traveling as a single. She was most interested in the cave paintings.Roberto was also a single on this trip. He was the youngest of our group and the only one not retired. He is multi-lingual; born in Italy, he lived in Brazil and now in Massachusetts. Roberto was passionate about European history. He never missed an opportunity to pet a dog when we encountered one.Tim and Diane were on their first Road Scholar trip. They are from Michigan. They sat across from Dave and I on bus outings. Diane worked crosswords and read. Tim talked politics with John and Gary who also shared the back of the bus with us. Diane and I shared our nursing nightmare stories.Arnold is a friendly former American who now lives in New Zealand. He is a veteran traveler who was taking the train to Avignon after our tour. He summer plans included a trip to visit relatives in Finland and then to Canada. He has done extensive genealogy, going to great lengths to pin down his ancestral history.Terry and Andrea had been on many Road Scholar trips and as seasoned travelers, they had insights on trips that we may enjoy in the future.Jean, a single traveler, was from Delaware as were Alice and Shuhan but had never met them. She loved to travel and seemed to enjoy everything. She was a teacher before retiring.This trip was our second Road Scholar adventure in lifelong learning. We enjoyed almost every minute of this one. Because of the Air France strike we got two more days in Toulouse so I will include some photos from those bonus days.On our first extra day we enjoyed sleeping later and having no set schedule. After breakfast we headed from the hotel (circled) to the canal and walked along it until Rue de la Concorde. This part of the canal ran near the train station and was a bit grubby feeling to me but there were a lot of people out and about and I didn’t feel unsafe. We walked down Concorde until Boulevard d’Arcole where we turned right to head for the Japanese Garden in the big green space. I needed to use a rest room so stopped at a MacDonalds near the garden entrance. Inside was like no other MacD’s I had been to.These people were ordering their Big Macs on a touch screen! I did find the ladies room. Dave was waiting for me sitting on a garden bench and enjoying the sunshine and bird songs.Many people were using the park, strolling or jogging or just passing through.We had a wonderful time strolling about, sitting on benches, watching other people and enjoying the flowers and paths.From the garden we walked to the river past an old stone wall along Boulevard Armand Duportal. Then we headed for the city center Place du Capitole. A rummage market was being held in the square and we looked but didn’t find anything to buy. Lunch was at an outdoor cafe on the square. We had a beer. I had a Croque Monsieur, a fancy grilled cheese sandwich.As we walked back to the hotel along a street of high end clothing and luxury goods stores we enjoyed window shopping.We didn’t stop at the Blah Blah Restaurant. Neither of us remember what we did for dinner that evening. I do remember wondering how I was going to get everything back into our suitcases when the time came to go.Our final day was spent also walking in this very walkable and bustling city center. We ate lunch at an unusual vegetarian place.After lunch we went past a restored area.Then to the Bemberg Foundation museum which displays art and decorative collections in thirteen rooms. Everything from fine art to books to period furniture and objects ‘d art. A fantastic museum housed in a huge old residence.The Bemberg’s basement area was empty but had beautiful brickwork and vaulted ceilings. The entire space had wood floors and was clean and well lighted. It looked like a place waiting for something to happen.On the way back to the hotel that afternoon, we came upon a demonstration for a workers union strike complete with chants, signs, noisemakers and a general air of parade fun.Finally time to go home. Taxi to the airport. Toulouse to Paris; Paris to LA; LA to Phoenix and an Uber ride home.It took a whole week for me to get rid of jet lag symptoms but I would do it all again. We has a great trip.


France 2018 Road Scholar Tour: The Perigord’s Ancient Towns and Caves; Continued

Albi is an UNESCO world heritage city. The old Episcopal City is made of red brick. No limestone is available here for building but there is lots of clay. The Cathedral Sainte-Cécile and Palace were built in the 13th century. The Palace (Berbie Palace) houses the largest collection of paintings by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. It also has a lovely garden and remarkable formal gardens near the River Tarn.

The bus is parked as close as possible and we walk to the Episcopal City as it is known.

Finally a sunny day and the flowers of spring are in bloom.

The Cathedral is spectacular. Next door is the Museum. We have an excellent and enthusiastic guide who tells us all about the lordly born Henri whose genetic bone problems limit his size and his ambitions. A series of broken bones with long periods of rehabilitation in bed result in Henri’s taking up drawing and painting to pass the time. He eventually moved to Paris to perfect his craft.

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec is most famous for his advertising art for the Moulin Rouge.

Now we move on to a new region and city.

We arrive in the city of Toulouse and cross the Canal du Midi. Our hotel and the city center are between the canal and the Garonne River.

A collection of lamp shades make art in the hotel. Our room looks out onto busy Jean Jaurès street where construction of the subway is taking place.

It is a nice evening to walk to dinner. The meat is wild boar and way too much but the custard is nice.

The next day brings a lecture on the Languedoc Region and Occitan People and a tour of the city center, the Saint Semin Basilica (“largest Romanesque church in Western Europe”) and city hall.

In Charles de Gaulle Square our guide stopped to show us the plant that caused Toulouse to be an economic powerhouse in ancient times.

This unassuming plant with bluish leaves is woad, in English, pastel in French. The leaves produce a dye of a lovely blue color which was once very prized. It was exported all over the world until indigo was discovered. The woad market crashed. Indigo was cheaper to produce and export and made a brilliant blue dye. We found a shop that had products dyed with woad which were very expensive, but a lovely soft blue.

This is an example of the blue color. Handmade dyed paper stitched onto a wall hanging.

The city hall is expansive with paintings on the walls. The building is used for many formal functions.

We all seemed to be a bit tired of standing around at this point.

Back to Charles de Gaulle Square. We walked past a gallery on the square that has modern art on the ceilings.

Our guide points out a map of the ancient walled city.

The Basilica.

The Garonne River and Pont Neuf Bridge. An impish red statue provides contrast. Back across town and to the hotel for rest and dinner on our own.

A group of us walked to this restaurant for a tasty meal. Tomorrow is the last day of the tour. We hear that Air France is having a strike the day we will leave. Many of us are flying on that carrier so we are unsure if our flights will be affected.

Out of town past fields to a higher altitude and closer to the Mediterranean and Spain. The Pyrenees Mountains are white in the distance. We are headed for the Medieval city of Carcassonne which has a 2,500 year history of occupation.

Despite the fortifications, Gallo Roman walls couldn’t hold out against the Visigoths, Saracens and Franks who occupied the city. Then in the 12th century, Pope Innocent III launched a crusade against Cathar heretics. The fort was again besieged since the owner protected the Cathars. The fortification crumbled in disrepair until the 19th century when Viollet-le-Duc, an architect, restored the city fortifications. It became an UNESCO site in 1997 and is a popular tourist attraction.

I didn’t make completely around the walls but did visit the Basilica.

Lunch will be a local specialty, Cassoulet. Some of us sit in the square to wait for the rest of the group. Buskers sing and play for coins.

The meal starts with another French mainstay, warm goat cheese on greens.

The cassoulet is served in casserole dishes. White beans, duck legs and duck sausage cooked low and slow. Delicious!

Back to the bus and back to Toulouse for some free time. We try to find out about our flight, cancelled. Calls to Road Scholar travel service have to wait until morning comes in the States but there is an emergency number which is answered. They will work on getting our flights rescheduled. Others are having similar experiences.

We gather in the lounge for a glass of Champagne before going to dinner. Alice has a poem she wrote and Dave has a song.

Dinner was in a lovely restaurant, Les Beaux-Arts Brasserie Flo, on the bank of the river near the Pont Neuf bridge.

Our entree of salmon was presented with sea foam.

After another excellent gourmet meal, our Road Scholar Tour is done.

Goodbyes are said and hugs are given at the hotel. Looks like Dave and I will be staying two more days in Toulouse!

France 2018 Road Scholar Tour: The Perigord’s Ancient Towns and Caves

Saint-Émilion is located north of the city of Bordeaux on limestone hills above the Dordogne River. There are many vineyards here producing wines that favor the soil and hillsides of this area. We are here to see an underground cathedral carved out of the limestone by monks.

This city is a very popular tourist destination and we are fortunate to be here in early spring and not on a weekend or holiday. Our bus parks at the city entrance that I marked on the map with an X. The streets are very narrow with only a few wide enough for smaller vehicles.

A panorama of the old city walls and dry moat. The Plane trees have had a trim which Sandrine says is done every few years. On into town we go passing Le Manoir, a former Jacobin church that is now a winery.

Inside, wine experts are judging the 2017 wines and their verdict of the best of the new wines will inform brokers as to what wines to invest in. We continue uphill, exclaiming over the old walls, cobblestone streets and amazing views.

The Church is in view.

We look around the small square while Sandrine goes to get a ring of keys to let us into the underground part of the church.

Down and down we go. How and why the monks excavated this hillside is still a question. Sarcophagi of ancient churchmen line some rooms and corridors. This cave is huge and empty. Only a few services are held here.

The sky is threatening rain but we are undaunted. Such great scenery to photograph.

Time for lunch! Sandrine has scouted the countryside for great little restaurants.

Wines of Bordeaux and salty dried sausage for starters. Back to the bus for a free afternoon and evening in the city.

Leaving Bordeaux and the Garonne River valley, the big bus heads for The medieval city of Sarlat. As we travel we hear a lecture on the history of the Perigord. We stop in Les-Eyzies for lunch. This is another town perched on the side of a limestone cliff that has been excavated into living and defensive spaces. Cro Magnon man was thought to live in this sort of cave place.

There is a replica of an ancient man on the cliff above the town. Some buildings are built into the hillside and above are lookouts carved into the cliff so enemies coming from the river below can be defended against.

Stopping at a truffle farm, we get a lecture about them, a demonstration on finding truffles and a taste. The black and white dog methodically searched under this tree. He stopped and pawed at the location then waited for his treat. Only tiny truffles are available now. Best picking is January and February.

The cave of Rouffignac-Saint-Cernin-de-Reilhac “Cave of a Hundred Mammoths.” Water is running off the cave entrance. We take an electric train into the cave to see the mammoths painted over 140 centuries ago on the walls.

Our hotel in Sarlat had a beautiful breakfast/ bar room. We check in and Sandrine leads us on a walk to the medieval city in the center of Sarlat.

Sandrine leads us through a maze of narrow streets in the old town to the Cathedral Saint Sacerdos with its cloister and graveyard. This tower located above the church had a beacon for pilgrims and was a safe place to stay as they traveled through.

Sarlat is a very picturesque city and we can imagine the throngs of tourists here in the summer and especially on market days at the city center. Geese are raised for meat and fois gras so a statue of them is not strange.

Another nice meal in a pleasant spot then back to the hotel to unpack for a few days.

Wednesday is market day in Sarlat and we have part of the morning free to take it in. It is early but the market is bustling. We buy a few things to have for dinner tonight.

Later in the morning we depart for Vitrac on the Dordogne river where we enjoy a cooking demonstration and an excellent meal.

After an elegant meal we were back to the bus for a short hop to Domme which the literature says is a typical “bastide” from the 13th century on the cliffs overlooking the Dordogne valley. We have a lecture on bastides on the way. This bastide that is accessed by a small train that takes us up the steep hill overlooking the river. It is no wonder that people felt safe in this walled city.

oOn to Gageac and the scenic Dordogne River with flat bottom boats and another steep limestone cliff that we climb part way up.

It has been a rainy spring and the river is up. The ramp down to the river is closed. Shuhan, a fellow Road Scholar, takes our picture. Back to Sarlat and some wine in the bar and dinner in our room.

Art of the Perigord. Today we visit the site of the famous cave, Lascaux. To preserve the actual cave from algae and other human caused destruction, a replica of this prehistoric cave titled Lascaux 4 has been built near the original. The prehistoric artists depicted the creatures around them using pigments they found and then mixed the pigments with rendered fat. Using small oil lamps, they made art deep in these dark caves. These people did not live in the caves but there is evidence that bears hibernated in them.

This is a very popular attraction and even though it is early in the day, other groups are waiting their turn to go in. We wait for an English speaking guide.

A ramp takes us down to the entrance.

What motivated these artists and what was the meaning of their art and other symbols? Even the exact dates of this early art are not known. It was an amazing experience to visit this site.

The prehistoric people probably looked and dressed like this.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in at the National Prehistory Museum with its collection of artifacts from prehistoric sites in the Vézère Valley in Les-Eyzies. This prehistoric era was from 300,000 to 2,000 years ago.

Driving back to Sarlat we pass a Goose Ranch.

Dinner was at this cozy restaurant then a walk around the city lit up for night viewing. Tomorrow we visit St. Céré and visit the Jean Lurçat Museum in the morning and the cave, Gouffre de Padirac. Have a wine and cheese tasting and check into our hotel at Rocamadour.

I was interested to see fields of wheat, rape (canola), and alfalfa. Fruit such as apricots and nuts, chestnuts and walnuts, are grown here, too.

We stop at Martel, another stone walled city, visit the market square and church. I appreciate the fancy ironwork and painted doors along the street.

How can you not be in awe of such ancient spaces, rich with paintings and statues and carved doorways and pews. This town was also on one of the pilgrimage routes.

Now to the castle on the hill above the town that holds the Lurçat museum.

We leave the bus in the parking lot and climb. Jean Lurçat was an artist who created in many mediums. He decorated every space of his castle with the help of students and two artist wives. His most famous works were rendered in tapestries.

He covered the walls with boards, hung drawing paper and sketched, inserting instructions and paint colors like a paint by number kit, then sent it off to Aubusson to be made into a tapestry. He was very affected by WWII and his work reflects it.

Lunch here at Auberge de Mathieu. Our starter had dried duck breast, goose liver, caramelized onions, and good bread. Can’t say I liked the fois gras but I did like the espresso.

Off we go to the deep shaft at Gouffre de Padirac.

At the bottom, we walk to boats that take us along an underground river and to a huge cavern system with stalagmites and stalactites and flow stone.

We came back out the same way but took the elevator back to the top. No cave paintings in this cave. On to Rocamadour!

This hill town was a pilgrimage site in medieval times. The cathedral is at the cliff top with the Bishop’s residence below. A great stairway leads up from the town with a sign of the cross at each switchback. The faithful would kneel and pray at each site. We stop for photos and the bus takes us through a curving, one lane tunnel down to the town. We check in to the Beau Site Notre Dame Hotel. Our room is an interesting one that looks out onto the hillside. I can open the window, sit on the sill, listen to birds and smell the blossoms nearby.

Narrow pedestrian only streets and the grand staircase.

The following day our field trip is to the cave of Pech Merle which is older than Lascaux.

To preserve the cave, tour groups are limited to 40 minutes. A guide gives a good lecture explaining the cave drawings before we enter and he keeps close watch of the time while we are inside. There are ancient footprints that were left in mud that hardened to stone.

Lunch is at a neat place which was once a mill. The mill stream still runs by.

Creme brûlée for dessert.

Back at Rocamadour we stop on top, visit the cathedral and cave and walk down.

There is a black virgin in this church.

Dinner on our own this evening. We have a nice meal with Carol and Phyllis. I think I had a frittata and frites!

The next day has a longer drive along an expressway. The bus stops for a bathroom break at a convenience area. We are going to Albi today where Henri Toulouse-Lautrec’s works are on display in a museum dedicated to him. Albi is the town of his birth but he spent most of his short life in Paris.

France April 2018 Road Scholar Tour: Bordeaux Wines and Vines

Twenty four Road Scholars and our leader, Sandrine, gather on a Friday afternoon to meet and find out a bit about each other. There were couples and singles traveling together and a few singles traveling alone. Most of us had been on a previous RS tour and some had been on many. I would guess that all but one were over 60 in age and retired. Most of us were from the States, two were from Canada, one a New Zealander and one an Italian living and working in the US. All of us were interested in travel and history. One was most interested in seeing the caves in the Perigord. Four spoke French. Sandrine went over the schedule for the week and answered questions, then we were free to rest until it was time to walk to a nearby restaurant for dinner.

At the top, in front of our hotel entrance, it’s good for Sandrine to see how we navigate on the uneven cobblestone surface. Sandrine, is at the lower right in the lower photo.It looks like we have tried the wine and are ready to fill up again. The bread is always present in baskets and always chewy and delicious. No butter was ever on the table except for breakfast. When out in a group, we wear our Road Scholar ID badges that hang around the neck. There are pockets in this hanging badge for pens and small tablets or our phones if we don’t want to carry a purse or have no pockets in our clothing. Sandrine always counts us to make sure we are all present.

Back to the hotel and bed. We will take a walking tour of the city in the morning.

The day dawns grey and rain is in the forecast but we are prepared with jackets, hats and umbrellas.

This is a map of the city center, north is at the top. Our hotel is located with an X.

The Girondists monument is first. Sandrine tells us that the horse’s hooves are represented with claws because the river is muddy and they have to claw their way to make a stand on the riverbank.

A big mall in the round has been built where a crumbling convent once stood. Sandrine is going to purchase cannelles for us to eat with lunch. Dave is taking a picture of the arrays of cannelles and other pastries. There is a grocery store on the lower level of this shopping center. This place is circled on the map and called Grands Hommes.

In the top photo, Sandrine is telling us about the history of the city as she leads us to our next stop. She is speaking into a microphone. Each of us has a device called a “Quiet Vox” that is an audio receiver with an earphone that fits over our ear. She doesn’t have to shout and we don’t have to crowd around her to hear. The bottom two photos are of the Cathedral St. André. Beautiful stained glass, vaulted ceilings and impressive pipe organ. Below is a photo of the grand cathedral.

The building in this part of the city are constructed of a creamy stone with intricate carving.

Lunch and wine tasting and fresh cannelles. There was more salty meat on these charcuterie boards than most of us could eat. The cheese was great, a soft, medium and a hard cheese and always good bread. Beautiful vin rouge.

A visit to the Museum of Aquitaine and lecture on the history of the Bordeaux region then a walk down to the river to the water mirror and public buildings.

A small piece of a Roman wall tucked into a courtyard of a public housing building.

Another city gate near the river. This is Porte Cailhau.

A band busking in the rain near our hotel. Our first day is finished.

Up and on the motorcoach early, today we will visit the chateaux and vineyards of the Medoc region. While aboard we hear a lecture on Bordeaux wines, their history and their economic impact on the region.

Before leaving town, the bus stops in the harbor where Sandrine points out a relic from WWII. This concrete monstrosity was a Nazi U Boat base with twelve bays. It is a UNESCO heritage site today to commemorate the war. The city has plans to convert it into something useful. This area was the only part of the city that was bombed by the allies.

Now the harbor is home to houseboats and sailboats.

Sandrine points out a new wine museum and soccer stadium as we leave town.

We pass many impressive wineries and vineyards.

This is part of the huge Chateaux Margaux winery which we will visit today. Sandrine is explaining viniculture methods as we look around. As you can see, the vines have been trimmed back severely to encourage good growth and a better grape. Back to the bus to visit a small family winery where the owner shows us around and we have lunch.

The owner explains their operation And shows us the barrels of wine stacked in a thick walled old shed and coddled until the wine is ready to bottle.

Stainless steel vats where the pressed grapes are coddled into wine then decanted into vats for finishing. The remaining grape residue is sold for other purposes such as compost.

On to Chateau Margaux, a beautiful house that is used for events but not lived in. Our guide shows us the interior.

This is a cross section of the soil throughout the area showing how it drains and why this is good for the grapes that are grown here in the flat part of the Garonne valley.

The oak casks can be used three years then are repurposed but not used for aging wine. Large winery or small, the process is the same. However this winery has an automated grape sorting machine that uses the latest technology for choosing the perfect grape.

Two of the wines we tasted at Margaux.

The red wine changes color slightly as it ages taking on a more orang-y cast. The wines that are produced here are aged at least a year and the grand cru varieties are sold to collectors and could be kept for many years or decades.

Sheep are used on this working estate to keep the grass clipped. A few lambs were just born causing us to say, “A-h-h-h.” We were lucky that this tour was on the shoulder of the busy season so we didn’t have to compete with lots of other bus tours and tourists in the towns. Back to Bordeaux and dinner at a local restaurant. Tomorrow a trip to Saint- Émilion. That will be in the next blog post!

France April 2018: We Arrive in Bordeaux

Our much anticipated Road Scholar trip to France began with a long airplane ride from Phoenix through Detroit and Amsterdam and finally the city of Bordeaux. We arrived a day early to get acclimated.

A wine bottle at the curb on arrival at the airport was evidence of the importance of wine in France.

Our hotel, Bordeaux Bayonne Etche Ona, was located in the city center on a narrow historic street just off a main street, Cours de l’Intendance. Since we arrived at the noon hour, our room was not ready but they were happy to store our luggage while we looked around the city for a bit.

The hotel was near a big plaza called the Grands Hommes where streets and tramways intersect and the Intercontinental Le Grand Hotel is located. Across the plaza is the Opera National de Bordeaux, a very impressive building. Dave stopped in front of the hotel to get his bearings on Google Maps. You can see the statues atop the opera house in the background.

The plaza at night with the Intercontinental Hotel lit up. It was a cool evening but the French people love to sit at cafe tables and sip espresso and chat.

We had reservations for dinner within walking distance of the hotel but we were ready early so walked through the neighborhoods past a small garden at Place Gambetta.

Racines restaurant with chef David Gallacher opened it’s doors at 7:30pm which is the normal hour for the evening meal service. They were booked for the evening and we were lucky to have reservations.

This was a lovely haute-cuisine meal accompanied by wine, wonderful bread and espresso with dessert. The French often start an evening meal with an aperitif of Cassis or Champagne and end with espresso after dessert. Sitting next to us were two Asian-looking young women who were American born and working as lawyers in New York City. They were from Houston and San Diego. We had a nice visit.

We walked back to the hotel, entrance just below the lighted blue sign, and fell into bed.

The next morning we took breakfast at the hotel. The breakfast bar included everything you could imagine, including an egg coddling water bath machine that I didn’t get up the courage to try. Dave got his usual granola and yogurt so he was happy.

The breakfast room was simple but elegant.

Since our group tour was not to begin until later in the day, we had some time to explore.

The Monument aux Girondists in the Place des Quinconces commemorates the French Revolution. There is a bronze rooster at the base. The rooster is a symbol of the French spirit. The Quinconces (the name comes from the staggered rows of trees on each side of this space) is a large area near the riverfront where festivals are held.

From here we walked to a nice garden.

It is spring in Bordeaux. Dave is standing beside a topiary basket filled with flowers.

Outside and inside the Saint Louis des Chartrons church and to the Garrone riverwalk.

The riverfront has been completely refurbished since the city realized that tourism dollars drove the economy here. There is a walkway all along the river that people throng to especially on nice days like this one.

The Place de La Bourse is mirrored on the water feature called the Water Mirror which emits a mist that kids love to play in and then it fills with an inch or two of water becoming the mirror.

River cruise ships can be seen docked along the quai in the distance and in the other direction the Pont de Pierre bridge which is getting new piers to keep it from sinking.

Dave stands in front of Porte Cailhau, one of the old city gates from when Bordeaux had walls. We walked along the street named Cours du Chapeau Rouge, Red Hat Street, now a pedestrian avenue of shops and galleries. Uphill all the way to our hotel near the Grands Hommes plaza and it’s Carousel.

I’m sure we stopped for lunch somewhere but I have no recollection of it. We are scheduled to meet with our Road Scholar group this afternoon and go to dinner this evening. Back to the hotel to freshen up.

Fiddling, Picking and Grinning Season: December 2017 through March 2018

Many of our friends are picking or fiddling buddies are “Snowbirds.” Their return to Arizona signals picking and fiddling season. In December Dave and I stopped by to visit Laura Barry in Tucson. She invited some fiddle friends over to jam.

Sue Elsclager and Laura are sharing fiddling information in Laura’s living room. Sue’s husband Bill and Laura’s friend Tom Rude are around the corner trying to stay safely away from flying fiddle bows. The sign in the entry welcomes Laura’s new grand baby Ivy.

Darwin Lang and Dave share some tunes. The Christmas season is a great time for sharing music and a meal. Dave and I are lucky to have these wonderful friends who share their homes and food and homemade jam with us.

In the center of a fiddle jam at Laura’s house is the fiddle and bow rest plus coffee table. This is a useful piece of furniture as you can see!

Sonoita Serenade. Dave was invited to play in a group organized by Susie Pangle for a Christmas party that her cousin Richard and his wife Mary host at their rural home near Sonoita Arizona. We were staying overnight so pulled Luci, our trailer, and parked in a field adjacent to their ranch house.

This is high desert country in the hills of southern Arizona. Mesquite and cholla cactus grow on the hills and in the washes. I went for a ramble and spotted a strange sight for me. See the next photo.

This is either raccoon or coati scat up in this tree. It consists mostly of mesquite seeds. I didn’t see any animals around but had an interesting walk while the band was practicing up at the house.

The band from the left: Bernie Seely on guitar and vocals; Susie Pangle added her dobro and voice; Jimmie Dixon sang and played guitar; Dave on fiddle and banjo; Larry Rose is behind Dave playing the bass and Denny Carlson played guitar and sang.

The event was held in a barn-like building. The band played country standards for the listening and dancing pleasure of friends of Dick and Mary. Dick did some great barbecue and folks showed up with pot luck dishes. Good food and tunes, a nice evening.

The weather turned chilly with frost by morning the next day. We were glad for our heater and a warm comforter and to be going back to the valley and home.

Picking in Chandler. The next event was a bluegrass picking jam at the Chandler home of Bill and Susan Burns. Millie and Gary Vannoy organized the party that started in the picking porch and spilled onto the pool deck. There was food and fun and conversation for all.

Pickers included the members from the Traditional Bluegrass band and others plus lots of “grinners” who came to listen and visit.

First Christian Church Of Sun City has a Social evening monthly. The Whistling Porch Band asked Dave to play with them to entertain at the church supper. The band members are Ken Killebrew on bass, Ray Scalf on electric lead, Steve Christiansen doing vocals and Dave on fiddle. We recognized many of the folks who attended as regulars at other music events in this part of the valley.

Great barbecue with all the sides and pie made it an all around fine evening.

The Yuma Fiddle Contest held in January is sponsored by the Yuma Jaycees and is a precursor to their big rodeo. It is the first fiddle contest of the year for us. We circle the RVs in the parking lot. The fiddlers work on their contest tunes and take turns playing guitar for one another.

The kids play fiddles and play games. I got to hold Ivy Elizabeth Barry, newest member of the fiddling Barry family. Her sister, Ellie in the red shirt is playing with one of the fiddling Dietrich girls.

Jess Barry plays his contest round with his boys, Clay and Ben, backing him up. Grandma Laura Barry was so proud of all of them.

Dave played his round of three tunes accompanied by Laura Barry and Terry Schwindt.

Dave and Jess played beautifully on Kentucky Waltz accompanied by Frank Moore. Sorry the video isn’t vertical.

Laura and Sue played in the twin fiddle competition, too.

Dave accompanies Laura and she returns the favor.

Dave and Frank accompany Jess B and Madison Dietrich. They played some hot tunes!

When all was said and done, awards handed out (Dave got a trophy for first in his division) and grandkids on the way home, we went to dinner with Laura B and Tom Rude. Chretin’s restaurant has great food and margaritas. It is our favorite Mexican restaurant in Yuma.

Dome Valley north of Yuma was our next stop. It is home to Larry and Pat Rose. They encourage their musician friends to pull in and stay for a spell. We were glad to do so since we were on our way to Blythe bluegrass festival the next weekend.

Our little rig looks pretty small next to Larry’s hanger. He keeps all sorts of vintage cars and cycles restored and in top running condition in his big buildings.

Scenery around the Rose property includes a couple of runways and a date farm. Larry took Dave and I to see a nearby dairy operation since he knew I milked cows as a child. The milking process remains the same but the method is remarkably different.

Larry has antique farming implements for landscaping interest. While I was rambling with my camera, Dave was in the picking parlor with Susie Pangle, Denny Carlson, Jimmie Dixon and Larry Rose. More tunes and food were shared for an enjoyable few days.

The 31st Annual Blythe Bluegrass Festival was held mid-January. Featured bands were Kody Norris Show, Old Blue Band, Mark Phillips and IIIrd Generation and Sister Sadie. Several other bands played as well but these were the headliners. Of course the fun for musicians is the campground picking and there was lots of that.

Gary Vannoy, Dick Brown (Old Blue Band) and Doug Piper warmed up and picking. Millie Vannoy was playing bass, Dave was there too.

Dave and John Kennedy playing some tunes. Notice John’s left foot is keeping time so rapidly that it isn’t in focus!

Some of our favorite folks are in this picture. Fiddle player Russ Leininger has Rascal on his lap while his wife Nancy talks to Millie Vannoy. The picking tents aren’t wind proof but sure make a difference keeping pickers happy. Propane heaters are nice too. Gary Vannoy always puts up a tent. Millie makes food for everyone and someone usually brings out a quart jar of something potent to pass around.

Sister Sadie was my favorite group. These five mega-talented women put on one heck of a show. Dale Ann Bradley and Tina Adair did some powerful singing and had fun doing it. Deanie Richardson on the fiddle was fantastic. Make an effort to see this band if they are in your area.

Ajo Arizona Old Time Fiddlers Contest. The fiddle contest started February 1st but we always go early the week before and camp in the desert with our friends. Susie and Harold Pangle were there first so secured a spot for us with enough room for several others.

It is always so beautiful here. It takes my breath away just thinking about it. While here, we got up in the middle of the night to see the lunar eclipse, blood moon, super moon, blue moon. What an event to share with friends on a chilly desert night. Dave was inspired to write a tune he calls “Blood Moon.”

Arleen Watson was there bringing nifty tunes on her accordion. It must have been a bit chilly since everyone is wearing jackets.

Arleen, Laura, Dave and I climbed the geologic feature west of our camp that some people call the cow pies. You can tell by our expressions that we were having a good time. Not here this year and deeply missed were Arn and Diane Berg. Diane had health issues that kept them in Montana near medical care. We are hoping they can be with us in full health next year.

Dave and Laura used the time to practice their fiddle contest tunes. Waltzes, hoedowns and tunes of choice were chosen to be played at the contest at the Ajo Country Club. As the weekend nears, we break camp and make our way to town to dump and take on fresh water at “BellyAcres” RV Park. The chatty owner is always friendly and helpful. Out to the country club we go parking on the driving range which is conveniently closed for the weekend. The golf course is open as is the cafe and bar and many of the campers enjoy all three amenities. The fiddlers put on a show at the Senior Center on Thursday and at the downtown Plaza on Friday. The contest is held on Saturday and Sunday.

The downtown Plaza entertainment was well attended. While this was going on, I took the opportunity to visit the quilt show that was happening at the old high school which is now an artist colony.

Neat quilts. My favorite was the crazy quilt and all the embellishments on it.

I took a side trip into the Catholic Church across from the Plaza. I would have taken pictures of the Episcopal Church but it was locked.

Evening entertainment is provided for listening and dancing on Friday and Saturday nights. Ross Riggs is singing in his inimitable style. His wife Fran is playing bass. Also pictured are Jimmie Dixon, Dave and Susie Pangle.

It was a very Barry contest. Corrine Barry Geary competed (first picture above). Jess Barry (second photo) won his division. Ellie Barry, Jess’s daughter (third photo) was a crowd favorite. Laura Barry (dare I say matriarch of the clan) also a crowd favorite. And in the final photo is Amy Barry who recently took up a fiddle since everyone else in the family was playing (except baby Ivy).

Katie Bonn accompanied by husband Tom and Dave B. We were so glad they finally arrived from winter-y Idaho. Katie and Dave competed in the twin division and sounded great.

Katie and Tom Bonn, Elaine and Denny Carlson and Charly Pangle (on Elaine’s lap) have a morning visit while Charly gets a good petting.

Tucson Fiddle Contest is a one day affair held at a local high school. It was the last contest we attended for the season. Lots of good fiddlers were present.

Dave and Katie were in the twin division and were backed up by Laura Barry and Corrine Geary. Laura hosted a jam at her house after the contest. Sandwiches and Slushies from EG’s, a long time favorite of Tucson folk.

Glendale Folk Fest is a free annual event. There are many stages and workshops during the two day affair with talented musicians donating their time to play a 30 minute set. Side of Grits is a band Dave plays in with four other people. They applied for and were granted a slot on the Machine Shed stage on Saturday.

The sunshine was bad for taking a front shot of the band. Left to right are; Mike Seymour on mandolin, Dennis Talbert on banjo and vocals, Rick Rhodes on guitar and vocals, Leslie Rhodes on bass and harmony vocal and Dave on fiddle. Their set was well received by a full house.

There are always plenty of jammers forming groups around the extensive grounds of the Sahuaro Ranch. Food vendors did a good business on both days. Our friends from Laramie Wyoming, Tom and Alice Wilhelm stayed overnight with us and were able to attend the event on Sunday.

Tom Wilhelm on electric bass (he has a small battery powered amplifier) and Dave who is seated playing fiddle

Charlie Ray Robinson was present playing and singing. After rehabbing from a liver transplant, he is feeling well enough to get out and pick again. We were glad to see him.

This jam got too big to be enjoyable but it was fun for a while. Tom’s bass fell out of our car and onto Dave’s big toe. It was hurting pretty bad so he ended up in the urgent care where an X-ray proved it to be broken but not displaced. He saw an orthopedist who declared that it would heal just fine. The bruise was ugly and the nail will come off but he’s getting around without pain and we are happy for that.

You can see his big toe, still bruised looking but it didn’t keep us home as the next weekend was the Lake Havasu Bluegrass Festival.

The 16th Annual Bluegrass on the Beach music festival is held at Lake Havasu City at the state park on the beach on the lake. Our good friend Gary Vannoy saved us a camping spot near the stage and their picking tent so Dave wouldn’t have to hobble far afield. Headliners were The Gibson Brothers, Edgar Loudermilk Band, Wayne Taylor and Appaloosa, Sawmill Road, The Special Consensus, Jerry Butler Band, Monroe Crossing, Volume Five and The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band. It was a great lineup and a great crowd was on hand. My favorites were the solid brother sound and humor of the Gibson’s and the bouncy drive and fun of Monroe Crossing.

The only band picture I got was of Monroe Crossing. The wind was as active as they were on this day.

The Lake was blue and beautiful and the coots were lined up taking a break on the beach.

Lots of good picking and singing happened in the jam tent just steps from our trailer. Here Ray Foster is rendering a tune.

Dave fiddles a break and Millie keeps time. This is the last big bluegrass festival of the season but not the last event we will go to.

Apache Junction festival. Side of Grits were invited to perform st this new festival which was held at a park in Apache Junction on the east side of the Phoenix valley. We went over for the day on Saturday for the band performance but didn’t return for the second day. Getting from the west side of the valley to the east side is a hassle. The festival was well attended by the local folk. Side of Grits was well appreciated by the large crowd.

Leslie Rhodes, Dave, Rick Rhodes, Dennis Talbert and Mike Seymour. Picking and singing on a warm day.

Dave and Rick harmonizing.

Fiddle Jamboree at Salome Arizona The jamboree is a two day event with camping across the street from the Lions Club building where entertainment is presented onFriday and Saturday evening. The Lions have breakfast and lunch on Friday and an evening meal on Saturday. Jamming happens at campsites or in the building where there is a small stage. This is often the last time we see our friends from the northern states until fall festivals start. It is a happy and sad time as we are never sure that everyone will be able to return. Denny and Elaine Carlson will head to Minnesota, Tom and Katie Bonn head back to Idaho and Susie and Harold Pangle who live nearby us in Surprise will get out of town to Montana where family is as the valley heats up. We will head north as well near the end of May. But that is another blog.

Here Denny and Jimmy try a tune Dave has written as Elaine holds up the chord sheet.

Evening entertainment is provided by anyone who wants to sign up to play three tunes. Here Laura fiddles backed up by Dave and Blaine Cone. Blaine is a treasure of tunes and anecdotes and we sure appreciate John Kennedy bringing him down from the Mayer Arizona area.

Denny was on stage a lot but found some time to have a dance with Elaine. Goodbye friends and safe travels wherever you roam.

Christmas 2017: Family time

Matt, Jennifer, Katie and Daniel, our kids from Nebraska, were here at Christmas time. I had a few pictures that I wanted to Blog about. Mostly, I just wanted to get the photos out there and not hidden in some picture file.

The guys played some golf since the days were nice.

We put together a jigsaw puzzle. I’m in my jammies. Matt and Jennifer worked on it too but I was a bit fanatical.

Katie was learning to knit using large needles and giant yarn. She also did a lot of studying and enjoyed our back patio peace and quiet.

The oranges and grapefruits were ready to pick and were delicious. Daniel is holding an example orange. Our trees outdid themselves this year.

This is us. Matthew, me, Katie, Jennifer and Daniel. Dave was there taking the photo. We were getting ready to meet with the McKee family for pizza and a visit. Our kids and Bill’s kids had never met. Bill and Dave are first cousins.

Jennifer wasn’t in the photo since she was using the camera. Pictured left to right: Dave, Matthew Brinkman (our son), Bruce McKee, his daughter Hannah, Wendy (Bruce’s wife), Sydney (Bruce and Wendy’s second daughter), myself, Chele McKee, Katie Brinkman, Bill McKee (father of Bruce and Chele), and Daniel Brinkman.

We had beautiful weather, not very Christmas-like but we got some decorations up and enjoyed their festive-ness. It would have been an even better Christmas if our son Ross could have been with us.