Jul 31

Hosting Volunteers in France

Hosting Volunteers in France

Ever wonder why someone may leave it all behind to pursue a life hosting volunteers in a quiet little part of France?  Just about twelve years ago, Paul  decided to give up the hustle and bustle of his hometown London, England and search for another way of life.  He took over an old stone maison in rural Southwest France called La Giraudière.  The roots of the house date back to the early 1700s but the main house had long ago disappeared due to a fire or some other force of nature. The Gate House to the old estate still survived although badly need in repair.  With nary a French word in his vocabulary, Paul set to rehailitating the old house, taking on various odd jobs to bring in some income.

Paul And Sidney

Amiable La Giraudière hosts, Paul and Sidney

An afffable man, he soon got to know the locals, and learning the best way possible, through experience, he became conversant in French.  However, he still proudly holds on toa distinct British accent as he believes everyone should recognize their roots.  He was soon joined by a Labrador pup, Sidney who quickly became his right hand dog.  A man of leisurely pace, La Girardière slowly took shape until 2007 when Paul stumbled upon the idea of opening  up the buildinf to holiday visitors in search of an unique expereince in rural France.  For a small fee, (that basically covers food expense) folks come from all over the world to volunteer in the effort to restore La Giraudière.  Visitors come for many different reasons.  Some come to freshen up their French or English skills.  Others want to learn more about French culture while others just want a quiet getaway from the frenzied pace od modern living.  Whatever the reason, Paul greets everyone  with a smile and welcomes them aboard.  It’s clear Paul has come to love his adopted home.  He is never happier than when he usher his visitors to area markets, festivals or tourist spots.  He enjoys watching his guests marvel at the beauty of the local sunflower fields or the majesty of The Atlantic coast.  Well known in the nearby town of Brossac, villagers welcome his guests into the local restaurants and invite them to join in the bi-weekly games of petanque.  Perhaps, though, his favorite activity is sitting at La Girardière at sunset watching the beautiful colors streak across the sky or maybe even better, viewing the night sky, white with stars.  Regardless, wherever you catch Paul, you can count on a lively Bienvenue to La Giraudiere

 

Terrence Cremin

Travel writer Terence Cremin describes his experiences while volunteering at La Giraudière, France

 

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Jul 31

My Journey to Volunteering at La Giraudière

My Journey to Volunteering at La Giraudière

While spending three weeks volunteering at La Giraudière in Southwest France, I got to wondering how the planets had ined up to bring me to this little jewel in Southwest, France. I ‘m not sure when I was struck with the happy disease of wanderlust but perhaps it was during the fourth grade.  We studied Geography

The Parthenon

The Parthenon

for the first time in my small Catholic school on the south side of Chicago.  The textbook was written as a travelogue and followed ten year old Peter on his family’s trip around the world. I read with awe as he watched the guards change at Buckingham Palace, climbed the steps of the Eifell Tower and ate gelato on The Spanish Steps in Rome. I would have happily traded places with him as I wiggled in my starched blue school uniform while he took pictures of The Pathenon and floated down The Ganges. Or perhaps it was even earlier when I received a picture book as a very young child called The Land of The Midnight Sun.  It was filled with happy Lap Landers with red puffy cheeks ,wearing colorful coats and hats,

Colorful Lap Landers

Colorful Lap Landers

herding reindeer under The Aurora Borealis.  Under drab Midwestern skies I dreamed of faraway places and knew that I must get there some day. Other than a tornado sweeping me away like Dorothy to Oz, I knew I would have to figure a way to get there on my own. It didn’t take as long as you might imagine, once I started saving my money from my daily paper route.  By the time I was sixteen, I had saved enough money to participate in a month long student tour of Europe sponsored by my high school.  I considered it a survey course of Western Europe; of the variety, snap a picture and look at it when you get home. We have to hurry on to our next country.  Or, if this is Tuesday, this must be Belgium.  It was all wonderful and I still look back at it fondly but it did not slake my travel thirst.  It would be ten years before I returned to Europe, this time to Switzerland to work in a language summer camp.  This

Balloons over Cappadocia, Turkey

Ballons over Cappadocia, Turkey

also afforded me the opportunity to visit The Netherlands, Luxembourg and England once again.  I would follow up my summer adventure with another Swiss tour the following year adding Ireland to the itinerary.  Then life would interfere.  Career and family would become the priority with some magical visits to places closer to home in The United States.  There is so much to see and do there but often when I would see a jet trail high in the sky, I would long to be aboard a jet plane European bound.  It would be over thirty years before I would have my passport stamped again. Two  years ago, I was given an opportunity to travel to Paris to visit a young friend gratuating from The Sorbonne.  I brushed off my dormant French skills and leapt at the chance.  This time I wandered to points south and north visiting Nice and Normandy.  It opened up my eyes that there was much more to Europe than the

major cities.  A trip to Turkey the following year would intervene but I would hang on to the idea that I wanted to see more of rural France.  However, a major trip abroad was putting a strain on the pocket book.

Sunflowers

Sunflowers of La Giraudière

I took on a part time job and started researching volunteer possibilities in France.  This happily brings me to La Giraudière.  Name your poison and there is most likely a volunteer opportunity to meet your needs.  I was attracted to the somewhat communal setting of English and French speakers in rural France.  It’s location in Sud Ouest had great appeal as it was an area I was unfamiliar with and knew it would yield great surprises.  I have not been disappointed in that regard.  My visit to Bordeaux revealed a beautiful ancient city brimming with gorgeous architecture, delicious dining spots and a fascinating history dating back to prehistoric times.  Forays to the Atlantic Coast delighted with beach resorts that rival the Cote D’Azur but with less people.  I have to thank my literary fourth grade friend Peter for opening the doors to such vast fields of exploration.  I don’t know if my travels will bring me back to La Giraudière ; after all Peter made it all around the world. I still have other continents to conquer.

 

 

Terrence Cremin Travel writer Terence Cremin describes his experiences while volunteering at La Giraudière, France

 

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Jul 29

La Giraudière Volunteers Arrive and Depart

La Giraudière Holiday Volunteers Arrive and Depart

 

Holiday Volunteers arrive and volunteers depart. Even on a quiet weekend, La Giraudière is a busy as a hen house on Easter. There are markets in town and car boots in the village (that’s a flea market to our American friends; so named because people sell items out of their car trunks (boots.)  One can wander to points north and west, Bordeaux or the west coast, or stick close to home and swim in Etang Valliers

Marlene and Sal

Sal enjoys a concert with La Giraudiere friends before he departs

followed by a terrific meal at Quay Sud. A good book and a nap is also a welcome distraction; there is no more perfect spot than under a shady tree facing a field of tournesols (sunflowers).  All this and more happens on a typical La Giraudière weekend.

This past weekend saw us wishing a fond farewell to Sal who came to us from Northern Ireland. In the evening we all met for a delicious meal over looking Etang Valliers.  Despite the reality of having to say goodbye to a new friend, the mood at the dinner was kept lighthearted.  Sal is not one to look backwards besides there was still a concert to attend.  The Latin rhythms of the band added to the revelry.  After Sal left in the morning, La Giraudière was hit with a sensational thunderstorm

Dinner at St. Bernard

Volunteers bid adieu to Matthew at Cafe St. Bernard

(or orage as the locals call it) that knocked out our internet and threw us back to The Stone Age – or at least to the 1980s.  We all wondered if Sal’s flight to Bordeaux took off or canceled but we couldn’t dwell on it as we had a new arrival to welcome and bid a fond adieu to another.  Richard arrived from Hungary as Matthew was packing his bags for home in The United Kingdom.  After spending a year studying in Toulouse and a month at La Giraudière, Matthew still wanted to extend his stay in France but family beckoned. Another dinner, this one everyone’s favorite, Cafe St. Bernard in the center of the village of Brossac, again found us toasting a fellow volunteer with a local vintage.  The highlight of the evening however was the trivia contest that followed. Matthew was in his element, able to show off his expansive wealth of General Knowledge. He left home with not only fond memories of a his time in France but with a trivia victory under his belt.

Meanwhile Richard had precious little time to experience being the new kid on the block.  Tina from Austria

Richard plays petanque

New volunteer Richard proves to be quite adept at petanque

was scheduled to arrive the next day.  A secondary student,  Richard was hoping to work on his English and French.  He certainly became proficient in all the forms of hello and goodbye in both languages.   He was also introduced to the French game of petanque in Brossac and despite being a novice, walked away with two victories against more seasoned players.  Tina arrived the next morning with a near flawless American accent.  A native German speaker, she is conversant in English and anxious to learn French.  Despite, living in Belgium for five years, she says, with a giggle, that she didn’t learn any French there. Of course, as an American I’ve heard that all before.  A European says she doesn’t speak the local European language and then perfectly orders a meal while discussing options with the server.What they really mean is they couldn’t pass a second level exam in the subject.

As the weekend draws to a close, we look to the upcoming week which will see the departures of intern Jacques, after a month, English couple Marlene and Colin who were our unofficial den parents and then

Tina does household chores

Austrian Tina, with the lovely American accent, handles household chores.

finally by the end of the weekend, your intrepid travel writer sets off for points northward: Paris, London and Dublin.  One entire crew is replaced by another as more volunteers are scheduled to leave soon after I leave. All the coming and goings are the very nature of La Giraudière.  It’s all very bittersweet but the sadness is replaced by the friends and memories made here.  Some vow to return, others are content to add their tour at La Giraudière to their list of places visited.  Either way, all agree it was memorable and wish their replacements well.

 

 

Terrence Cremin

Travel writer Terence Cremin describes his experiences while volunteering at La Giraudière, France

 

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Jul 29

La Giraudière Volunteers visit the Coast of France

La Giraudière Volunteers Visit the West Coast of France

After two weeks as a volunteer at La Giraudière, I realized that I had not heard an American accent since my arrival. (That’s not completely true, a volunteer from Austria speaks with a lovely American accent that

Tournesols

Beautiful fields odf tournesols dot the landscape of Western France

she claims she picked up when she lived in Kansas for a year as a child; it has a pleasant Teutonic lilt to it so it doesn’t quite count.) Of course, I didn’t come to France to meet other Americans but still, I’ve never traveled far or near without running into some of my compatriots.  So where were they?  It’s really no great mystery.  Americans tend to visit the capital cities of Europe:London, Paris, Rome and then home.  It’s understandable but by bypassing the West of France, they are denying themselves an incredible travel experience.

On our last weekend as volunteers at La Giraudière, program director Paul lead us on a daylong excursion to the beautiful western coast of France.  The first stop along the way was the bustling town of Pons.  It’s windy, picturesque streets feature a market on Saturdays. On this particular sunny weekend, it was hosting the “La Grande Fete de la St.- Jacques.  An annual affair, the shopkeepers dress as medieval merchants while solders in mail, maidens in headdress and mythological creatures roam the

Fete de St. Jacques

A colorful poster announces The Fete de St. Jacques in Pons

streets.  As you shop for local soaps and cheeses, you are treated to the sounds of authentic medieval music played by roaming musicians.  Children in period dress, dance to the music as they dodge the shoppers who fill the streets. Falconry and archery demonstrations on the grand lawn in front of the castle fills out the bill.  It was a wonderful stop fro coffee, croissants and ice cream but soon we were off to the seaside village of Talmon sur Gironde.

As you drive into Talmon you are greeted by a sign proclaiming, “Talmon, le plus beau village en France.”  By the time you leave you will be in complete agreement.  You first must leave your car in the car park as autos are not allowed in the village.  The landscape is dominated by the fortress-like church of Sainte- Radegone that guards the harbor on the Estuary of the Gironde.   Beautiful in its simplicity, the church proudly looks upon the sea on one side and the small village on the other.

Street Dancer

A street dancer escorts her merry band of musicians through the streets of Pons

The tiny, neatly landscaped streets of the village wander through residences and shops alike.  Tidily maintained gardens amidst sun bleached white walls add the color to this most charming of villages.  The town dates back to the 1200s and the carousel on the outskirts of the village adds to the other era feel of the place.

Although, Talmon lies at the mouth of the Gironde estuary, it’s the call of the sea, further up the coast that draws us to Saint-Palais sur Mer.  It is this resort city, unlike any of the other places visited on this trip to France that makes me realize how much Americans are missing by skipping this area.  Graceful palm trees and sturdy stone mansions line its quay along the sea.  Balmy sea breezes waft through the air as beach goers and senior citizens alike,

The Church of talmon

The imposing church of St – Radegone towers over le plus beau village dans France, Talmon

stroll along to capture the golden rays pouring down from the blue skies.  Large sailboats on their way out to the ocean can be seen in the distance as children of all ages frolic in the refreshing waters of The Atlantic. It only takes us seconds before we peel down to our bathing suits and we are diving in the surf. The pleasant temperatures of the water are a wonderful surprise, especially for anyone who has spent summer holidays on the  chilly shores of The North Atlantic in America.  I am reminded of Nice without the crowds and with better beaches.  No rocky bottoms here but rather the type of sand that invites you to curl your toes into as you prepare to take your first dive into the water.  An English band with a vocalist reminiscent of Adele rehearses along the

St Palais Sur Mer

The beautiful seaside town of St.- Palais Sur Mer boasts warm water despite being on the Atlantic

promenade for their evening concert.  We knew we wouldn’t be able to stay long enough to hear their complete sets but it was easy to imagine the whole seafront lit up while merry vacationers danced the night away to their pop sounds.  A delicious lunch of crepes, omelets and strawberry water readied us for our car ride home.  Although we were a bit tired and all had a touch of the sun, the drive home was only 90 minutes long, reminding us just how close we were to this most beautiful of regions.

La Giraudiere sits among the peaceful sunflower and farm fields of The Charente region but it is only a short drive to the gorgeous western coast of France. I didn’t sign up for this but what a marvelous surprise to find such a beautiful piece of the world in my own backyard.

 

 

Terrence CreminPost Written by Terrence Cremin USA while on his working holiday volunteering in France 

 
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Jul 29

La Giraurdière Guests Volunteer for Many Reasons

La Giraurdière Guests Volunteer for Many Reasons

 

Learning French and discovering French culture are great reasons to volunteer at La Giraurdière.  But they aren’t the only reasons. I was reading over some of the old posts and testimonials for La Giraudiere and I came across this one from volunteer Tom Clinch that really struck a chord with me.  People come from all over the world to this little corner of France for all sorts of reasons.  Most cited is that they want to improve their French and the next most popular reason seems to be an interest in French culture.  Excellent reasons and I must admit they are at the top of my list.  However, they can be off putting for anyone not confident in their language skills or at least not confident in negotiating a foreign country without being able to speak to the natives.  But Tom’s reason is so simple and clear that it should cast away any fears of traveling to La Giraudière.  He simply wants to get away from it all; to put aside all the worries of modern living and experience a simpler way of living for a few weeks. Learning a new  language and about a different culture all becomes incidental and a by – product of life at La Giraudière.  Read Tom’s post below and see if it doesn’t help to dispel any doubts you may have about not being up to the challenge of living in another country for just a few weeks.

 

Bonjour to all at La Giraudiere.  I’m not a Facebook, Twitter or Google+ user and, yes, I still read books

Tom Clinch

La Giraudière volunteer ha a unique and simple reason for staying at La Giraudière

made out of actual paper! So last century, I know. Anyway I did want to write a few words about my time at LG. You can modify and trim them to post wherever you like.    May of 2014 marked my second visit to La Giraudiere. I had been there the prior year at the same time and had enjoyed my time very much. Volunteering at LG is a very liberating experience in that one is able to put all the distractions and routines of home life and slip into new patterns, new activities and make new friends. The pace of life and the living at LG are so comfortable, not due to luxuries but, rather, the environment that Paul has created both at LG and with the local people in Brossac. You’ll never feel more welcome even if you don’t speak a word of French. Volunteering at LG is a totally different experience than any vacation you’ll ever take. I do recommend that if you’re working in an office or a classroom and are intrigued by the idea of actually living a normal type life in beautiful, laid-back Southwest France you should give La Giraudiere a try.        Hope this is useful. Remind Paul that he owes me a picture of the big piece of furniture set in its place in the old house.  A couple of us worked tirelessly to get it there. Well, not really.

Best regards to Sydney.

Tom Clinch

Terrence Cremin

Travel writer Terrence Cremin writes about his experiences as a volunteer at La Giraudière

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Jul 25

Art exhibition at La Giraudiere 16 August 2014

Balade à la rencontre des peintres

La Giraudiere, with the help of it’s volunteers, will be one of the places preparing for the “Balade à la rencontre des peintres” ,an art exhibition, to be held on the 16th August 2014. Other places taking part in the expo will be La  Maire de Brossac,  salles des fetes de Brossac, Salle Bel Horizon and the Galerie Marmajoux.

Exhibitions will be open from 10.00 to 12.00 and again in the afternoon from 14.00 to 18.30. There will be 14 exhibitors and over 200 paintings.

You can see more information at our Facebook page where there are links to the Charente Libre post about this event.

http://brossac.blogs.charentelibre.fr/media/02/00/2621511607.gif

Jul 24

Working Day La Giraudière – Part Two

Working Day at La Giraudière  – Part Two

 

Last week I wrote a post about a typical workday at La Giraudiere.  As I become a more seasoned

Workday Part two

Precision is the key as Matthew measures a wall in the main house of La Giraduiere

observer and participant here, I’ve come to realize there is no such thing as a typical workday.  Last week, I watched Marlene and Colin happily working in the garden.  The weeds and neglect had required some tender loving care which they were happy to provide. But with the garden taking on a new life, they have moved onto other ventures.  Colin has joined Matthew and  Paul in the main house to try his hand at plastering.  Matthew, under Paul’s guidance has becoming quite proficient and may be find himself soon in the capacity as a supervisor. Meanwhile, Marlene has taken over the kitchen for preparing lunchtime fare.  Everyone takes a turn at preparing a meal at La Giraudiere but sometimes lunch can be a catch as catch can affair.  Under the watchful eye of Marlene, however, lunch is often as nutritious and delicious as the evening meal.  Not one to forget her past loves, Marlene can still be found in the garden on most afternoons but she has stepped up her game a bit, pruning roses and clearing ivy.

Workday Part two

English Rose Marlene prunes her French cousines.

Last week Sal  restored the aging picnic tables back to their youthful luster with fresh coats of paint.  He enjoyed the task so much that he took his expertise to the front gates. Looking a bit like Tom Sawyer but refusing to give up the brush, Sal claimed he had been able to listen to all of Beethoven’s nine symphonies as he brought back the youthful vigor of the picket fences. A music student from Queens University of Belfast, he may never find a paintbrush in his hand again or possibly he may take a fancy to  listening to all of Mozart’s concertos and find painting to be the perfect excuse.

Workday Part Two

Colin tries his hand at plastering

Leon and Bridget arrived last week just as the work week began.  Besides a couple of suitcases, they also arrived with a massive case of jet lag, as they had traveled directly from Melbourne, Australia.  Just the assorted odd job here and there was suitable for their somewhat fragile conditions.  A good long weekend restored them to the vitality so associated with the folks from The Land Down Under.  This week they could be found on ladders plastering and smoothing out the seams of the drywall. It’s a skill that will follow them home and come in handy whenever they buy their first home.

Jacques, back in the office, however can ill afford to take time off to pursue other pursuits.  The daily operations of La Giraudiere require that someone be on top of the daily correspondence, bills and phone calls.  However, don’t let the French first name fool you.  Jacques will be an Englishman Abroad next year as

Workday part two

Bridget and Leon make good partners as apprentice plasterers

he takes a year to study in Bordeaux.  Several times a week he takes a little time off Workday Part Twofor an advanced French lesson. Although the rest of La Giraudiere volunteers get weekly French instruction, he is literally in a class of his own.  His volunteer work at La Giraudiere coupled with his French lessons are leaving him with a confidence that he will manage quite well in his year abroad.

Finally, your blogger, although keeping the same task, gets to live vicariously through all the activity that makes La Giraudiere thrive.   Taking pictures and interviewing the other volunteers gives me a great appreciation of all the contributions the volunteers make at La Giraudiere.

 

Workday  Part two

Jacques maintains a pleasant office atmosphere

 

Workday Part Two

Sal shows Tom Sawyer a thing or two as he paints the gate.

 

Posted by Travel writer Terrence Cremin while on  working holiday at La Giraudière

Terrence Cremin

For information on volunteering in France  or A working holiday in France

Don’t forget to join us on Twitter and Facebook!
 
 
 
 

Jul 24

La Leçon Française at La Giraudière

La Leçon Francaise

 

La Giraudière volunteers come to Southwest France for many different reasons.  However, most visitors will mention that at least one of their purposes is to learn more about the French language.  Few would foolishly expect to become fluent in their three week stay, but even in such a short visit,  the most basic beginner will pick up a wealth of knowledge about the language.  Whether, it is improving your ear for the sound of French or adding vocabulary to what you already know, the weekly French lessons at La Giraudiere are a boon to the volunteers.

Precisely at ten o’clock Madame Lynn arrives from the village of Brossac.  A cheerful woman, her perfect French belies the fact that she is really from London. She greets everyone with  Bonjours and Comme ca vas and then proceeds to converse with everyone as if they are native speakers.  Surprisingly, much of what she is saying is understandable by the volunteers.  Of course, many words are lost but the gist of her dialogue breaks through the curtain of language barriers. Guessing that perhaps one or two people may be totally lost, she kindly peppers her conversation with English words to facilitate some basic understanding.

Madame asks us to join her in the living room where we gather around her as she invites us to sit down,  Assisez -vous, sil vous plait.  The hand motion towards the chair is a marvelous visual cue to her request.  She jumps right into the lesson by passing out a rather sophisticated quiz about French history – all written in French, of course. This appears a bit daunting at first, as it tests not only our knowledge of the French language but of French history as well.  its a coin toss as to which one we are most deficient in. The first question is a total washout  Ou se trouve St. Malo?  Many of us have the background to understand the question, Where do you find St. Malo.  But no one knows its in Brittany or en Bretagne.  However, the speed at which we decipher the question puts us at ease for the rest of the quiz.  The next question proves we are more experienced with France than we realize.  We are asked what is produced in Bordeaux.  The word produit is an easy translation and as we have had many encounters with the pride of Bordeaux, we know the answer is vin. Real life experience is invaluable.  By the last question we don’t really care which Louis built Versailles.  We are just proud of the fact that we understood the question.

Next Madame takes us on an imaginary shopping trip to the village.  She spreads word cards across the table with a few picture cards and asks us to categorize them. Some of the words are instantly recognizable – chemise is in the same group as jeans, patisserie with pain (we have already learned those words well on outings into the village;  But cuir gives us pause and quincaillerie doesn’t look like anything recognizable. Amazingly the word cuir comes in handy the next day at the market when one of our group wants to buy a leather belt, une ceinture cuir. A quincaillerie is a hardware store.  That can come in handy if you need to buy a drill (une perceuse.)

By the end of the lesson, everyone remarks how comfortable they have felt withe their exposure to the French language under the friendly guidance of Madame Lynn.  No one expects to be holding lengthy conversations with the villagers at the next petanque game, but perhaps ordering a vin rouge or a biere peche wont be such a frightening task.  Most amazing of all is that everyone is looking forward to next weeks lesson.  Cest Marveilleuse, Madame!

 

 

Terrence Cremin

Post Written by Terrence Cremin USA while on his working holiday volunteering in France 

 
 For information on volunteering in France  or A working holiday in France
 
Don’t forget to join us on Twitter and Facebook!
 

 

Jul 23

La Giraudière Volunteers in Bordeaux

La Giraudière Volunteers in Bordeaux

La Giraudière volunteers are blessed with the opportunity to visit Bordeaux, only an hour away by train from Chalais.

Sunflowers of Bordeaux

La Giraurdière volunteers view sunflowers from the train en route to Bordeaux

The sixth largest city in France, Bordeaux dates back to before Christ when it was inhabited by a Celtic tribe. However, archeological digs show evidence of Neanderthal Man in the region.  All this can be learned at the marvelous Musée d’Acquitaine in the heart of the city.  But I get ahead of myself.

On Saturday July 19th, six La Guardière volunteers set off in the wee hours of the morning for Chalais station , or gare, to catch the train to Bordeaux.  Beautiful fields of sunflowers, surrounded by sweeping green hills dotted the landscape as the train sped to its destination.

A quick breakfast in the train station put us in the right mood to take on the city.  But not before Salwan had a chance to show his impressive piano skills on the upright in the train station.  Accompanied by Marlene on vocals, he played American standards, Irish folk songs and religious hymns.  So caught up in his music, a nearby shop girl, with pen and paper in hand, left her station to inquire of the name of his last song.

Volunteers in Bordeaux play piano

La Giraurdière volunteer Marlene accompanies Sal on the piano as Colin looks on.

For the record, it was Danny Boy.  Leon, Bridget and Sal headed off on their own while I joined Marlene and Colin for a quick trip on the tram to the city center.

The tram itself deserves some recognition.  Opened in 2003, it is rightly so, the pride of the city.  Looping through the most dense part of the city, it fans out to the more modern areas.

For four Euros you can buy a day pass that allows you to ride the tram all day, getting on and off wherever you please.  Marlene was immediately captivated by the markets that seemed to stretch on endlessly along the river quay.  Colin and I headed for the Basilica of San Michel with the goal of climbing its 114 meter tower.

The church, built in the 14th century, was heavily damaged during World War II.  All of the precious stained glass windows were shattered.

Rooftops of Bordeaux

The rooftops of Bordeaux from the Tower of San Michel

Restoration has been imaginative with contemporary styling of the restored glass; it gives the basilica a timeless appeal.   Priceless art fills the church but nothing is more impressive than the Pieta dating back to the fifteenth century.

A Roman catacomb and cemetery was found under the church in the latter half of the nineteenth century.  Mummified remains were then displayed for a hundred years until the bodies were finally laid to rest in the 1990s. Dignitaries such as Victor Hugo and Gustave Flaubert visited them.  Evidence of this can be found in their writings.

 

The Tower of San Michel yields some of the most breathtaking views of the city.  The Bridge of Thirteen Arches along with the modern bridges are sharply in view.  The vantage point from the top of the tower gives a stunning glimpse of the splendidly dense red clay rooftops of Bordeaux.

Bordeaux is a food lovers dream with streets of outdoor cafes specializing in local produce and seafood. We chose a salad buffet bar which served up ample portions of fresh greens and vegetables.  The meal was topped off by a delicious creme fraiche parfait.

The afternoon was spent wandering around the City Center taking in the sights.  The Hotel Bordeaux with  the facing reflecting pool gives up one of the  most spectacular views in the city.  Children adore frolicking

Bordeaux fountain

Children and adults alike frolic in the reflecting pool in front of the Hotel Bordeaux.

in the pool and we older folks found the water refreshing on the feet.  Every so often the pool would send up a cooling spray which also afforded the possibility of  haunting photos as a ghostly effect spreads across the pool.

People watching is also a grand sport in Bordeaux.  The tram lines, tourist center and markets all come together in the Grand Place.  The Opera House, or The  Grand Theatre de Bordeaux anchors The Place and is a worthy destination in its own right. Imposing in the day, it is beautiful when it is lit up at night. Cafes ring The Place providing great views of the Opera House and the passing people.  We wound up the day having a marvelous meal along the quay watching the sunset and the lights of Bordeaux twinkling in the distance.

Sunday morning rose cool and gloomy making it an ideal day for a museum visit.  Despite the rather

Bordeaux fountain

The Hotel Bordeaux is stunningly reflected in the fountain across the street.

mundane name of Musee d’Acquitaine and the academic archeological focus of the museum, it proved to be a warm and inviting display of the history of the region.  Dating back to pre-historic times with artifacts of the Neanderthal, Bronze and Iron Ages, the viewer gets a sense of the rich history of the area.  The collection of Roman era statuary and mosaics is very impressive and fills you with a sense of awe and wonder knowing you are standing on the very ground that the ancient  Romans once walked upon. The rest of the exhibition follows the growth of Bordeaux until modern times.

The sun poking through the clouds, was the signal that it was time to return to Gare St. Jean to catch the train back to Chalais.  A holiday so memorable that two of our small crew booked accommodations to return for their Easter holiday next year.

Terrence Cremin

 Post Written by Terrence Cremin USA while on his working holiday volunteering in France 
 
 For information on volunteering in France  or A working holiday in France
 
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Jul 21

Volunteers Weekend France

A volunteers weekend in France

Although the volunteer work is pleasant; it doesn’t compare to the volunteers weekend at La Giraurdière.  Technically, though the volunteers weekend at La Giraudiere may start on Friday, there really is no reason to wait that long.

 

Volunteers Weekend concert

Singer Alice Francis entertains La Guardiere volunteers at Lac Brossac during their weekend break

On Thursday evening, the local village or Brossac features a music concert alongside the picturesque etang valliere or Brossac Lake.

This week, the song stylings of Alice Francis, are featured.  A somewhat mysterious singer, rumored to be anything from Romanian to German to American, she got the crowd up on their feet and she didn’t let them go. 

Think Beyonce with a European flair and you’ll have a good idea to what the audience was treated.  Marlene and Colin were so enamored with her that they walked away from the concert wearing tee shirts with the image of Alice Francis emblazoned on their chests.

In the small neighboring village of Bardenac, only 5 km or so from La Giraurdière, there is a small restaurant devoted to serving lunches to the area workers.  The ambiance may be simple but the food is anything but.  There is no menu as the daily course of food is pre-set.  It’s anyone’s guess what the offerings will be for the day but that is irrelevant, as no matter what is served, it is sure to please.  And did I mention it is a seven course meal?!  

Vegetable soup with bread is followed by a vegetable platter of locally grown produce.  Crab wrapped in salmon is next up and feels like it could be the central plat.  The pork that follows gets that honor and it is a melt in your mouth affair.  A small salad follows to clear the palate before the cheeses arrive.  Brie, Gouda and Blue Cheese from local dairies are a feast in themselves.  Somehow we all find room for the pudding topped with blueberries that rounds out the men

 

Weekend

Volunteers weekend chilling out

Of course, wine is plentiful throughout the entire meal and only adds to the high spirits of the lunch.  a meal like this, if it could be found at all, in Paris might set you back a weeks wages; But in the little village of Bardenac our wallets leave only 12 euros lighter.

 

After necessary naps, the evening is spent relaxing to a game of petanque. Hoping to show off new found skills learned earlier in the week, the La Guardiere volunteers are disappointed by the more seasoned villagers who prove they are not to be trifled with.

Volunteers Weekend at Bardenac
Bardenac neighboring village to Brossac
Saturday and Sunday is devoted to exploring the local area. Some volunteers head to Bordeaux, only an hour away by train. (Read about this in another post.)  Other volunteers stay back to participate in a local sports day.

They prove La Giraurdière proud by placing  first in the tire roll.  A marvelous video of this is posted on Facebook and Youtube visit Volunteers weekend Intervillage

 

Warning – it is as dizzying to watch it as it must have been to 

Weekend

After the long weekend, Monday is relatively quiet, but an outing to The Monday Market in Chalais is a must for anyone who wants to capture the true flavor of the region.  A sleepy village during the week, like a real life Brigadoon, it comes alive when vendors from all over the region set up tents in the winding street of the village. Everything from pigs and chickens to leather goods and artisan crafts can be found while the crowds are entertained by the strains of  “La Vie En Rose”  wafting through the air provided by street musicians.  

A peaceful communal meal will end the volunteers weekend as everyone gathers together to share stories of their adventures for the past four days.  Tomorrow will be a workday, but for now everyone just basks in the memories of a magical weekend.

 

 

Weekend

 

 

 

Post Volunteers weekend in France Written by Terrence Cremin USA whilst on his working holiday volunteering in France 

 
 
 
 
For information on volunteering in France  or A working holiday in France
Don’t forget to join us on Twitter and Facebook!
 

 

 

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