Castles and Coastlines

So on Sunday I finished repacking my stuff and headed to the bus stop, from there I went to Gare de Lyon and took the TGV to Toulon. I highly recommend using the TGV if you need to travel France as it was relatively easy and I enjoyed watching the sites go by. Then I took a bus to a town outside Toulon for my first Workaway experience which, as many of you might remember, means that I am helping a business/family in exchange for room and board. This stop is to help with cleaning, gardening, and hospitality on a chateau B&B. I got off the bus at a square where the old men were playing boule, causing clouds of dust in the shade of a few scraggly trees. This is a scene common to France, no matter where you go. I headed towards a roundabout and followed the directions of my host up the hill. Somehow my suitcase had got much heavier in Paris, though I bought nearly nothing. Maybe it was just the steep hill and uneven, rocky pavement, but I felt sweat trickle down the small of my back as I reached what seemed to be my destination. A gate with a padlock, fenced on either side. Beyond that were a few falling-down buildings and an old car. The building permit sign cleared showed that I was where I was supposed to be, yet I waited there for fifteen minutes before a woman walking her dog informed me that there was a second entrance. I dragged my two bags up the steep, curving road to another gate, also locked, with a cement wall on either side. I tried calling out, shaking the gate, following the wall around to find another way in. Nothing. Finally a car pulled up to the driveway next to me. I asked them about my hosts, but they said they were musicians hired for a party. Deciding I had to do something I headed back down to the first entrance where I could see in through the gate. Now I had waited almost an hour. After a bit more waiting I glanced up and caught a figure a few hundred feet off. In seconds I was on my feet and calling out, "Bonjour." The person approached and they greeted me. With a bit of explaining, it was found they thought I was arriving tomorrow. There was some sort of email miscommunication paired with the fact that my hosts were currently in Morocco and the other two Workaway volunteers were running the house with a few staff members. I was ushered inside and showed my room, four walls and a roof. We moved a bed frame and mattress in and I set down my stuff. It wasn't what I had expected and it certainly didn't feel like home, so I just continued to tell myself that it was just an adventure.

After settling in, I was invited up to see the chateau which is absolutely gorgeous. (Chateau la Merienne)

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Later I was goaded into going to the house again as the clients were having a party as everyone was leaving that night. I danced to the live music (evidently the same musicians I met before), spoke Frenglish with the clients, and had a slice of la tarte tropézienne in honor of Brigitte Bardot's birthday. It was certainly a lot to take in for one day, I had a great time even though I was extremely tired.

In the weekdays that followed I quickly learned what life was like on the chateau. I usually woke up, got dressed and showered, before setting off cleaning and organizing. I have done all sorts of chores here like cleaning the chateau rooms and making the beds, organizing attics, sweeping many decks and floors, doing tons of laundry, and cleaning the pool. The hosts had left some instructions, but many of the responsibilities are tasks that we see needing done. In the afternoons, after a good couple of hours of work I can walk to the beach (ten minutes away!!), swim in the pool, or hang out around the house in the beautiful weather.

The other volunteers I'm here with are great. It's interesting to hear about their experiences in travel and life. We cook dinner and lunch for each other, rotating each night. We've watched some great indie films, gone to the beach, taken hikes to abandoned buildings, and played an epic three-hour game of monopoly. I got to visit the local market for it's last morning. There was food and clothes everywhere, basil and rosemary wafting through the air. I have gorged myself on the local bread here, we pick up a fresh baguette or two from a little stall every other morning. One of my hosts (when they arrived home) taught me how to make a quiche by simply using ready-made puff pastry and a ratio of four eggs to one cup of milk. Then you can lightly sautée whatever you want to put in it or add fresh ingredients like tomatoes. After 45ish minutes at 350° it will be golden brown at the edges and ready to eat after cooling slightly. I had no clue quiche was so easy or delicious.

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During our time off this weekend, the other volunteers and I decided to go exploring. After spending forty minutes clinging to the side of a cliff on a winding, two-way road barely fit for one car, we made in it one piece to the medieval town of Grimaud. We visited a golden, crumbling castle built by the Romans and saw a beautifully simple little church from the 1480s. From the winding streets, art galleries tucked in corners, or the soaring windmill built on the hill across from the castle, the tiny town was overly charming. Once we were done, it was decided we would venture into Saint-Tropez. It was a great night to do so as Les Voiles, a boat race, had ended that day and the everybody was celebrating. We ate ice cream for dinner and milled in the throngs of international people. We found a wall by the sea where we could watch the waves and reflections of the city lights while listening to live music. The energy was buzzing young in the air, people dancing and chatting. The music was good although not very local--all American songs from the 70s and 80s. After dancing to Stevie Wonder we headed home, taking a different route before falling into bed. Saturday we did a few chores around the house and had a lazy morning before heading to a beach we hadn't hit before. Here the water lapped between silver and royal blue, outlines of mountains and coast misty along the skyline. It was peaceful. The Mediterranean Sea breathed in and out, lulling and sighing. Chilled, but not cold I could stand 100 feet out and see my feet when they danced on tiptoe in the ridged sand. Vibrant sailboats skated in front of me, drawing my eyes to the different shades of sea. I'm surprised I ever got out. A while later we went into Hyères, another medieval town. Here we saw an even bigger castle than before, this one with fortification walls that rose into square watchtowers and tumbled into the hills. Though most castles sit on hills, this one sat among the mountains and gave a spectacular view of the sea from one side. The streets blow were steep, shaking people and buildings down to the coast, tumbling away from the towering pile of stones. This meant quite a climb in either direction, so when we arrived at back at the chateau I gladly climbed into pjs and curled up on in my little, white room before falling into a deep sleep.

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