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February 1st 2012
Published: February 4th 2012
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London - Villeneuve

When looking for cheap plane tickets, I try to be flexible. Direct flights from London to Paris are expensive, so for $300 less I took a one hour vacation in Italy. It was sunny in Milan and flying over I had a fabulous view of snow-covered Alps. Traveling around France I stuck to trains, which really is my favorite way to travel. There's no train to Villeneuve, but all my friends in the area have cars.


I took my Les Bois Blazers with me to France.
It has been over three years since I’ve been to France, and it was wonderful to see my friends there again. As with London, I was more focused on visiting with my friends than going around to tourist sights.

I went straight from the Charles de Gaulle airport to the train station, which is conveniently located right next to the airport. You don’t even have to leave the building, and there are moving sidewalks the whole way. My first train ride was to see my friend Céline, who everybody calls C7 (pronounced say-set). The closest train stop to her place is Marne La Vallée Chessy, which is also the stop for Euro Disney. It was a cold and rainy day but that didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of all the kids running around with Mickey Mouse ears and Snow White balloons. It was fun to see kids so excited.

C7 managed to get a day off work, so we had some time to talk and catch up, then it was back on the train, headed south. I took the TGV (TGV stands for Train à Grande Vitesse, which literally means Very Fast Train) to Lyon and then switched

While staying with Béné I borrowed her bike for a morning on the ViaRhona. It's still under construction in some parts, but will be a bike path from Geneve to the Mediterranean.
to a RER (not Very Fast) to St. Vallier Sur Rhône. My friends Bénédicte and David live right across the Rhône from St. Vallier and volunteered to take me in for a few days. Béné had a snowshoe trip planned for part of the time I was there and David was working, which freed me up to go around to different friends’ homes every day. Everywhere I went we spent most of our time sitting around the table catching up on the events from the past few years – and eating and drinking.

I got to spend a whole day with Sandrine and meet her son Maxime, who was born December 30. I had only briefly met her husband Yoann before, so I am so happy he isn’t working now and was with us all day. Plus it’s nice to have another adult around with a month-old baby. We only took one break from the table, between lunch and dinner, and that was to visit ValRhôna – the chocolate factory in Tain l’Hermitage, across the Rhône from Lycée Gabriel Faure, where Sandrine and I went to high school. We could see the factory from the window of our Spanish
les filles a Tainles filles a Tainles filles a Tain

Lison, Noémie and Nathalie took me for a walk along the Rhone. In the background is Tournon, and our high school right on the river. We're right next to the ValRhona factory.
classroom and when the wind blew right the whole place smelled of chocolate.

ValRhôna makes the best chocolate in the world. No, I am not an expert on chocolate, nor have I tried to compare it with other fine chocolates. I am biased and perfectly content to stay that way. I overindulge when visiting France but don’t eat much chocolate otherwise. Some things are best in the right context. Hot, spiced, red wine goes with skiing, not scuba diving. Raw fish goes with rice, not pasta. Watermelon just tastes better when it’s hot out and you’ve been in the sun all day. Fine chocolates are best eaten in the tasting room at the ValRhôna factory.

After a few days of visiting friends I got to see my host family from when I was a high school exchange student in 1999. Gerard and Maryse were on a trip in the Vercors mountains when I arrived at Béné’s place, but came to pick me up when they got back in town. When I lived with them their oldest, Vincent, was living next door. He now lives farther south and has three children. Their daughter, Virginie, had given birth to Abel
Musée de l'AlambicMusée de l'AlambicMusée de l'Alambic

David took me to a museum that explains how alcohol is made from fruit. In French it's eau-de-vie, (water of life) but in English it might be brandy. This machine was made to go from farm to farm, so growers could make their own eau-de-vie in the orchards.
a week before I arrived in 1999. She now has four children but doesn’t live far away – close enough to come over for dinner. Pierre-Yves is my age and now married with a baby on the way. It’s a growing family.

I was so lucky that Pierre-Yves and his wife Fanny could come over for lunch, and that Virginie brought all the kids for dinner the same day. With only a couple days I didn’t get to see Vincent, but hopefully next time I’ll have time to visit him. At least I was able to spend a few days with Gerard and Maryse. Going back to Villeneuve is always like going home. As long as I’m living so close to Europe I’m going to try to get back there again. Perhaps in April when the weather is a bit better.

Additional photos below
Photos: 11, Displayed: 11


chez les Montalonchez les Montalon
chez les Montalon

The house was built in the 1700s and the Montalons have done a fabulous job restoring it.
La cuisineLa cuisine
La cuisine

You can see how big the original fire place was, although it has been modernized with a wood burning stove and gas stove top in the corner.

I love all the old buildings in Villeneuve, although not all are kept in as good a shape as the Montalon house.

Virginie left her youngest, Ulysse, with us for the day. We had fun playing in the snow. It was the perfect consistency for snowballs and he's a good shot!
Villeneuve sous la neigeVilleneuve sous la neige
Villeneuve sous la neige

The sun didn't come out much while I was in Villeneuve, but I love snow so much it didn't matter.
la vieille Villeneuvela vieille Villeneuve
la vieille Villeneuve

Back in the day, this is where villagers came to wash the laundry. You soak and soap the clothes in the stream then scrub them on the slanted stones. Washing machines must be the best invention ever.
Au revoir!Au revoir!
Au revoir!

Maryse and Gerard accompanied me to the train station in Valence. Until next time!

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