Worms in the Apple in the Garden of Eden

It’s Not All Lavender Fields

Really, life in Provence is generally fabulous. Mild winters (unless you ask Dana who is from Florida and freezing here), rather amazing food and wine, lots of fresh air and sunshine. But it’s not all lavender fields, rosé, and olive trees. There is a creepy-crawly side to Provence that you may not realize until you live here. Come! Let me give you an introduction to my little friends.

Processionary Caterpillars

We are now entering the height of caterpillar season.processionary caterpillars in provence This furry train can kill your dog if he eats them or at least make your small children break out in a rash. It’s a serious problem which can be mostly avoided with awareness and prevention.

They are a kind of tent caterpillar that nests in and eats pine trees; You can spot their messy webs as you walk through the woods. This time of year, they crawl down the trunk of the tree, making a poison parade in search of who knows what.

Each year, a few dogs die from ingesting these guys. Sure, we have ticks nearly year-round (due to these generally mild winters) and use the topical tick repellent almost every month according to our vets’ recommendations. But these are more than an irritant, these caterpillars have furry barbs loaded with histamines. A dog getting these in the mouth has a chance of suffocating from a swollen throat, or stop eating due to the wounds in the mouth. No fun. Watch out.


These will stop you in a heartbeat, unless you are more accustomed to them than I, such as my colleagues in Phoenix Arizona. The scorpions of Provence aren’t nearly as large and toxic as the ones in the southwest or the Sahara, but they are still quite imposing and aggressive looking.

Just ask my friend Jackie, who, upon hearing a bump in the night, got out of bed to see what it was. When she turned on the light, she was greeted by an equally startled scorpion in the middle of the hall. Yikes! She had nearly stepped on it in her bare feet. Who knows how he got to the second floor landing, but that sure woke her up quickly. She completely forgot about the noise.

You could also ask our friend Marijn, who captured this lovely lady and her new babies. What a proud mama!



These are commonly inside our house. At least they were, until I started using an ultrasonic repeller.

earwigChalk the presence of these guys up to the ubiquitous damp crawl spaces that run under most houses’ foundations. Locally, the crawlspace (vide sanitaire in French) is considered to be a great architectural feature–it helps keep the house cool in the summer, boosts airflow, and is great for storing your wine at cellar temperature (and root vegetables, which aren’t nearly as fun).

Once, we looked at a new house for sale that had an unfinished basement they were calling a vide sanitaire. “Unfinished” as in, the basement floor was made of stones on top of dirt. THAT level of unfinished. In the Midwest US, there were many companies that specialized in drying out and encapsulating / insulating your crawl space. That would cut down on earwigs and our other creepy-crawlies. I have yet to find a company that does this around here. (Free business idea, anyone?)


So, back to these aggressive-looking bugs. They’re dark, they’re shiny, they’re quick, they’re wriggly, they’ve got big pinchers. What’s not to love? In truth, they aren’t quite as bad as they look, I’ve read that they aren’t poisonous or harmful. I was once bold and used my thumbnail to squish one–the darned thing raised up its severed end and pinched my cuticle. It was a bit swollen and sensitive for a day or two, but I live to tell about it. Won’t do that again.

Mice and Other Rodents

loire in provenceSurrounded by farmland, there are lots of field mice in Provence. We also have loire (those rodents that gave their name to the Loire River and the Loire Valley), a somewhat large-ish dormouse that makes lots of scrambly noises in your attic during the middle of the night. See right. Cute, no? Non…

During the winter, these rodents like to come inside where it’s warm and cozy. It certainly isn’t my preference to play host to these rude and messy guests. But it seems that there are many people of a different mind–I am told that it is rather normal to just let nature do what it wants. Let the mice live in the garage or house walls when it’s cold outside, the poor things.

My desire to keep them out is so unusual, that the builder who was finishing our carport into a garage couldn’t find a material to close up the gap between the corrugated roofing and the wood beam. Oh, that stuff is certainly manufactured, and it was listed by his supplier, but he just couldn’t get it delivered. No one wants to buy it around here.

Snakes, Particularly Vipers

Yes, nearly everywhere has some kind of snake. As I would rather have snakes than mice, they do not really bother me that much. I keep to myself and expect the snake to do the same. But my husband comes from a place that only has two kinds of snakes and either of them will kill you–you can choose the asp or the cobra. So we are particularly aware when there’s a snake around. (Did you hear that man shrieking like a little girl? Yeah, that was him.)snake

At right is a lovely specimen from Marijn’s garden. Did I mention she has two boys? Lots of nature and science going on at Marijn’s house.

Provence also has vipers. Yeah, that kinda freaked me out. They have that wide viper head which makes my mind scream, “Danger!” Although they are vipers, they generally aren’t so venomous and prefer to keep to themselves, so that’s just fine by me. Although the pharmacies do sell snake bite kits, so that’s in the backpack, just in case.

Wolf Spiders

I saved the best for last. These aren’t particularly dangerous, but they do give folks around here a good scare.

Have you ever had an exceptionally large spider in your shower? Have you ever had him lunge at you? These guys are fearless! And huge. And hairy–which makes them look even bigger. And they have a habit of quietly appearing very close to you when you least expect it. And then dare to be difficult to kill. You have to ask Emily to tell her wolf spider story–much panic and chaos ensued.

So there you have it. Even with all the romance and flowers and sunshine of Provence, life–in all its forms–goes on.

Playing With Fire

“For heating, there’s a proper English stove,” our new landlord proclaimed proudly. “We had to order it special from the UK.”

This ought to be interesting.

“It takes a little bit of planning, but if you figure things out right you can close the flue when you go bed and still have hot coals in the morning,” he continued.

“I’m sure we’ll manage,” my husband, Mike, observed. “I’ve done a lot of camping.”

With those words of confidence, we were on our own.

Welcome to the 1800s.

We moved in at the end of November, Thanksgiving Day to be precise. We were just grateful to have a house. As it was warm on moving day, we didn’t really think much about heating until the sun went down.

However, by that time, it would have taken too much effort to clear a path to the fireplace, so we bundled up in scarves and coats, ate a Thanksgiving Dinner of breakfast cereal and headed to bed.

The next morning was brisk, but we were hard at work so it wasn’t until that evening that we decided to try our hand at making fire. Cavemen did it. How hard could it be?

In addition to the logs in the woodpile, we had procured kindling, fire-starter cubes and a lighter with a long neck–all the tools needed to start a hearth-warming blaze. Unfortunately, instead of a blazing inferno, we started with a house full of smoke. Once the fire got going, it still took an hour to heat the house.

I had always associated a fireplace with leisure. The crackling of a fire creating an ambiance of comfort and coziness. It was the sound of the holidays, snow days, and romantic getaways. Now all I wanted was a source of continuous heat that didn’t make my hair smell like a campfire or the smoke alarm go off.

We didn’t get the hang of things until the spring. When the next fall arrived, we started regularly smoking-out the house again…until Mike discovered the right combination of flue levers and firestarter. (For those interested, he found that he had to start a small fire first to warm the chimney so the smoke would rise up instead of into the house.) Now we had a warmer house and fewer smokey evenings. During the day, I just always wore a coat.

You may wonder why we didn’t install some kind of electric-heating system. The fact of the matter is, we had two wall-mounted electric radiators near the fireplace. However, the cost of electricity is so high, we had been warned not to use them unless we wanted to pay through the nose.

Good thing Provencal winters are mild.

The real expat life.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao

Check please

Having lived in the U.S. my entire life before relocating to France, I am often struck by how much Americans prize efficiency and how quick we are to embrace new technologies to speed up and smooth out everyday activities. Uber, Apple Pay, Grubhub, Task Rabbit…the list goes on.

In France–especially in the more rural areas–change often comes at a slower pace. Stores and government buildings here still shut down for two hours at lunchtime. And you can forget last-minute grocery runs on a Sunday afternoon–everything is closed.

Paperwork tends to be an onerous process here as well. Even the French roll their eyes at the mountain of paperwork that accompanies any activity. For instance, registering my kids for school requires filling out 20 sheets of handwritten paperwork each and every year (for each kid). I haven’t experienced hand cramp this bad since my days at university!

But one could argue that this slower pace of life can have its charms. Who couldn’t benefit from easing off the accelerator every now and again? And once you get used to how things are done here, you’d be surprised at how quickly you adapt.

However, there is one thing that I have never quite gotten used to in my three years in France. For me, one of the most mystifying practices of the French is their penchant for writing checks. Since the mid-90s, I had only written a handful of checks. That is, until I moved to Provence. Here, it is required for nearly all day-to-day business. In fact, many people still use them in the grocery store, which takes forever. (How I wish the French would adopt the American practice of stocking the checkout line with trashy magazines to help pass the time!)

One recent day in particular summed up how prohibitive my life is when I don’t have my checkbook handy.

“Honey,” I called out to my husband as he was getting ready to leave for work. “Please leave the checkbook for me. I may need it for the fuel delivery–their credit card reader doesn’t always work.”

The fuel is what our boiler runs on and without it, we have no heat or hot water. The bank only awarded us one checkbook when we opened our French account and asking for a second one was too arduous (again with the paperwork). A few hours later I realize the checkbook is nowhere to be found. This should be interesting.

A knock at the door. It’s not the fuel delivery. It’s the mail lady. Whew! At least I don’t need my checkbook for the mail, right?

“I have two packages for you,” she explains in French. “This one you need to sign for and this one requires that you pay a customs duty and tax.”

Ok, this is a first. The post office is charging us €74 on a package teeming with Christmas gifts from a well-intentioned relative in the U.S.

I don’t have enough cash in my wallet. “Can I pay by credit card?” I ask hopefully. 

“No, but a check works.”

Of course it does. So, as my checkbook is M.I.A., there will be no package of Christmas joy for my children today.

After an hour (and a few tears) of muddling through French homework with the kids, the fuel man makes his appearance and promptly gets to work. As he wraps up the job, he hands me the paperwork. I present my credit card. He explains that his machine is defunct. Merde. What the heck do I do now? He can’t syphon the fuel out of the tank. Fortunately, he’s lovely about my predicament and tells me I can stop by office to pay the bill the following day. Phew!

I decide that will be hubby’s job. Followed, of course, by a trip to the post office to pick up our hostage Christmas package.


How to Humiliate Yourself in Everyday Conversation: An Expert’s Guide

Learning a new language is hard. When you add in accidental mispronunciations and phrases that don’t quite translate between languages, you discover whole new ways to embarrass yourself in front of strangers and new acquaintances.

Once while I was on a business trip in Brazil, a colleague (whose command of the English language was excellent) jokingly asked me if I was going to spend all of my money on the bitches of Brazil.

“Uhhh, excuse me? What did you just ask me?”

I was assured that where I was going had incredible bitches. Beautiful bitches.

I’m embarrassed to say that it took me an excruciating amount of time before I realized he was talking about Brazil’s beaches.

But the Foreign Language Gods soon had their revenge on me. I have spent the past year in France stumbling through the French language, butchering its beautiful sound with a multitude of mistakes, mispronunciations, and tortured grammar.

Keep reading for four common situations rife with opportunities to humiliate yourself in casual French conversation and how to avoid them.

Do we kiss when we say ‘hello’?

In France, it’s customary to give little air kisses on both cheeks when greeting others. For newcomers, it can be awkward at first and it is not always clear who you should and should not kiss hello.

If you’re unsure, it’s okay to ask! However, it is really, really important that you ask if you should “faire la bise.” DO NOT ask if you should “baiser” your new acquaintance.

Un baiser” does mean “a kiss.” But when used as a verb, it means to f**k. Really not the best way to introduce yourself.

And yes, I learned this lesson the hard way.

I am so excited!

Americans, god love us, are an easily excitable crew. We are excited about everything! Especially in France! The food! The culture! The art! The people!

So, let’s say you’re in Paris and you’re planning a trip to Versailles. You can’t wait to see the Hall of Mirrors and tour the gardens where Marie Antoinette once roamed. “Je suis excitée!” you exclaim.

Alas, unless you’re the world’s least subtle flirter, this is probably not the message you’re trying to convey.

“Excité” does mean excited—but in a sexual way. Instead, you’re better off using the phrase “J’attends avec impatience,” which loosely translates to “I can’t wait” or “I’m looking forward.”

I’m hot.

Talking about the weather: Completely harmless, right? What can be easier than talking about the weather on a sweltering summer day.

Je suis chaude,” you say, smiling weakly at the person next to you on the métro as you fan yourself with your hand.

Nope, nope, nope.

You’ve just announced to this person that you are horny.

In French, you should say, “J’ai chaud(e),” which literally translates to “I have hot.” Confusing, I know. French is diabolical like that.

I’m full.

You’re lucky enough to get invited to a French person’s dinner party in rural Provence. The conversation sparkles, the wine flows freely, and the food is divine. You laugh, you eat, you drink, you eat some more. Finally, you’ve stuffed yourself with so much delicious food, you can barely move. Your host offers you a plate of cheese, but you politely decline.

Non, merci,” you say, contentedly patting your enlarged belly. “Je suis pleine.”

Weird looks. Uncomfortable silence.

You were trying to say that you are full. But, unfortunately, “plein” is how the French refer to pregnant farm animals.

Next time, just say, “J’ai bien mangé.”

Now go out and speak your new language! You will absolutely make embarrassing mistakes, but as a wise Welsh woman once said, there’s always wine!


Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

Living the Pipe Dream

Well, hello there! I am not a newbie to the expat life but am certainly a newbie to living in France. And what a wonderful time we’re having here! Highly recommend it. But…you may want to brush up on your conversational skills after reading this little ditty.

Where do I start? Well, I suppose I could be described as a woman on a mission. My family arrived in France in 2016 and started off in a rental. Although the house was great, I was looking to buy a French dream house that could hold all of our stuff (which was sitting lonely and unloved in a storage unit in Southampton in the UK). After viewing 20 or so houses, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a beautiful and quirky French house that met all of our criteria, except for one thing: a pool. Fortunately, there was a perfect place for the pool—a piece of gravel driveway with incredible views looking over Les Alpes.

Not one to hang around—and to my poor husband’s horror—I was quickly on the case to start getting quotes to build a brand-new swimming pool. After plying my husband with the local fruits (wine), we signed on the dotted line in October to have our dream pool. It was hard to contain my excitement, as I was soon to be Captain Birds Eye in charge of my first swimming pool build! We opted for the pool, as it was a great price, but then after adding more and more tiles and a fully fitted and functional summer house with a kitchen, shower room, and loo—well, let’s just say a lot of wine was consumed to keep hubby sharing my vision!!!

So, the big day approaches. It’s a cold, icy, and quite frankly bloody freezing day in January when the digger splutters and chokes its way up the driveway. A weathered chap named Norm jumps out of the digger and comes to talk with me. It turns out he only speaks French and not a drop of English—hummm this is going to be fun! Needless to say, Norm becomes my BFF over the next four month period along with his co-worker Jean-Luc.

I really feel for these poor men as I must have looked like an over-excited puppy barking the odd French word here and there with wild gesturing of my arms and legs to explain the positioning of the pool and other technical swimming pool buzz words.

So, the pool build is quite basic, and Norm is adept at building pools as mine is one of 24 he has to build this year in the local area. I can honestly say I have never seen a person work so hard, on his own and doing it all himself. An incredible individual and so skilled!


Once the pool was built, we then got onto discussions about the pool house. After having returned from the school run with a plume of fake ostrich feathers up my nose from my decadent winter cape, I’m greeted by Norm and his dutiful, talented plumber/electrician Daniel.

So, translated into English from the original French, he says something like this:

Norm: “Hello lovely, amazing lady from Wales. I need to discuss the layout of the pool house with you as we will need to dig up the garden and put in three facilities for the water, waste (poo), and electricity for you to be able to have the kitchen, loo, and shower functioning.”

Bear in mind this is all in French, a language I’m still learning. In my shaky French, I start describing my husband’s random drawing of what we need. As I start to explain that we will need three modes of outflow, I get stuck on the word “pipe.” I think to myself, “Well, I’ll just say ‘pipe’ in a French accent, which would sound like ‘peep.’ That’s bound to work!”

So, I start jabbering away about how many “peeps” I need, where I want them, the size of them, the flow, the diameter, the angle and the cost, etc. I’m met with silence, so ask, “Do you understand?” They reply “yes” and nothing more.

Feeling like I have accomplished the world, I stride on back into the house thinking, “God, my French is so good. I can now communicate with building contractors. I’m nearly fluent!”

A week passes by and I meet my beautiful and amazing French/English friend Cara for a coffee. She casually asks me, “How’s the pool building going?” I reply, “Really well, it’s a lot easier than I thought it would be!”

I started to explain about the “pipe” question and how I didn’t know the word and just improvised with “peep.” At this point my friend’s nose disappears into her café allongé, and she literally starts snorting the coffee through her nose.

“What’s wrong with you?” I ask.

“Oh my god,” she giggles. “Pipe (pronounced ‘peep’ in French) means a blow job!”

I was literally dumbfounded at the thought of how many blow jobs I had offered. I had even offered to use my seven-year-old daughter’s etch-a-sketch to draw the positioning of the “peeps” for them.

Feeling a little queasy, I asked my friend what is the effing word for a “pipe.” Apparently, it’s “tuyau,” which could not be more different from “peep” if you tried. And to top it off, it’s a really hard word to say.

Anyhoo, I leave the coffee shop and get into my car thinking, “Holy moly, how embarrassing!” But like the good, strong Welsh warrior I am, I will overcome this little fly in the ointment. I practise the word “tuyau” over and over again.

When I arrive at the house, Norm and Daniel are there beavering away. I think to myself, “It’s now or never.” I swagger over and start talking about the tuyau. At this point, their mouths start to twitch as they realise that I now understand my massive faux pas. Blow jobs are officially off the menu!

People often ask me, “How on earth did you get your pool built so quickly?”

“Well,” I reply, “throw in the odd ‘peep’ here and there and you’ll be amazed!!”

Lesson learnt: Never give up and never be embarrassed to speak your new language. Yes, you will make mistakes, but who cares—there is always wine!



Header photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash


I Miss You in French

Do I Miss You or Do You Miss Me in French?

Language and Philosophy are Tight

It’s a much-discussed field of study, the relationship between language and philosophy. Have you seen this research on language spoken and your perception of time? The same people, speaking a different language, perceive time in a different way. Fascinating stuff! Given long enough to pursue this interest, I fall into a wormhole of ticklish questions such as, “What is the nature of meaning? What does one mean by meaning? How do we know what we know or don’t know?” and other such rhetoricals.

It reminds me of that highly quotable scene in Kill Bill:

There are many studies comparing the meaning or sense of words coming from the speaker to the received and implied meaning in the listener. So often it happens there is a disconnect between speaker and listener. I find it fascinating that we are even able to communicate at all.

(Or am I the only one who feels this way because I’m married to a non-native English speaker?)

What Do You Mean by That?

Are you learning a second (or third, or fourth) language? Do you have a friend who didn’t grow up speaking the same language as you? If so, I bet that you have run across something that stuck in your head, something that was familiar, yet so different to the way you are used to thinking that you couldn’t let it go.

It’s one of the reasons I completely adore those lists of words that only exist in other languages. They are a reflection of what is important to the people of another culture. Important enough of a concept to create a working name for something which we as non-natives can understand as a human condition. But in our language, it does not have a name. For example, I absolutely adore the German word, “Kummerspeck,” which translates literally to “Grief Bacon” in English and refers to the weight you gain through emotional overeating.

In France, Do I Miss You?

So this is THE philosophical difference that really caught me in my French class. In addition, it’s an unusual sentence construction that is nearly always used in our language level tests at the end of the year. So let me help you cram for the test…

In English we say:

I miss you.

I am the one who is missing you. It’s my own darned fault. You may have left, but I am the one who needs to get over it. I am doing it, I am missing you.

In French, the reality of longing is viewed quite differently. Oppositely, even. The sentence for the same sentiment in French is:

Tu me manques.

Yes, it’s one of those reflexive verbs that we know and love so well. Literally translated, it looks like “You me miss.” But oh nononono! You would be sorely mistaken to think that. This is You making Me miss You. You are the active person, this is just something that is happening to me. You did it to me. It’s your fault that I feel this way. Even though the longing is within me, I am the passive participant.

So poetic, isn’t it? I am fascinated by this turn of the table.

It’s like my first big breakup in high school. I missed him and it was his darn fault for having dumped me. It was out of my control. It was his fault that I ate all the bacon.

Let’s sit down with a bottle of wine and really chew this one over together. Bordeaux goes with bacon nicely.

Growing Pains

My family has outgrown France.

Not to say that we’re beyond the culture, the food, the landscape, or the history–we’re not. We love it. BUT, we have literally outgrown France.

Let me explain…

I am six feet tall. An Amazon goddess with a size 12 shoe.

My height is a challenge in almost every part of the world (especially where jeans and high heels are concerned). Here in France, most of the women and half of the men look at me, not face-to-face, but face-to-cleavage; I am–at the very least–above average, and as such I do my shopping elsewhere. Many everyday items must be imported. This doesn’t bother me. It’s my life and I made peace with it long ago. The miracle of online shopping has helped tremendously.

My husband, a strapping six foot four inches, has fewer issues, but still definitely encounters short doorways that require limbo-like maneuvers on a daily basis.  

When we arrived five years ago, our family was smaller–meaning shorter. While we have not grown in number over the years, the majority of us have grown up. With five out of six of us now being adult sized, and our gene pool being what it is, you can imagine people like to stare when we walk together down the streets of our village. We are a sight not often seen in the south of France.

Here’s the issue…

A few months ago, while returning from a Venetian road trip, our car began slipping out of 5th gear. Upon returning home, we took the car to a mechanic who told us it would cost the value of the car to repair the transmission. We decided to look for a new-bigger-more comfortable-road trip mobile.

Our new-car wish list included three simple items:

-enough leg room for daily use

-a small frame that easily fits typical French parking spaces

-seven comfortable seats

By this point we had totally given up on finding anything that’s nice to look at. We were sticking to the basics plus it had to be able to make the tight turn into our driveway.

Sounds reasonable right?

Over the course of the next month, we sat in everything. Used cars, new cars, sports cars, trucks, vans, minivans, sedans.

Nothing fit us.

In the end, we just couldn’t justify paying for a new car we didn’t really like.

So, we’ll repair our Toyota, Verso. We don’t love it, but with a few creative seat configurations we can make it work–even on long roadtrips.

The real expat life.



Photo by: Jace Grandinetti

Top 10 Castles to Visit in the Loire Valley

One of the perks of expat life in France is that you have dozens of amazing places to visit that are all within driving distance. The Loire Valley offers an excellent vacation destination for those of us with little kids. Heck, it’s a fantastic vacation destination if you have a pulse. Perfect for families, students, seniors, solo travelers, or couples looking for romance, the Loire offers something for everyone.Loirechateaux30002wm


The Loire Valley is a rolling verdant expanse dotted with small, medieval towns and gorgeous châteaux straight out of your favorite fairy tale. It is impossible not to lose yourself in the magic that permeates this jewel located just an hour and a half outside Paris by train.

Our family of six spent a week this summer exploring the region. We stationed ourselves in the wonderful town of Tours and spent each day venturing to new castles and exploring the little towns that surround them. Here is our (very subjective) list of the top 10 châteaux of the Loire Valley:

#1 Chambord


We spent the entire day at Chambord. You almost have to as it is absolutely massive. The castle boasts an impressive 440 rooms, 80+ staircases, and 365 fireplaces. The towering structure, crowned with a magnificent array of towers, spires, and chimneys, offers a truly awe-inspiring view as you approach the castle grounds.

The highlight for our family was a double-helix staircase that runs up the center of the château. My four-year-old twins delighted in running up and down the separate, intertwining staircases and poking their heads in the little windows to try to search for each other. For the older kids, they had heard that some of the rooms had hidden doors that led to secret passages. They painstakingly searched each room for camouflaged doors and insist that they managed to spy at least three!

#2 Azay-le-Rideau


Set on a lake, Château d’Azay-le-Rideau is impossibly picturesque. One of the smaller castles in the Loire, this one felt quite manageable, especially with four exhaustingly energetic children. The rooms were beautifully decorated and several had incorporated animatronic elements. For instance, in the dining hall, a beautifully laid out table suddenly sprung to life with twirling fish, spinning bowls, and rising cabbages. The kids called it, “The Dancing Dinner,” and watched the whole show over and over again.

#3 Cheverny


This one was an absolute winner with the kids as it was also housing a temporary Lego exhibition when we were there. According to the château’s website, the exhibition will be on display through June 2018.

Be sure to put up your feet and partake in a little refreshment in the beautiful Orangerie located in the back of the garden.

#4 Blois


Château de Blois is a never-ending box of candy for history and architecture buffs. Built over the centuries in Gothic, Renaissance, and Classic styles, the walls of this château brim with stories of intrigue, deceit, and murder.

Its rooms are lavishly furnished and the decorative motifs on the walls, floorings, and ceilings are truly dazzling. The kids enjoyed the opportunity to take a seat on the throne in the cavernous Salle des États with its beautifully ornate ceiling.

#5 Chaumont


The lovely Château de Chaumont happens to be set in some of the most beautiful gardens in France. Although the interior of the castle is worth a look, the gardens are where you should budget most of your time. Each year, the castle hosts an international garden festival that involves multiple artists. Wandering from garden to garden, it feels as though you’re exploring whole new worlds in miniature as each installation has a unique look and feel.

#6 Chenonceau


Arguably the most famous of the Loire châteaux, Chenonceau is also its most crowded with tourists. And for good reason as the castle is truly a classic beauty. My advice is to avoid mid-day on a weekend. If possible, go in the middle of the week a few hours before closing time in an effort to miss the thick of the crowds. During the height of the season, the château keeps its doors open until 8pm.

Sometimes described as “the ladies castle,” the Château de Chenonceau we see today is the product of a bitter rivalry between a queen and her husband’s mistress. Henri II gifted the castle to his beloved Diane de Poitiers, who built the bridge that spans the Cher River. After the king died, his widow, Catherine de Medici, forced Diane out of the castle. Catherine then turned the bridge into a splendid gallery that gives the castle its iconic look.

To escape the swarms of people inside the castle, the grounds offer two beautiful, distinct gardens—one is Diane’s and one is Catherine’s. The grounds also contain a hedge maze, which was the perfect place for my kids to run around and play hide n’ seek.

#7 Ussé


As you travel the little bridge that takes you to Ussé, you’ll find that you’ve crossed over into the fairy tale world. Indeed, Ussé is the very castle that inspired Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty, or as the French say, La Belle au Bois Dormant.

In honor of its place in the land of fairy tales, the castle has a whole section dedicated to scenes from Sleeping Beauty. For my kids, the highlight was climbing high up into the open-rafter attic to a narrow staircase that spiraled up to a tiny room where the fairies locked away the evil Maleficent to practice her dark magic far away from everyone else.

#8 Langeais


We were lucky to arrive at Langeais as the town’s weekly market was getting underway. Any excuse to roam this quaint town, which looks like it leapt straight off the pages of a storybook. Picturesque, enchanting, charming…I need a whole thesaurus to describe this delightful town.

The castle itself offers great views of the town below and puts on a 15-minute play with knights and sword fighting that is fun for kids. I should note that the play is entirely in French and involves audience participation—so if your French is rusty or nonexistent, you may want to practice the fine art of eye contact avoidance with the actors as they search the crowd to pull someone onstage with them.

If you have kids with you, be sure to explore the garden out back, which is perfect for picnics. After a bit of searching, you’ll come across one of the best tree houses my kids have ever had the treat to climb. A must-see!

#9 Villandry


While the château itself is quite lovely, the real star of Villandry is its glorious, terraced garden. Be sure to take every opportunity to peek out the castle’s windows for spectacular views of the garden as it stretches out below. The formal, rigid lines of the landscaping contain a riot of color.

Once outside, kids can run through the hedge maze while you stroll through the formal ornamental garden or the water garden. It’s amazing how flowers and vegetables are mixed together to create a sumptuous feast for the eyes.

#10 Amboise

Amboise wm


Rising imperiously over its namesake riverside town, the imposing Château d’Amboise is absolutely striking. Walking through the medieval city center, it’s easy to get swept back into a time long since passed, when chevaliers paraded through the streets, kings held court, and Leonardo da Vinci crafted his inventions.

The château was the setting for some major events in France’s history, and one can only imagine what the walls would say if they could talk. Take as much time as you need to soak in the castle’s history, wander the carefully manicured gardens, and visit the stores, stalls, and restaurants nestled at the building’s base.

This list is only a taste of the many castles the Loire has to offer. Which ones have you visited? Which ones would you recommend our readers explore? Let us know in the comments.


France Uncensored

It’s early December. Signs of Christmas are popping up all over Provence. Twinkling lights are strung up over medieval streets. Glimmering stars dangle from streetlights. Trees stand dressed in a colorful array of shiny baubles.

We’re driving back from school as the winter sun begins its late-afternoon descent and the streetlights begin to spark alight. The car radio plays softly in the background as my children tell me about their day at school.

“Mommy!” My youngest exclaims. “It’s a Christmas song. Turn up the volume!” It’s the first Christmas song to play over the radio, and my kids are ecstatic. I dutifully turn up the volume as my kids bob along to Sia’s “Santa’s Coming for Us.” Big smiles are plastered across their faces as the spirit of the season fills my car.

The song ends just as I enter a challenging curve on the narrow road with dwindling light and heavy oncoming traffic. My focus on the road, I’m slow to register what’s next on the radio.

B**ch better have my money.” Rihanna blares through the speakers. “Pay me what you owe me!”


Past the tricky part of my commute home, I quickly switch off the radio.

Awkward silence.

I’m in the local homegoods store and I need a new lamp. As I’m deciding between two options, I’m suddenly cognizant of the music playing over the store’s sound system. “F**k you very, very much,” an upbeat Lily Allen sings.

I decide to go with the silver lamp and take my purchase to the register. The clerk is gently weaving to the beat of the music, humming along. She rings up the purchase. “C’est €42.95,” she tells me. “F**k you very, very much,” Lily croons.

I pay the clerk and collect my purchase. “Merci. Au revoir et bonne journée,” she says. “F**k you very, very much!” Lily calls out as I exit the store.

Later, over coffee with friends, I find out that the French retail sector appears to be especially fond of the Lily Allen song.

“Oh, yes!” says a friend. “I was at the supermarket picking out vegetables when that song came on. It’s really quite catchy, isn’t it?”

“I was at the toy store with my kids when it came on,” says another friend.

“I was getting a haircut when I noticed it playing,” says another.

Ahhh, French radio, where there is no “radio edit” and music comes in all its f**king uncensored glory.

I hop in my car to head back home. An aggressive driver cuts me off in a roundabout. “F**k you very, very much,” I sing softly to myself.

A Little Louder Please

The phone rings. I glance at the screen.

Unknown. Great.

I take a deep breath and put my mind into French mode.

“Oui? Allo.” So far so good.

I’ve been expecting this call.

The conversation follows a predictable script with the receptionist explaining why she is calling and asking if I still want to make an appointment.

Yes, please.

It’s going well.

“L’ordinance que vous avez incluse avec votre demande de rendez-vous en ligne concernait XYZ maladie?” she inquires. (The x-ray prescription you included with your online request was for such-and-such condition?)

Again, yes.

I’m beginning to congratulate myself on my excellent phone-conversation skills, when I’m distracted by an English conversation going on between two friends next to me.

I tune back in just in time to hear the voice inflection rise on the other end. She has just asked me a question. I pause, hoping for a flash of genius.


“Comment ?” I ask.

The receptionist, thinking she can overcome my French ineptitude with volume, shouts into the phone, “QUELLE EST SA DATE DE NAISSANCE ?” (What is her date of birth?)

Ok. Ok.

I give her the relevant information and the call continues smoothly until she asks me a question I actually don’t understand.

I hesitate for a few seconds, hoping again for enlightenment and dreading her reaction when it doesn’t come.

I’ve got nothing. So I respond timidly, “Pardon ?”

She audibly inhales. Here it comes.

“QUI EST LE MEDICINE PRESCRIPTEUR ?” she shrieks. (Who is the prescribing doctor?)

Instant clarity.

I smile to myself as I finish our conversation. Maybe louder does help.

The real expat life.

Photo by Jason Rosewell