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Choosing a Kiss. A memoir of racism in the life of a naïve immigrant

Since the murder of George Floyd, I have been painfully aware that blacking out my profile against racism is easy. Finding words to help in the fight, not so much. But give me a minute, I have a life-story to tell. I remember well the first Algerian family that moved into my grandmother’s neighborhood in the city. I must have been around 10 or 11 and could not understand why everybody called them “Turks”. They were not from Turkey. They were Algerian. The blanket term to cover all Middle Eastern and African families that moved in after the EU opened its borders was my earliest confrontation with racism. Born in ’69, I grew up quite sheltered in the Flanders countryside. I was a shy kid, but also curious. While the people … ‘some people’ … around me grumbled and spat about the influx of migrants in our little country, I …

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Surprises from the garden: lettuce soup

I love a good salad. A big one. My mother calls it rabbit food these days though when I was a child there was always so much of it in our vegetable garden that we shared it with the neighbourhood throughout the season, and I remember plenty of it on my plate too. I love lettuce! Fresh. Crisp yet buttery soft. Green. But until recently I had no idea you could also cook with it. That is, endive is a lettuce I cook with all the time as well as serve stuffed for a fancy apero. But plain, green lettuce? I didn’t know! So, today is the day. This morning I deemed it time to pick the lettuce we had growing in planters in our concrete garden and for the first time ever, I’ll be turning it into lettuce soup. Dear friends who make this all the time kindly shared …

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Petra of Le Puy Ardouin tests own Tiny House accommodations during lock-down

After a long search for the perfect spot to live in France, Dutch couple Petra and Jan fell for their rustic farmhouse  ‘like a ton of bricks’. We can understand why! Among the ancient trees, across a sloping terrain, one can almost touch the sound of silence. Le Puy Ardouin is an earthly place that speaks for itself, that brings you back to simplicity.  Sunday, March 15th. We’ve just completed a training course in the Netherlands and plan to drive to France tomorrow morning. We hear that from 18.00 that evening all restaurants in the Netherlands have to close their doors. We’re worried about making it back to our place in France, Le Puy Ardouin, because there’s a threat of a lock-down. That’s why we decide to leave immediately and drive through the night. On Monday morning we’re relieved to be greeted by our dog Lola and our friend Peter, …

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The silver lining of lockdown at B&B Au Passage du Gois

When we asked to find a title or tag line for their blog post, Martine told us that she thought the motto of footballer Johan Cruyff was appropriate to describe their almost 2 months of lockdown. She found a balance in routine, in sunshine and in the wildness of her husband Hemko’s confinement beard. It doesn’t happen often, but for the first time in a long time there was something you couldn’t find on Google. What is a COVID-19 confinement in France, how does it work and when will it be over? But there wasn’t much information initially so, we thought… well, we’ll need to come up with some sort of answer ourselves. We sat around the table and made some kind of a plan of action. We said to each other: we will not be sleeping in, but get up at our normal time and get to work, because …

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Owners of L’Etournerie Gites & Camping Vendée look to the future

We have asked a few Vendéen small business owners to discuss their plans for the future whilst coping through enforced quarantine. In a first installment, allow us to introduce you to Renée, René, Jacky, Emma & Mariecke, a Dutch family who own L’Etournerie Gites and Camping where tranquility, good food, and flowers are central to Dutch-French hospitality in the Vendée! In 15 years, you develop habits. Or maybe a rhythm. At the beginning of the year, you start looking at everything that needs to be done before you can announce that you are ‘open for business’ once again. You tick off all those things and then you put up the sign “OUVERT”. Only this year, a pandemic with the inevitable French government’s announcement of a complete lockdown starting March 17th, threw a spanner in the works. At the beginning, everything was so focused on China that no one in Europe was …

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Vendéen private chauffeur goes the (social) distance

We have invited a few Vendéen small business owners to discuss how they are coping with the pandemic. In this installment, please allow us to introduce you to Anne, private driver and proprietor of Melkhior, who has used recent weeks to work on building passenger confidence post-quarantine. Hello! I am Anne, a professional driver in my company Melkhior. I offer private chauffeur services in a seven-passenger van equipped with leather seats, USB socks and Wi-Fi on board. The service is quite simple. We accept reservations by phone, text or email and provide a quote that determines the cost in advance. A typical workday means working with companies and individuals traveling any distance for tours, airport transfers (Nantes, Paris, La Rochelle), accompanying them on business or to touristic sites. From the start of tourist season, I transport many British, Irish, and Dutch passengers as well.  More recently, in March, I was being hired …

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Tourism & hospitality in the Vendée: surviving the immediate future

We have been asked to share our thoughts about whether or not there will be tourism in the Vendée this season. To address this, means we feel it important to address tourism & hospitality in general, as that will inevitably affect what happens in our department. The following are musings and logical thinking as having lived – and survived – 9/11 working for a major airline and related hotel industry, applying the gravity of a pandemic and its possible repercussions. 1/Is Covid-19 here to stay? The answer to this question seems quite logical: as long as the disease spreads and without a vaccine to inoculate the masses, yes, unfortunately Covid-19 is a long-term global health crisis we’ll have to deal with or work around. If we reach back to 9/11/2001, the world came to a standstill in the wake of a shocking terrorism attack that delivered a gut-punch to air …

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Expatriate in lock-down France

In recent years, the thought has crossed my mind many times that if anything could keep me from my mother in Belgium, it might be World War III. Never had I considered a virus-related near-global quarantine. But the very first day of lock down in France my worst nightmare as an expat and as an only child, delivered a punch in the face: my mother, who lives independently, took a nasty tumble down the stairs in the middle of the night. It was the third time she would be in hospital this year, and the eighth time since my husband and I moved to Europe from the US after announcing she didn’t want to fly anymore, anywhere, let alone across the ocean. But when I think back in my expat life of twenty-eight years, it is only the third time that I have experienced a roller-coaster of stress as extreme …

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A walkabout Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre

The beautiful Eiffel bridge across the Sevre-Nantaise river, is but one of many interesting historical monuments to see in the quaint village of Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre. We’ll take you exploring some of them in this prequel to your own Vendée adventures. I love my job! When through inthevendée.com’s Facebook page and group our readers were invited by the tour guide students of Val de Sèvre Formation for an English language guided tour of the village known as the Holy city of Vendée, Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, yours truly seized the opportunity to sneak away from her desk for a few hours. There’s nothing like exploring another corner of France and the Vendée… and sharing it with the rest of the world. Located idyllically on the banks of the Sèvre-Nantaise river, a tributary of the Loire, this is village ideal for a lovely stroll among French heritage. On the morning of the tour it was quite cloudy …

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Ode to the miracle of my parents

Cour du Miracle. Translated to English, it means ‘Miracle Court’. The legend has been told since the early 18th Century, a part of Vouvant’s history, if you will. Today, however, I am sharing my very own, personal story of the ‘Miracle Court’, and the café that occupies it: Café Cour du Miracle. I am the eldest child of its new owners, Sue and Dean Richards, and the 20th of October, 2019 marked eight months since Mum and Dad left Perth, Western Australia to start a new chapter in Vouvant, so I feel it is only fitting to reflect on their decision to migrate to France. Our family have called Perth home for the past 26 years, though whether Perth or another city, being lucky enough to have a family as close as ours, home could have been anywhere in the world. We immigrated from England to Australia in 1993 as …

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Connecting people and places

Curious about everything and always sensitive to cultural expressions, I have developed a career path that focuses on heritage, ancient and contemporary art and the performing arts. Much more than a love of “old stones” (I don’t like this expression), attachment to heritage is for me the first step in creating a link between a person and the territory in which he or she is located. My playground is the Vendée, Brittany, Anjou, Charentes or Poitou. it is a permanent curiosity that feeds me wherever I go. I was 14 years old when I took my first guided tour. It was the continuation of a personal investment that started a few years before with archival research outside of school hours. An artist I like very much, Nicolas Schöffer, used to say: “To explain is to involve oneself and others.” It sums up the approach I am trying to apply in my work as …

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Tried and Tested: 2018 Journées Européennes du Patrimoine in the Vendée

OUR verdict is IN! Les Journées Européennes du Patrimoine are awesome! All it took was a little research & planning, a full tank of petrol, and our trusted GPS. Oh, and the alarm clock to rouse the family. What are the Journées Européennes du Patrimoine or European Heritage days? – Created by the Ministry of Culture in 1984, national museums and historic monuments are opened to the public for free or at a reduced rate on the third weekend of September every year. All weekend long, well-organized guided tours, animated demonstrations of old techniques, concerts, theatrical performances, and more, shed a special light on French heritage. We were intrigued by the notion that sometimes the public is given access to things that are not normally open. This year we tried and tested it for you in the Vendée. We’ll tell you where we went, what worked and what didn’t, and… how much …

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Tour de France 2018 in the Vendée: a photo journal

In the Vendée would like to thank Vendée Tourisme, team Direct Energie, Christian Prudhomme and everybody who lobbied to bring Le Tour 2018 to our beautiful area! In addition to the event itself, the anticipation and build-up started many months in advance. Children, the elderly, and other groups worked together to create a festive atmosphere in all of the villages. Roundabouts filled with flowers and painted bicycles were sometimes accident-worthy. The sculpture in the Roland Berland roundabout at La Châtaigneraie, which honours French cycling champion Roland Berland, is simply stunning! It was created by artist Renaud Création. Therefor we would like to thank the Vendéen volunteers, merchants and organisations who participated in and contributed to the event. From start to finish, Le Tour de France 2018 in the Vendée was a fun and beautiful experience! Your hard work and passion is appreciated. Merci! Share this Post

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A Day Trip to Oradour-sur-Glane

Truthfully, it was a bit of a drive from where we live near the Marais Poitevin in the Vendee, but Oradour-sur-Glane had been at the top of my imaginary list of places in the world “to shoot”. A poor choice of terms, I realize. But photoshoots in decaying, urban settings or ruins are actually “a thing”, even if amateur photographers like me must achieve their subject using dubious ways and the most unimaginable backdoors. The village, located in the Limousin area of France, is quite famous among photography enthusiasts. I’d say it is as coveted a subject as the fairy tale worthy, Neo-Gothic Chateau Miranda was (located near Brussels in Belgium, it was -sadly- demolished in 2016), or even Chernobyl (of the infamous nuclear disaster), though Oradour-sur-Glane is much easier to reach, doesn’t require bribes or radiation meters, and once you arrive doesn’t require breaking and entering. After a leisurely …

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A sail round the Marais Breton

I often write about the beautiful region of Green Venice to the south of the Vendée, so this week I thought I’d visit a region not well known to me, namely the Marais Breton. Testament to that area’s once all important salt farming industry, this delightful labyrinth of canals and rivers is now home to diverse wild life and enchanting, historical memories. The Marais Breton is a vast area in the north east of the region and like the Marais Poitevin (its sister marsh in the south), it’s had its share or Romans, Benedictine monks, Vikings and Normans  shaping its contours over the centuries but now represents a brilliantly preserved ecology. Another compelling reason to visit this charming little town is an opportunity to explore the ancient salt marshes by way of canoe. There are lots of different canoe trips (or walks) available for exploring this area from family outings to BBQ …

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Day trip to Mont St. Michel by night

We may be semi-permanent travelers these days so it’s probably a little snooty to admit that we don’t enjoy huge masses of tourists. But we do avoid those hot spots where possible. We can’t help it. Our introverted nature means we seek tranquility. Tranquility is one of many reasons we chose to live in the Vendée. Another is the fact that Le Mont-St-Michel, one of our favourite spots on the planet, is just an easy drive away. With October and Halloween just around the corner, I have been thinking about the last time we visited The Mount. We left late in the day for a romantic dinner there, and were surprised to discover that between 8pm and 8am (20h00 and 08h00), the famous Unesco World Heritage site folds itself back in time all the way to its pilgrimage roots. Before our first daytime experience at Mont-St-Michel, we purposefully read nothing about it. …

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In the Echoes of History

In our first six months in the Vendee, we lived near a beautiful abbey called the Prieurie de Grammont. Sitting like a romantic cube in a vast stretch of farmland, the abbey is built of stacked golden sandstone and oozes an air of mystery in the off-season. There are few windows and the sun-bleached doors are firmly shut for most of the year. Several times a week we took our dogs to run around in the garden, and to walk the dirt roads slicing through surrounding fields for some thorough exercise. We loved it, savoring the wind in our faces and snoots, and relishing the changing colors of farm life. The fields went from brown, to green, and sprung bright yellow with colza flowers. We greeted sheep and cows, making note that the fences moved to other pastures with the livestock, so there was always wide open space to take …