VanGogh_Slaapkamer_in_Arles_300x238_textDon’t you love taking risks? It makes life so exciting and interesting!  Okay, I’m not talking about the risks of the life-and-death variety, but the small ones that might land you in less dangerous waters. Such as finding a bed to sleep in when you take a trip, a place to stay for a few nights or weeks.

You surf the Internet. You look at pictures, read descriptions, and evaluate reviews. I’m not a fan of chain hotels, the ones that look the same the world over and where when you wake up in the mornings you can’t remember what country you are in. But finding non-standardized sleeping quarters via the Internet can land you in unsavory situations, as indeed it happened to us once. Mostly, though, we have had good luck finding cool places in various countries. Once we stayed in a renovated chapel in Italy, sleeping in what once was the sacristy. It was fabulous.

Onward: Wanting to take a break from our hectic life in our French village, we decide to spend a couple of days in the nearby town of Arles where Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh sojourned for some time, painted many pictures, and cut off his ear.

I apply my surfing skills and find something promising, an exotic looking B&B with a home gallery of contemporary photography. It has three rooms and is located in the historic center of Arles, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The B&B house is built on top of the ruins of the Roman baths of Emperor Constantine. Everything worth seeing is within walking distance. How cool does that sound? No, Tripadvisor has no information and no reviews, which is where the risks come in, right? But I tell you, the pictures and descriptions on the site seduce me.

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I send off an email and reserve a room. What is life without a bit of risk? Maybe the mattress once belonged to Constantine. Maybe the shower offers up nothing but a drip. Maybe the place is… Well, you fill in your worst fears.

The day arrives and we drive to Arles. The place is a warren of narrow streets and we crawl along, our GPS leading us astray with gusto, suggesting illegal turns and pointing us down blocked allies. We get lost and run around in circles. Finally we manage to find a parking space nearby.

We are warmly greeted by our hostess and we enter a building centuries old. We climb a narrow, curving staircase sporting a small jungle of potted plants on the steps. Interesting artwork decorates the walls. Already I am charmed by what I see.  Our hostess opens a door.

The bedroom (photo above) is a symphony of color, a burst of joy and cheer, decorated with objects from the owners’ travels in North Africa and beyond. The bathroom offers an explosion of brilliant shades.

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Everything is fresh and clean, the bed comfortable, the ambiance enthusiastic. Every detail has been lovingly chosen and applied — door handles, light fixtures, waste baskets, wall decor. Really, who wants a room in the Marriott?

Our night is restful, not haunted by the ghosts of souls who wandered these ancient floors in the past. Nothing mysterious bubbled up from Constantine’s baths below the floors. In the morning we climb up another set of narrow stairs to the kitchen and find another festival of color–wall paint, cushions, dishes, and art objects. If you suffer from depression, this is the place to be.

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We share the table with a lovely Korean couple on their honeymoon. We have fresh croissants, crusty bread, butter, jam,  good coffee, and interesting conversation.

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The hostess speaks French, English and Spanish, and we hear her story about the trials renovating the house, about her life and travels in other countries, about a Swedish couple who wouldn’t eat her French breakfast because they wanted fish…

There is more, much more, but I’m going to stop here so you’ll just have to find out for yourself: Go get a room!

Note: Since our stay there 10 days ago, one review showed up on Tripadvisor, in Spanish. Five stars and a glowing report, so there you have it.

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Have you ever stayed in a fun or unique place? I’d love to hear about it!

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How to live a simpler life? Slower? More Zen-like? In a place with good food and wine and lots of sunshine? We came up with an answer:

We moved to a French village, my prince and I.

Our Village

It has an ancient church, a ruin of a castle, a small grocery store, a post office, a bar/coffee shop and a couple of wineries. All that’s necessary for a simple, relaxing life.

So we decided to do some renovation to “refresh” (rafraichir) our small house. Break out a little wall, put in a new shower, some new tiles, a new floor. You know how it goes.

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What were we thinking?

The pounding, the hammering, the sawing, the noise! Where was the peace? The quiet? The house was covered in dust. We had a rotten wall, mystery wires, dead switches. The work! Fortunately we had help.

When that job was finished, we decided to invite all the neighbors in our street for an apero which means drinks and appetizers. We wanted to be nice, to be friendly. I wrote invitations, in French, stuck them in the mail boxes.

We cleaned the house in preparation for the event. The dust from breaking down the wall was everywhere, in every nook and cranny. We swept and mopped and sweated.

What were we thinking?

What had happened to the relaxing life I had envisioned? Sitting by the pool? Reading a book?

We visited several local wineries and taste-tested various wines. This is a lovely way to spend an hour here or there. It puts me right into a Zen-like mood. Okay, maybe not Zen-like, but something like it.

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Winery. Inside this old building they will offer you samples of various wines from their domain (estate).

We bought what we liked, and hoped our choices would meet with the approval of our French neighbors. As you know, all French people are wine experts (not). We also bought a bottle of pastis. A must-have we were told.

Then I set about fixing appetizers. I bought goat cheese, made my own wild fig preserves, baked blue-cheese crackers, cut cantaloupe cubes and stuck twirls of prosciutto on them, and so on and so forth.

What was I thinking?

The kitchen was a mess. I was a wreck. What if they all showed up? All 15 of them? Would they bring the kids? Our French is minimal. We often haven’t a clue what people are saying to us. What were we going to do with 15 French-speaking people in our house?

I closed my eyes and tried to breathe a calming, Zen-like breath.

And then the neighbors arrived, all of them, bearing flowers, bottles of wine, and smiles.

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And they kissed me, three times, all 15 of them including the two little kids. Which makes 45 kisses.

After the kissing, we moved to the terrace, and we poured wine and orange juice and one pastis. All our guests ate my various munchies with appetite. We spoke our sorry French and they complimented us, which is the ultimate of kindness, trust me. They drank more wine and said we’d made good choices and they admired our (adopted) nymph Daphne by the pool.

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They said we were very welcome in their village and they all stayed for several hours and a good time was had by all.

And then they left, and I was kissed again, another 45 times, which added up to 90 kisses in one day. I have never been cheek-kissed that much. Not even on my wedding day.

It takes a lot of time, all those kisses. But this is the south of France, and you need to take time for the good things in life. Go slow. Relax. Kiss a lot.

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Have a good kissing story? Sure you do! Scroll down, hit that comment button, and ‘fess up!

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