Back home. After shaking off the Chatham, Washington, Virginia and Cape Town dust (not to mention Ulu-lapa) from our shoes, it was time to head off to the Avignon TGV for the arrival of Norman and Liz.

Sadly, Norman is finding it easier to move around in a wheel chair these days so it was a salutary lesson at looking at your environment through different eyes – where is there access, do the stairs hinder movement, is a restaurant disability-friendly? Norman has this wonderful blue disabled card for the motor car – wow! One thing the French have done really well is that they have provided parking and facilities which really make it so much easier.

Happily, Bastide les Amis rose to the occasion too – and we had had a disabled visitor in Maison Olive during mid-summer, and the property has come up trumps in that regard.

The weather has cooled considerably and it was fun to be able to revisit some old favourites and see the rapidly changing autumn colours. We did the circuit – Golden Triangle, St Remy-et-Provence, Glanum, Clos St Paul, Louramin, Avignon, L’Isle sur la Sorgue and, of course, Menerbes.

Our little village was scrubbed and rubbed for the Legion L’Honneur presentation to Madame Nancy Negley last Saturday but not without much muttering and whispering around corners – don’t the French love a conspiracy! Adding fuel to the fire of the criteria for awarding such a prestigious award to an American National was the fact that our local doctor has announced that he is leaving and, horror or horrors, one of Menerbes’ long standing residents, Louis the Butcher, has informed us all that he is retiring. Not that this will trouble all the males in the village as he has only ever been interested in the females!

The Association of Commerçants (basically a grouping of village businesses) has risen to the challenge with a petition urging the Mairie and the Council not to allow the small amount of commerce to die. Everyone buying their baguette last Saturday was invited to sign the missive for presentation down the line.

Another village donor, Mrs Cox is financing the re-building of one of Menerbes' old battlements

New battlements on the left and down below some magnificent new terraces complete with old olive trees

However, everyone felt a little bit better on Sunday morning after the French ‘tres formidable‘ performance in the Rugby world Cup Final. We have never seen the roads so deserted and the Coustellet market was nearly empty (disclosure: we had to drop Norman and Liz off at the TGV on Sunday morning and Madame burnt the rubber back for us to arrive at the TV at 10h02).

Culinary highlights with Norman and Liz were a mandatory delicious lunch at La Verandah but also a typical Provençal lunch at La Petite Ecole.

The unremarkable entrance sign belies the culinary delights within

In autumn and winter service is inside in an old schoolroom. Summer and Spring, there is a front terrace.

The decor is pure schoolroom - anyone for biology and botany?

Norman went Provençal ethnic - Pieds and Paquets - literally, feet and intestines (aka Tripe!)

Likewise Liz - coq au vin

We went a bit 'safer' - salmon 'burgers' on a bed of courgettes and tomato coulis

The restaurant easily slips into our Top 10 of ‘special’ places to eat in the Luberon Valley. Owned and staffed by the owners, Dennie and Sylvie, they serve the real thing. The decor is the actual old school room and you’ll not find many tourists. La Petite Ecole is off the D900 between Coustellet and Apt – take the Gargas turnoff and immediately you will reach the hamlet of Le Chene. You’re there!

Back home, Saturday morning peace and quiet was shattered by banging and crashing as Jose and Nicolas moved in – to begin the construction of the Doll Museum! Fortunately for Liz and Norman who were in the spare room, they only erected the scaffolding on Saturday (a few days early) and building commenced in earnest in Monday.

Nicolas and assistants start on removing the roof tiles

This was our CD storage area - no more. Here come the dolls!

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