A picnic at Chapel St. Cosme

This post was written by one of our travelers, Lauren.

When I went to the South of France most recently, the group was led by an incredible guide.   Having lived in Paris and Southern France, Kay knows a ton about the food, wine and landscape of France.

One of Kay’s favorite spots in the South of France is the chapel of Saint Cosme in Gigondas, in the heart of Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape country.

She had the idea that it would be nice for our group to see the chapel.   That morning, we stopped in Bonnieux for the morning market to stock up on more French cheeses, breads, olives, and tapenades.   We all shared our purchases in the form of a picnic to enjoy and experience the beauty.

Our picnic

This chapel is partly ruined.  In fact, we camped out in the nave with our picnic because of the intense wind that swirled around the chapel.  Luckily, there was a small bench that was useful as a “table”.

Seeking shelter in the nave

A special group of ladies

Luckily, we had a nice ‘community’ supply of wine from our stops at the L’Auchan grocery, Château Beaucastel, and Château de Ségriès.

After tasting a few delicacies, I wandered around the stone path that led above the chapel.

Walking around Chapel St. Cosme

Beautiful pathway

Climbing into the vineyards above the chapel

The chapel is surrounded by gorgeous vineyards above.   It makes such a beautiful panorama in the Provençal sky.  Our group is grateful to Kay for taking us to this special place.

 

 This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.  

Lessons from my dogs: Sacredness

This post is by Kay Pfaltz, Founder of Beyond Ordinary Travel. 

Buds grace the ends of bare branches as I stand in the first light sipping the morning’s cup of tea, and watching birds find seeds. It’s a routine I perform each day, the scattering of seed, and often accompanied by my tea. It is the basic nature of the act, providing for others, which gives it the sacredness, and for me a form of meditation; all else stops and I stare silently as the birds peck and flutter, mates sometimes feeding each other or flapping off intruders.

Sacredness can befall us in the lightest of moments. Nietzsche spoke of how little was necessary for happiness: “The least thing precisely, the gentlest thing, a lizard’s rustling, a breath, a wisk, an eye glance—little maketh up the best happiness. Be still.”

Be still.

I stand still and wonder what will happen to all the awakening buds—sacred every one of them—appearing at the ends of January’s branches when they would in past come out in March. But nature sees the bigger show, feeding stars and seas, watching over us, yet oblivious to small human needs. I want the purpled spill and sugared smell of the wisteria in spring. Or my favourite scent of all, the spicy sweetness of April’s viburnum…but that, is budding now.

Yet I know that nature’s ways are sacrosanct and have proved the test of time, reaching far beyond my little life. I stand amidst her, humbled and learn look beyond what meets the eye. Behind the anger and the fear lies a universal desire for goodness, a sharing of compassion. Behind the hatred and the violence lie millions of lives brushing up against one another simply trying to connect—for the doorway to our sacredness is our human heart, and sometimes we find that touch of love in the oddest places.

I have held my animals as they died in my arms, surrounded for those few untouchable moments by a sacredness so vast it pushed away all fear, all grief and what was left was grace. Until the mind regained the heart’s upper hand at which point grief and pain returned. Sri Nisargadatta said it beautifully: “The mind creates the abyss; the heart crosses it.”

“What is sacred?”

Pondering the question in our small home, I see life covering my windowpanes. Maligned by most, these bugs who buzz about my house are sacred in themselves. There is sacredness in the tiniest ant, or the most unwanted body of the stink bugs, just as there is in the majestic trees of shade we love. There is sacredness in the spider who hangs out in my shower. It is the same sanctity found in all life.

“What is sacred?” I turn and ask again aloud. Three pairs of eyes looked back at me in answer.

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“Of course! You are.” As time rushes forward—scientist proving the earth’s velocity truly has increased, it’s not just our crazy lives—my dogs lead sacred lives each day.

For them each day is new. A joy to stretch, to sniff, to savour. A day in which to rejoice. The quiet brown eyes still regard me, speaking silently their wishes. We walk up into the woods and I stand still at the confluence of two streams. I watch the clean water spilling over earth and rock, and as it catches and holds the sun’s light, I know that it is sacred. The lacy ferns and soft moss that from their sidelines wave the water on are as sacred in their stationary lives just as the water is in flowing. The rocks worn and wise over which the water runs are sacred. The forest around us is sacred and the beings it holds in outstretched arms are sacred. Our four lives are sacred, defined, but not limited, by death on one end. A tree has fallen that once stood by the banks of the stream. I am saddened by its death, but it leaves a space where light shines through.

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Perhaps it’s up to us to lead sacred lives—to think and speak and act with sacredness, for sacredness is not only “out there” but also it is in us, every moment of every day.

Back home I take off harnesses and again three pairs of eyes regard me. It’s time for cookies. Yes, sometimes we find love in the oddest places. And that is sacred.

Sacredness originally appeared in LaJoie. Kay Pfaltz is a writer and animal activist. When you purchase Lauren’s Story: An American Dog in Paris you are supporting the animals. Pprofits are donated to animal organizations. For other books Kay has written, visit: http://www.kaypfaltz.com.

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.  

Umbria: Assisi, Tili Vini and Orvieto

This post was written by one of our travelers, Lauren.

Just a bit lower than Tuscany, Umbria also has a remarkable landscape. It’s slightly drier and more rustic than its Northern neighbor, but still quite capable of amazing things.

One of the towns we visited was Assisi which is the famous birthplace of St. Francis. I adored the town and its classic and simple pink stone. The pink is a naturally sourced stone from Umbria and used to decorate the basilicas simply without too much adornment, as was restricted in St. Francis’s day.

The reason for the simplicity is that St. Francis believed in peace and the renouncement of material things. The basilica contains simple frescos instead of ornate stones and gold.

In fact, Kay had encouraged us all to say a prayer and to do one act as St. Francis would do in this experience, rather than be a typical tourist. She encouraged us to slip some coins to the poor and forgoing the traditional souvenir. It was a beautiful mindset in which to enter this holy place. Adding to this experience, we witnessed a peace rally marching 20km from Perugia to the basilica. This peace celebration only happens every 3 years and it was a coincidence that we were able to be a part of it.

On our ride home that evening, we witnessed a little peace as well when we saw this rainbow on the Umbrian landscape. What a nice souvenir.

Also in Assisi, we had the opportunity to visit a few Umbrian locals at Tivi Vini, a winery near Assisi. The same pride we’d seen from Elena at La Stoppa and Filipo of Fattoria della Cinta, also poured out in the mother daughter combo Tili and Maria.

We tasted their Assisi biance (chardonnay and pinot), the Grechetto (95% grechetto, 5% pinot), Pinto Nero (90% noir and 10% sangrantino — Rosie’s favorite), a Young (blend of 3 reds — Gabe’s favorite, a Rosso (Lauren’s favorite) and a 100% Sagrantino aged for 8 years.

We returned to Florence that night, but the next day, we had the pleasure of dining in Orvieto. The meal at Restaurant Maurizo, just off the main square, was hands-down my favorite meal of the trip. We started with a great antipasti, then a truffle and cheek umberchelini, then pasta with lamb ragu, a secondi of pork with herb rub and roasted potatoes and then a selection of local cakes for dolce. I am a sucker for any type of mushroom but the truffles put me over the edge. What a meal!

Umbria might be my new favorite over Tuscany.

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.