Postcard from Italy
Polyglotte: Is learning a second language risky? (A French woman's warning)

Baroudeur: A hair-raising adventure in the Italian Alps

That’s Jean-Marc on his way up to the Dolomites. More colorful photos at the end of this post!

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    : adventurer, trailblazer

Today's story is dedicated to my husband and my Mom--both adventurers, trailblazers, and true baroudeurs!

by Kristi Espinasse

On the eve of Jean-Marc's and my Great European Camping Car Adventure, I went to check on Mom. There in her studio, on the side of our house, Jules was putting away her groceries: "Ice cream, yogurt, pudding..." Jules sang, happy for her favorite items to be back in stock chez elle

"And what do you have for food for the next week?" I quizzed.

"I don't eat food!" Jules smiled, reaching for the ice cream to cool down in this heatwave. While Mom may be kidding, leaving her alone for a week was a serious matter to me, even if deep down I knew she would be ok. She is a feisty 76: spirited, spiritual, and strong. She raised two girls as a single mother and then lived solo in the Arizona desert, with only rattlesnakes and javelinas for company (her Rottweiler and guns were protection). After she left the desert, and before moving to France, Jules lived in Mexico for two decades, part of that time in a house with bare windows (no glass to keep the rain out). One day (2002?) Mom was sweeping the floor when she slipped and broke her hip. She came to France to recover, only to get breast cancer. She has been with us on and off ever since.

No matter how strong Mom is, or how much character she has, she can be vulnerable and I don't like leaving her alone when we go away. Especially when her grandson Max, who lives nearby, is out of town. And to think Jules no longer has Smokey to sleep by her front door and keep her company. Like this, on Day 2 of our camping trip, I was dreaming of my gun-toting, ice-cream Mama. What if she lost electricity? Would Mom know which switches to flip? What if the heat got to her or she fell down? Because Mom doesn't like the telephone (or Messenger or SMS or any of that) it can be challenging to know how she is doing. Thankfully, she promised to respond to my daily emails. So far so good, "All is peaceful here," her replies assured me.

Tossing and turning in our camper car, somewhere along Lake Garda, I awoke to find my side of the mattress wet. Zut! The little camper window was leaking. This was bad news for my flu, which began the night of our departure and turned into bronchitis. A clap of thunder had me scooting close to my husband, whose side of the tiny bed was dry. Quelle chance!

Jean-Marc was in a deep sleep after a few long days on the road. We had left La Ciotat that first morning at 5 am to pick up our rented camper in Grasse. After a picnic by the river in Cuneo, Italy (it felt so good to submerse our legs into the cold water while eating our paninis) we reached our destination that evening. It was the first of several lakeside campsites that Jean-Marc had carefully reserved and, after some reservations of my own, I was surprised at how easily we slid into camp life, and "glisser" is the word as the rain made for a muddy, slippery ground beside our camper. Next time, we'll bring along a plastic mat as the other seasoned campers had done. We were learning every day and that is one thing to love about roughing it: having to make do and be creative with what we had. Thus, a big T-shirt became a cloth sack for laundry, water glasses doubled as coffee cups, and a couple of plastic tire strips were used as a much-needed doormat. Nothing too ingenious, but it was satisfying, each time, to find an onboard solution to a problem! 

Jean-marc and our Chausson camper car
Jean-Marc, having found a parking spot in Como. That's the Chausson camper car we rented.

The most ingenious thing to me was our onboard toilet. By day two I discovered it swiveled sideways for legroom (turns out you didn't have to be a yogini to use it!). That toilet was a luxury and it meant we could travel to the ends of the world, which is exactly where we were going...

On day 4 we were headed up to the Dolomites, on a suspiciously empty road, when Jean-Marc casually mentioned that he guessed this road was okay for oversized camping cars to use. My husband's remark brought me back to all of the nerve-racking adventures he had ever talked me into before. The King of Shortcuts and his Take-Every-Precaution wife have, kicking and screaming, managed to scale steep mountain paths, pass through narrow railway tunnels on foot, and hurry across pastures dotted with horned cattle. I realize now that most of my fear comes from a lack of knowledge (are pedestrians allowed to walk beside train tracks…in a tunnel? Do horned cattle attack?)

Here we were again, on another hair-raising path, and there was no turning back along this particularly narrow one-way road up to the Dolomites. I began to notice potholes here and there and farther up ahead the road was crumbling off on either side. There in the passenger seat of our roving rental home, just when I thought my nerves couldn't take it anymore, I held on to one thought: we'd soon be eating in a quaint little chalet amidst a blossoming prairie at the end of this Godforsaken path. Just focus on the image. Focus on the little innocent flowers and not the menacing road! Just as I was beginning to relax, a string of words coming out of my husband's mouth strangled every little daisy as hope flew out the passenger side window:

" J'espère que c'est ouvert…"

You hope the restaurant is open?

To make a long, agonizing story short, dear reader, we did make it up to the restaurant (ours was the only camping car in the sparse parking lot). And it was as delightful as those delicate alpine flowers. After lunch and some apple strudel served by a lovely 86-year-old Tyrolian, we parted ways for the first time in days. Jean-Marc went on to hike 2.5 hours until he was able to reach up and touch the Dolomites with his own hand. My husband deserved such a thrill after maneuvering our two-ton trailer and me through the narrow streets and valleys of Italy. Bravo J-M! Meanwhile, I took a nap in the back of our vehicle, soaking in the sounds of nature all around us including the rain which began pounding on our camper car. When that turned to hail we peeled out of there just in time, heading back down over the crumbling road and the potholes, making it safely down the hill and down to the south coast of Italy. Those last two nights were spent at "Agriturismo" sites (camp free on somebody's farm in exchange for buying their products).  

From the Mediterranean to the Dolomites and back it was a smooth trip. And when we pulled into our driveway at 10 pm, Mom, having held down the fort, was there to greet us with open arms, happy tears in her eyes. “ I don’t think I have ever been so lonely in my whole life,” my desert-dwelling Mamacita finally admitted.

"That's why God gave us families,” I assured Mom. “So we would never be lonely." 

Not everyone has a family to hold on to and if that is your situation I hope these stories keep us all connected. Thank you, dear reader and virtual family, for showing up weekly and for clicking open my letters. 

"See you" next week,


It is a joy to read your comments so please don't hesitate to write me using this link to the comments. (My Dad, a faithful reader of this blog, especially appreciates it when you include your town or city! Extra credit if you give a weather report. He loves that!)

Jules and Holly
Thank you, Holly (right), for reading my journal and for sending in this photo of you and Jules taken on our front porch a few years ago. It is one of Mom's favorite pics. We hope you don't mind we posted it!


Click here to listen to Jean-Marc and Kristi pronounce the vocabulary words below

le baroudeur, la baroudeuse = trailblazer 
chez elle = at her place
zut! = darn!
quelle chance! = what luck!
le panini = Italian for grilled sandwich
glisser = to slip
j’espère que c’est ouvert = I hope it’s open
agriturismo = a farm stay

IMG_7419 Copy

It is humbling, touching, and enormously motivating to receive your support for my French word journal. And huge thanks to the following readers who sent in a donation following last week’s “anniversary” post:

Jill B.
Chris W.
Susan G.
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Jeanne H.
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Joanne O.
Deborah P.
Patricia N.
Kathryn G.
Tricia N-B
J & C Hawke
Bill and Mary E.
Natalia, Rod, et Mignons

Bergamo Italy2
Little daisies at the top of Bergamo, a perched village Jean-Marc used to admire while driving on the Italian freeway for his wine business. This time he got to stop and explore!

Beside the church in Bergamo
Outside one of the churches in Bergamo.

Alois vineyard
Trip highlight: We had a very warm welcome and a farm-fresh lunch at the biodynamic Alois Lageder vineyard near Bolzano. 

IMG_7415 Copy
The rest of these pictures were taken from the passenger seat of our camper car--a wonderful window from which to take in all the colorful scenes of Italy

Bergamo Italy
Also in Bergamo
Col de la Lombarde
This was at the Col de la Lombarde, just after the French Italian border. We (very carefully) passed zillions of cyclists in this area. It was one of the most nerve-racking passages for Jean-Marc, who did a great job maneuvering our camping car. I have so many more pictures. Would you enjoy an extra post this week?

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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Bravo to finding a carpark in Como with a Camper!! That's an achievement in itself.

Yes to an extra post, can never get enough of this region of Italy and beautiful images packaged with adventurous stories!

Trina in St. Petersburg, FL, USA

Hello, Kristi!

Yes, it is tough for those of us who have no family at home or nearby, who only have some extended family & they are widely scattered around the country, so there's no place to go "home" to. I so want to leave Florida, but to where? (Where becomes a big issue once one is on a fixed income.)

Last week out in the nearby beach town where I was house sitting & monitoring work email for some lovely folks who were on vacation, the heat index was 117°! The actual temp was 90°, but don't let our actual temp fool you. The heat index takes into consideration the humidity & dew point & the ability of our body to cool in that triple combination, & let's us know what the "feels like" temperature is, so we know when it's dangerous to be outside. The Gulf of Mexico has been 94°.

My apologies for not commenting much here anymore, but without home internet, it's cumbersome to watch comments here from my phone. I would hate to miss a reply & this site doesn't notify us of that the way some blogs do. So I usually limit my comments to your intagram.

I still love reading you though! This vacation made me think of one I took in my 20s going across Colorado with a boyfriend, often on 4-wheel drive only trails. We camped in a tiny tent. I became a member of the white knuckle society (hold on tight) & said a lot of prayers, but we saw & hiked some beautiful scenery.



Another post with more pictures of your trip would be wonderful!


Hello Kristi,

Greetings from the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire.
I love this story and pictures, especially this:
“ I realize that most of my fear comes from a lack of knowledge”.
Such true words, and thanks for reminding all of us about this truth.
Happy that your trip was a success.



Americans may understand the word "trekker" now that the ANZACers have popularized it.

Harriet Hughes

Your tale made me giggle. Why is it that the reserved (I didn't say cowards!) end up with the bold? Maybe so we can have our share of life's adventures, too. I recall a beautiful drive to the roof of the Dolomites, eating a wonderful bowl of soup at the restaurant on top, only to lose it on the curvy way down (ick). I survived, with an indelible memory for my trouble. My family will never forget, either. So glad your trip renewed your spirit and gave you memories to share with us. Please, more! And for your dad, this comes from Idaho, where our summer is progressing with cool nights and daytime temperatures in the 80's so far. Perfect, and blessedly free from wildfire smoke so far this year. Blessings to your wonderful mom, too.

Diane Covington-Carter

Loved reading about your adventure and especially the difference between you and Jean Marc. /viva la différence!
We are in Nevada City, California and it will be 104 degrees this weekend. Too hot!


Yes to more photos! You always capture the light and the place. The joys of an adventure always make coming home sweeter. Thank you for sharing. I live in Freeland, Washington on Whidbey Island. It will be in the high 60’s the next few days. Perfect!

Eileen Burns

Dear Kristi, I would love to see more photos...Weather here, for bonus points! (in the Hudson River Valley in NY State)... Much rain, torrential rain, flooding and bridges washed out...We were fortunate. Our town was spared the worst...and now it's just HOT!...Thanks for an entertaining account of your trip...MUCH LOVE, Eileen Burns

Chris Miasnik

Kristi, Is baroudeur also a verb? Because you you made it so with "Today's Word: barouder". Damn autocorrect, right? -- Bluffdale, Utah (for your dad)

Angie Quantrell

Gorgeous! What fun adventures! We live in our RV full-time, and those little tricks go a long way to make it work. I would LOVE to see more pictures! Traveling from my RV couch...


J'adore ce post ! Oui, s'il vous plait - une autre post cette semaine !

Lauren Golden

Your adventure reminded me of fun times in the lake district and mountains in the north of Italy. So beautiful. I'm reluctant to say the weather where I am. We are very fortunate. Aside from what we call "June Gloom" (marine layer clouds in the mornings, Mother Nature's air conditioning ) it is about 70 degrees. I live in Encinitas near San Diego.


Our dear Kristi,
Another truly wonderful post,filled with gorgeous photos-- all brimming with ekphrasis ( pictures painted with words)as only you can do!!
I had to laugh out loud because the brave souls
traversing that (semi) goat trail(i.e. you and Jean Marc) exactly fit the same profile as my hubby Rod and me, with the exception that I could not possibly be so considerately quiet in not voicing my trepidation of "What the heck are we doing here????"
I so empathize with dear Jules .I vividly remember the look of joy and relief on my belle mere's face when we returned home after a very brief sojourn out of town. I now am older
than she was at that time, and under the same circumstances, I can fully understand how just the knowledge that you are by yourself can truly be daunting. Your wonderful words about God giving us families so we'd never be lonely absolutely say it all.
Chere Kristi, so very thankful that you are feeling better, and are safely home again.
Blessings to you and your beautiful family.

Karen in Northport, NY

Road trips are the best. For some reason I'm thinking of trips on the back of my ex's motorcycle through the mountains in New Mexico. Our suicidal 20's. Your trip looks delightful. More pix always welcome.
Long Island, NY, has had decent weather so far this summer. Missed the awful rain, though we are sort of shaped like a turtle's back and generally don't inundate even when it's inches an hour. The ocean can handle the drainage (!!) and the Hudson doesn't flood. Lucky us. 💔 to all, everywhere, struggling this summer. Missed the really bad wildfire smoke, thank you ocean breezes. Missed the wicked heat, again thank you ocean. We shall see if we miss this year's tropical storms. When we don't thank the ocean.
Glad you made it home unscathed and I hope you're feeling better.

Chris Allin

Dear Kristi,
Another delightful story. You are so artful at describing (and showing through photos) an experience, that I always feel I have been right there beside you.

I used to tell my daughters that their fear of the unknown would go away once they understood the unknown. However, life continues to hand us the unknown and we just have to continue to plow through it. Once we do that we grow, either through adversity or relief. The lessons of life seem to make us who we are…

Thank you for another thought provoking post!


I’m in a continuous state of envy for your surroundings and lifestyle, Kristi!
Due to Covid we haven’t been to France, specifically Provence, for years and really miss it .
However, an older Parisian lady who has come to live here (Sydney) to be with family, has just returned from a visit to Paris and says she now never wants to go back ,
due to the civil unrest there. Such a sad turn of events
We will be in a French restaurant tonight in Sydney for French national day.

Claudia P.

Love this that you wrote in your adventure above, Kristi!! I copied and pasted it and sent it on to family via texts, with proper acknowledgement from whom, this wisdom came!! And here it is: "I realize now that most of my fear comes from a lack of knowledge ...".

Well done, love your stories, love the love and your taking us all through the fun and at times, difficulties, you all go through ... brings us all together as real people!!

God bless you and yours all the days from one who will be 80 come November 2023. All health to your Mama!!
Claudia P. (C-Marie)

Denise Spooner

I so enjoyed reading your post, Kristi, and hope you are feeling much better by now. I too love the south of France and the lakes region of Italy . . . who doesn't? A couple of years ago my husband and I took a cycling trip through the Italian Alps and Slovenia. Different mountains, to some extent, than the Dolomites, but, irrespective of that, LOTS of climbing! I've always wanted to rent a camper van and camp in France and Italy, but, so far, have not had that adventure. Your trip has re-ignited my interest. Finally, good to know all was well with your mom when you returned home. And I love your final words about families. So lucky to feel the same.


Claremont, California


I am not going on a trip this summer so it was nice to go along with you and Jean-Marc on your trip.
It made me feel as if I was right there with you!

I liked the idea of camping free on a farm if you purchased their produce. Very good exchange.

Cathy L.
Anaheim, California
Where today it is 85 degrees F

Judy Feldman

Quelle aventure! You are a wonderful storyteller, and this one is superb. Hope you’re over la grippe, and happy to be back home. Yes, would love to see more photos!

Judi Miller

Loved hearing all about your camper van trek. I’m in awe of you continuing to go along , having the glue, then bronchitis! Amazing-and it sounded like you still had a great adventure!! Would love more photos. I’m a travel photo nut!! Kudos to J-M in driving through those thought places! It sounds like the the whole trip was very worthwhile!!


I loved the photos of Bergamo. They recalled to me the Italian novel, The Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni. It is Italy's greatest novel. If you think you and Jean-Marc have had some adventures as a couple, then just wait until you read about Renzo and Lucia who endure tyranny, war, famine, and plague to be together! Joanne


Great post, Kristi. Enjoy the break being at home! Happy 14th!

For your Dad…we’ve been in Dauphin, Viens, Geyssans and heading to Peyrelevade. Have fun with the maps. (Train and car.)

Jean Briggs

Pedestrians are only ‘allowed’ to walk through train tunnels if they speak ‘aloud’ while doing so. (Hi again, from me, the dreaded copy editor.) 😂
Loved your adventure story and the pictures…would be happy to see more.
I’m in the Pau region of southwest France where it’s 93 degrees. We have no air conditioning but do have thick walls, so it’s perfectly cool indoors.

Kristin Espinasse

Hi Jean, Haha! Thank you for catching that one! I must have read that sentence 10 times and never once did I notice anything amiss 😂. Glad to have this edit. And glad you are keeping cool in SW France. 

Carolyn R Chase

Another post with more of your photos would be a great delight. They are beautiful in their own right, but as they take us to places you've been, they are like coming with you on your adventures.

I love your letters, and always look forward to reading them - moments of escape at my end and of re-visiting life in France from your end. Thank you for your efforts.


Bette Goode

Hi Kristi,

I love the stories about your mom, who is just a bit younger than I am. I too miss my family when they are all gone away on holiday or wherever. I have two young cats, adopted as kittens, who keep me company and provide me with giggles at their antics.

I’m in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada. Right now it’s 26 C, and we might have rain tomorrow. We’re having drought conditions here.

Enjoy the warm weather! Bette

Suzanne Codi

Hi Kristi,
YES to more posts about your wonderful adventure! And as for your post on being " polyglotte", I can only say that having been raised in the Middle East and West Africa by a French mom and an American dad, I was fortunate enough to learn both languages at the same time, like your kids. And going to schools in these countries, I was usually the only one who only spoke 2 fluently...most of my classmates spoke 3, sometimes 4, and a girl in my class when I was 12 spoke 5!!! So I'm all for learning as many languages as you can. And as you get older, it's not as easy, but very good for your brain!

Bonne chance, et bonjour a Jean-Marc et a la famille!

Patricia Manze

I thoroughly enjoy your posts - they are like having little vacations in the middle of predictable days.
I would love to learn more about the farm/work stays. Is there an organization or a site where one can find a listing ? If you are ever in the Vacluse - I have a very dear friend who owns a vineyard Le Clos De Caveau - the owner is American/British and inherited the farm from his father. He is very welcoming and loves to meet and tour visitors. Keep your eye out!

Patricia Manze
Sherman Oaks,CA
a toasty 95 degrees!

Kristin Espinasse

Hi Patricia, Thanks for your positive words. I really loved reading them! And what a small world re the vineyard. Jean-Marc says he was selling Le Clos de Caveau wines at his wine shop. We also have a friend, Thomas, who completed an internship there.

Betsy Foree

YES..more pics of Italy!

Christine Jones

Salut Kristi!

What a vacation/ adventure! In my next life, I am coming back as you! I did visit you at Rouge-Bleu a few years ago with husband Rob and son Rob, who had an internship in Paris. It was so exciting meeting you! My son is now married and we are blessed to have a granddaughter, Swati Vivian who is almost a year old. I hope to make her a francophile.

For your dad, we are in Ambler, just outside of Philadelphia and it is quite hot!


Enjoyed your commentary from the passenger seat. We once did the same in New Zealand. Driving on the “wrong side” makes it even more of an adventure.
I’m in Tucson and we’ve been above 105 for 2 weeks. We also have the javelina and rattlesnakes plus an occasion coyote.

janet davis

"The rest of these pictures were taken from the passenger seat of our camper car."

Until facebook took over all my creativity I maintained a blog call "Front Seat Images - Life on a Winding Road". Yes, it's wonderful to NOT be the driver!

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