Sweating it out!

Well, the French weather site http://www.meteofrance.com is often next to useless, more benefit being gained from a chocolate teapot. Even when you look at the radar, it is wrong. However, they have excelled with their predictions of a ‘Pic de chaleur, très intense’ – an intense spike in temperature. Oh how I wish that they had it wrong, but no, it is a scorcher out there with a searing, ferocious heat that reminds me of when I lived in Australia.

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I went into the garden early this morning to move my pod (to rotate the tyres) and to do the monthly battery check as well. All I can say is that I am really pleased that I am not away in my pod with the current temperature!

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Outside is just getting hotter and the day has been spent hiding inside, shutters closed, copious cold drinks on hand and I’m thinking that this is just way too hot.

DSCN6384It actually went just a tad higher than this!

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Unfortunately tomorrow is expected to be as hot. I think I’ll go and make another tray of ice-cubes. Hopefully you have some nice weather (not too hot) where you are.

A Bientot!

Posted in Weather | 4 Comments

Keeping it Green.

Pinching the idea from Colin’s blog ( https://colinbisset.com/2020/07/23/propagating-in-a-pandemic/?wref=tp ) I feel somewhat inspired to share my humble efforts in the veggie patch. It can be a challenge in this region of France where we get blisteringly hot summers and everything dries to a crisp. The ground is chalky, poor in soil and nutrients, and it can be a real struggle to keep on top of it all. Fortunately I have a deep well in the garden with a steady supply of water from the aquifer, but in times of drought it does run dry. Then I have the back-up of an electric pump and 2 huge water containers giving me 1000’s of litres of rainwater. The annual warnings of an impending drought have already been issued, and in fact there are currently 33 départements on water restrictions. Overall, planting in the garden has to be based on the flowers and shrubs that can cope with the dry and the heat, and people have to learn that they can’t ‘waste’ water on trying to maintain a green lawn that would be better suited to a stately home! Mine is currently resembling a cracked, crispy brown paddock. The grass will return.

The earlier days of confinement meant that we were very limited in travel and like many around the world, there was plenty of time to spend at home. I am blessed with having a reasonably large enclosed garden and being able to potter around outside was a joy. There is great truth in the healing properties of a garden and much has been said about the lowering of stress levels, the joy and happiness that can be gained, a great sense of wellbeing and calm. I feel very sorry for those that didn’t have this respite and I am sure that confined to a high-rise appartment block would have had me tearing my hair out.

Like an expectant kid at Christmas, I planted various seeds in the greenhouse and must have looked at them at least twice a day to see if there were any telltale green shoots. The excitement when they actually sprouted was wonderful. Nurtured and tended to with love bordering on obsessional, they survived and eventually were transplanted into the raised veggie patch. Too many were planted knowing that the snails and slugs would take their fill before I could trap the little buggers! Now I am reaping the rewards and saving some money in the process. The joy continues every day when I inspect them, harvesting as required, freezing the excess or sharing with my neighbours. The greatest joy is the flavour of fresh food that I have grown myself.

DSCN6361The birds love my succulent lettuce …. if only they could get to them!

DSCN6362Dwarf French beans that seem to go on forever.

DSCN6365Not yet ripe …… Espelette chillies.

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Unlike the supermarket cucumbers, mine do not bend!

DSCN6369You cannot beat walking past and picking ripe sun-warmed tomatoes.

Hopefully you have a garden or some space where you can enjoy the gift of growing a few things. If not, do try it and I think you will love the experience of watching it all grow and then picking some fresh herbs, a lettuce or two and perhaps some tomatoes.

A Bientot!

 

 

 

Posted in Garden, Nature | 2 Comments

‘Sunday’ Driver!

As nice as it is, I can’t stay on holiday for ever, and if I didn’t come home I wouldn’t appreciate the fun of going away again. As sad as it is to leave this beautiful area, it isn’t as if the Dordogne is far away – where I was staying was only 230kms from home so it’s all within a few hours drive. My last day was a lazy one, especially as it was blazing hot again and the sun felt really fierce. Maggie was more than happy to hop in the car and enjoy the air-con, as was I!

First stop was to see the nearby Château de Biron, a massive structure that dominates the countryside.

DSCN6300Climbing the small hill and entering an old gateway, I was pleasantly surprised to find a small hamlet with lovely stone houses and even a rather smart restaurant. But it wasn’t lunchtime yet, so time to keep moving.

DSCN6294One of the absolute pleasures of driving on the small back roads is that there is virtually no traffic (other than the odd farm vehicle) and there is no pressure to maintain a higher speed…. I hate it when the car behind is just about touching the bumper and you feel that you have to keep going faster!  Anyway, I was more than happy to motor along like a ‘Sunday’ driver, able to enjoy the countryside and to take my time. By the time I arrived in Issigeac there was just enough time to have a small walk around before the midday bells announced the daily ritual of closing up shutters, downing tools and heading home for lunch, or in my case, heading to the restaurant.

DSCN6304It’s not a bad view, is it? Sitting outside for lunch and being waited on is my idea of being on holiday! Another very good 3-course lunch for 13 euros with plenty of choice to suit all tastes. The other thing I really like about France is that even as a solo diner, you are not hidden away in the back of the restaurant or puched into a corner. I had prime seating right on the front and Maggie was made so welcome it was almost embarrassing. Of course she lapped up the attention and greeted everyone as if it was her restaurant!

Issigeac is a beautiful mediaeval village with some really stunning architecture. Unlike the ubiquitous bastides that fill the region with their grid layout, this one spirals and winds like a snail. The narrow streets and lanes are home to a number of artists and craftspeople and yet Issigeac doesn’t feel like a ‘museum’ or a ‘show’ village. It is positively thriving and has one of the biggest weekly markets in the area.

DSCN6307Église Saint-Félicien.

DSCN6317The Bishop’s Palace and church of Saint-Félicien.

DSCN6306Ancient Halle aux Grains (Market hall)

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DSCN6321The charming ‘mushroom’ house standing alone like an island. You can’t really see it due to the vines, but it has an overhanging second storey which allowed the carts to pass through.

I’m sure that I’ll be back in the Dordogne again before too long. There is plenty to see and do and if only for the change of scenery and chance to get away in my pod.

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A Bientot!

 

Posted in Chateau, Dordogne, History, Podding | 3 Comments

Bastides-a-plenty!

It is impossible (almost) to get away from the fortified towns or ‘Bastides’ that seem to breed in this area. There are about 300 of them in the southwest part of France, and the Dordogne boasts some of the prettiest and best maintained. I mentioned before that they are all very similar and yet different in their own way. The design followed a rigid formula starting with the surrounding walls and a garrison and often a castle. The narrow streets all led to the main square and market place. The church was also usually constructed to the side of the square, often being fortified as well to provide a place of refuge and a safe store for relics. Around the main square would be arched walkways, a feature that now provides many towns with a restaurant, bar or café along with smaller shops. They also provide very welcome relief from the searing heat or the torrential storms. Fortunately no rain for me, but oh, the heat reflecting from the stones was rather unbearable at times.

Seeing as the campsite was within spitting distance of Monpazier it seems the best place to start our tour of some of these mediaeval towns. Monpazier is considered one of the better examples of a complete bastide and is yet another listed as one of the plus beaux villages de France. Founded by King Edward I of England in 1284 it certainly attracts the tourists even if my pictures make it look rather deserted! I bet that England would love to have this still in their possession! But it isn’t my favourite because I feel it could be a Disney set. It is as if it is there just for the tourist.

DSCN6226Monpazier – place des Cornières.

DSCN6227Monpazier – place des Cornières.

DSCN6222Monpazier – old market hall.

DSCN6221Monpazier – typical archways.

DSCN6231Monpazier – one of the fortified gateways and typical street scene.

I headed to my next stop through some really beautiful countryside of rolling green hills, fields of maize and golden sunflowers, orchards with hundreds of walnut trees (the Dordogne Valley is the biggest producer of walnuts in France), and lazy, empty roads that almost lull you into driving slowly. This is the joy of taking the road less travelled. And why hurry when there is so much beauty? Here we are in the bastide of Monflanquin. Unlike Monpazier, this was built by the French. (Actually we are now in the department of the Lot and Garonne, but they all join up)! The church bells were clanging wildly, announcing midday for all to hear, the small shops were closing up, and the restaurants were enticing me with their smells of cooking; garlic and onions, meat and fish, sauces and fruit. I sometimes think they must have a vent that wafts the smells into the path of the visitor! It was another wonderful 3-course lunch for Euro 13.50 and wine included.

DSCN6236Monflanquin

DSCN6239Monflanquin – Place des Arcades

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It’s always hard to get going again after a lazy lunch and even more so when you exit the cool of the restaurant courtyard and are blasted with 33c of furnace-like heat. Life’s so hard, isn’t it?

Villeréal is also in the Lot-et-Garonne and is in my opinion, one of the loveliest of the towns I visited. The very grand and imposing 13th century fortified church (complete with arrow slits) is equalled by the magnificent and rare 14th century market hall. Apparently it is very unusual to have a floor above the market hall. The nice thing about Villeréal is that the shops tend to be local stores and not just tourist traps, and the whole place is busy all year round. I got the feeling that this was a ‘proper’ town and not another pretty showpiece.

DSCN6271Villeréal – Church of Notre-Dame

DSCN6275Villeréal – the half-timbered market hall

DSCN6276Market hall

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Are you getting the idea that these bastides are similar but certainly have their own personality? Heaven forbid that I bore you with any more…after all, there really are just so many that you can take in one sitting! But I am going to leave you with just one more which I also liked a lot, mainly because it felt lived-in and less touristy. We’re back in the Dordogne and I’ll finish with Beaumont-du-Périgord, another one founded by King Edward I of England.

DSCN6334Beaumont-du-Périgord – Porte de Luzier

DSCN6328Beaumont-du-Périgord

DSCN6332Beaumont-du-Périgord – main square

Well done for sticking with me on my little tour. Go and pour yourself a glass of whatever you fancy, put your feet up and relax. You deserve it 🙂

A Bientot!

 

 

Posted in Dordogne, History, Podding | 1 Comment

Castles in the air.

I don’t know about you, but do you sometimes set out on a destination only to find that there is something really interesting on the way there? I was heading in the direction of La Roque Gageac on the banks of the River Dordogne and as usual, I like to take the less travelled routes – minor roads, virtually no traffic, and always the thrill of what may be around the next bend. Good old GPS took me on the most beautiful lanes and thankfully no farm vehicles to contend with because to say that they were narrow would be an understatement!

So, when you drop down into the valley and take the next bend, you have to stop when you see this. It just calls out to be explored, doesn’t it?

DSCN6187This is the mediaeval fortress, Chateau de Castelnaud.

As you might guess, parking was at the bottom of the hill and obviously if I wanted to visit a climb was required. I wasn’t relishing it in 32c of heat and blazing sun, but off we set, Maggie helping to get me up the pathway. It was worth it I have to say. The little village of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle is really lovely as it tumbles from the chateau down to the river, and there are great views of the river and across to Beynac-et-Cazenac and the northern side of the River Dordogne.

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DSCN6204But much more important things were on our minds. Lunch! It was really lovely to see places full and people enjoying meals out as a family. The tables were shuffled and re-shuffled to maintain the 1 metre distance rule to try every attempt to fit more people in…and why not? These small places rely on tourism and need as much custom as they can get if they are to survive. I for one was more than happy to stop and eat and support them.

DSCN6196Lunch stop in Castelnaud-la-Chapelle.

Of course, having had my fill of a superb simple lunch (plat du jour), dessert and drink all for 12 euros, I needed to walk it off. At least going down was a lot kinder than the climb up.

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Onwards and over the river towards La Roque Gageac. Well, I was really taken aback at just how busy it was when I got there. La Roque Gageac has always been a firm favourite with tourists and I have to say that I wasn’t expecting it to be very busy at all. But it was as if someone had given away free tickets for the day! The river was a frenzy of canoes and gabarres (traditional cargo boats) ferrying visitors to see the sights, and swimmers took their chance alongside them.

DSCN6206La Roque Gageac.

DSCN6209I have to say that the water looked so inviting… I could happily have jumped in to cool off but it wasn’t to be, and besides, what would I do with Maggie? Honestly, a Labrador who doesn’t like water! 🙂

A Bientot!

 

Posted in Chateau, Dordogne, Podding | 8 Comments

Belvès

The Dordogne is blessed with 10 of the ‘plus beaux villages de France’ (most beautiful villages) putting it in the top along with the Aveyron. It would be very fair to say that a lot of them are similar and yet if you wander their ancient streets and have a bit of a scratch around, they are different. In this region a lot of them are ‘bastides’ or fortified towns, mostly from the mediaeval period, and were built as a defence. I’ll be visiting plenty so come back again to see some of them.

Belvès is one of these ‘beaux villages‘ and follows the general layout for a bastide. A lot were built on the top of hills, giving them the much needed views over any attack. It seems like everyone spent their lives fighting!

DSCN6168Life is (supposedly) safer these days and the need for mediaeval defence has long gone.

I can’t believe just how lucky I was to get a parking spot. It seems that these places are wanting tourists and visitors and yet they make little provision for parking. I found myself asking the question ‘what the locals do’?…. It’s easy… they just seem to park where they want, even at the expense of partially blocking the road! I snagged a spot right outside the ‘Mairie’ … possibly in the Mayors private place, but hey-ho, when in France! As you twist and turn in the narrow streets and alleys you really do wonder what you’ll come upon next. A good guide is to make your way into the centre where their is almost always a main square.

DSCN6171I love these old market halls. This one is really magnificent and is from the 15th century.

DSCN6172Great to see tourists again. These were Dutch doing a guided tour.

DSCN6173In this square and under the market hall are some troglodyte dwellings … amazing to think that people lived in caves on this same spot. You can visit but obviously it wasn’t possible with Maggie in tow. (Not that I was really interested).

DSCN6175Entrance to the original 11th century town – love the key left on the wall!

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DSCN6186The ‘new’ town

With the clear blue sky, the sun up and almost 27c it’s time for a much needed drink for Maggie and me.

A Bientot!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Dordogne, History, Podding | 5 Comments

Isolation with a difference.

Time to get away again in my pod. I had this site booked for a stay in May but with restrictions and the fact that it was still closed, I wasn’t able to visit. No matter, I’m here now. And very nice it is too. I’m on a tiny site just a stone’s throw from Monpazier in the Dordogne. It is a lovely region, usually blessed with throngs of tourists from the UK and the Netherlands. I’ll come to the touristy bit in another post, but for now I’ll just let you see the campsite. There are only 10 pitches and sadly for the owners (but lovely for me) I am the only one here! I feel rather isolated and certainly I have no fear of coming into contact with many people for this short visit. This is 100% isolation without even trying!

DSCN6148My lonely little corner is absolutely ideal as it is an enclosed dog-friendly pitch; fenced all around with gates and plenty big enough for Maggie to run around and to explore. I haven’t come across enclosed dog pitches before and I really have to ask why don’t more people have them on site. I mean, this campsite of only 10 places has 3 specific dog ones. Admittedly they charge a bit more for them, but it’s just so convenient and stops dogs wandering around (even though a ‘dog on lead’ policy doesn’t always mean the same to the French). Seems like a no-brainer to me!

DSCN6149As you can see, even though I have a tiny pod, there is plenty of space. If I look in the other direction I have a lovely view over the small lake.

DSCN6152I really feel a bit bad calling it a lake because it is more like a great big pit dug into the ground, but it is lovely and clear and the owners said I could swim in it (seeing as the pool has been delayed by Covid-19)! I’m not too keen on that idea, and even though it’s been almost 30c, I think I’ll stay on dry land and sweat!

DSCN6156Looking back to the property and the site, I’m sure that you can make out a caravan to the right that is in storage.

So as the evening sun starts to set and the shadows grow long I think it’s time to pour another glass of wine and to contemplate that in my world right now, all is good and I consider myself very fortunate indeed.

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A Bientot!

Posted in Dordogne, Maggie, Podding | 2 Comments

Freedom in the Mountains.

Being in a mountainous region can be very beautiful but also very frustrating, especially when you are a visitor with limited time. Being right at the foothills of the Pyrénées, I was almost desperate to get into the mountains but the weather really wasn’t that great for the views I wanted. My week saw the peaks always hidden under cloud and to be honest, it would have been a terrible waste of time making the drive. However, my last day promised to be the best option so I kept all fingers and toes crossed and set off. The only way to visit is to take the mountain passes or ‘cols’ and the first one was the Col de la Crouzette, As I climbed I was rapidly becoming more gloomy because the cloud was closing in (or was I just getting higher into the mountains)? The headlights came on automatically and I felt sure that it was going to rain. Then suddenly I reached the top and behold! 🙂

DSCN6102View from the Col de la Crouzette

If you go up, at some point you have to go down, and the valley below was my route. And being the mountains, you eventually end up climbing again, this time on the The Col d’Agnes. I think for me, this pass was the most scenic and enjoyable. At the start of the col is the lovely Étang de Lers (Lake Lers).

DSCN6111Étang de Lers

This was a perfect lunch stop, and what better place to sit – on a rock, overlooking the mountains and the lake. And as you can see, the weather wasn’t that bad either!

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DSCN6123Aulus-les-Bains

Then onto the Col de la Core.

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Here, and all around this part of the Ariege you can see signs, plaques, memorials  for  “Le Chemin de la Liberté” or Freedom Trail. From November 1942, his route was of vital importance for people fleeing the Nazis and the terrible oppression in France, Local guides took them across the mountains and into Spain. You can still walk the trail and it is chilling to think of the risks these people took and their amazing bravery. Today all is safe and calm. Next stop was the Lac de Bethmale, an emerald green lake surrounded by lush woodland.

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Maggie was happy with all the mountain walks and I was thrilled that the sun shone for most of the time. Time to be heading back to camp and also time to wind up my trip here in the Ariege. The forecast for the next seven days…yep, you guessed it – clear and sunny and hot! I’ll be back here again because there is so much to see and enjoy.

A Bientot!

 

Posted in History, Podding, Pyrénées | 3 Comments

Castles, churches and villages.

This day was a real tour around the eastern part of the Ariege. You have to love the long days of summer with enough light to make you feel as if you have no need to hurry.  Making a trip on these quiet roads with few tourists makes for a leisurely drive, and I wasn’t in any great hurry either. First stop Foix. The mediaeval castle dominates the old town and looks down onto the narrow streets below.

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DSCN6033Beautiful half-timbered buildings in Foix.

DSCN6034The Halle aux grains was the perfect stop to have a drink and snack, with views to the castle. Maggie was impressed with the nibbles too!

DSCN6039Church of Saint-Volusien

I could so easily have missed my next stop. In fact I would have just driven along the road and not turned off had it not been for the campsite owner telling me I must make a small detour to the sleepy, almost forgotten village of Vals. The thing that strikes you most about this village is the ‘citadel’ that you see before you reach the centre.

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On closer inspection you realise that it is a church – l’eglise rupestre de Vals, a troglodyte church. Built into the rock you ascend into the ‘cave’. It has frescoes from the 11th/12th century.  but you’ve guessed…it was closed 😦 However, the stop was still well worth it and it just means I have to come back another time.

DSCN6047Church of Notre-Dame, Vals, built on three levels.

DSCN6051Vals

Sometimes you read about places and know you want to visit, but when you get there it is a real disappointment. Not the case I am pleased to say with Mirepoix. I parked right outside the last remaining ‘gate’ of the once fortified town and walked along a relatively uninspiring lane.

DSCN6073The Porte d’Aval

But once I reached the end, I passed into the main central square and caught my breath. WOW! Half-timbered houses supported on huge wooden pillars to create magnificent covered arcades. Stunning!

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If you look closely, the ends of the joists on the wealthiest houses are carved with faces, heads and fantastical images.

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It was really lovely to see people enjoying the relaxation of the distancing rules as they sat and enjoyed drinks and meals, ice-creams and cakes under the covered arcades. The small shope were proudly displaying their wares and hoping to start to get the tourist Euro into their coffers. I do hope they survive and ride the wave. Small places like this can only survive with visitors. Anyway I loved it here and happily parted with my money with a ‘slice’ of beautiful Nougat de Montélimar.

DSCN6071These massive ‘cakes of nougat’ command a high price! (but worth it).

I needed to move on and being so close I wanted to visit the ancient fortress village of Camon. The village is often called the village of a hundred rosebushes as there are roses absolutely everywhere, climbing up the walls of houses, their heady scent filling the air. And not one greenfly in sight!

DSCN6079Entrance to Camon, the Clock Gate.

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Time was passing and it was time to start making my back to the campsite. Maggie was totally exhausted with all the walking about and was soon snoring away on the back seat of the car. Just one last stop to a small waterfall at Roquefort-les-Cascades. This small waterfall (30 metres) is a fragile and rare ‘tufa’ waterfall…. “The water from the spring that feeds these falls is very calcareous, and calcium deposits form on the rocks and moss over which it flows. When the vegetation underneath the deposits dies, it ferments, and the beige crust left behind has a porous texture resembling a sponge.” (just in case you were wondering)!

DSCN6087The Cascades.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the little tour. Come back soon for some more travels in the Ariege.

A Bientot!

 

 

Posted in History, Nature, Podding, Pyrénées | 4 Comments

Closed today!

It hasn’t been the brightest of days…low cloud, the threat of rain, unseasonally cool but certainly not cold as it is still 20c. I had to get some provisions, so whilst out and about I stopped off in a small village called Saint-Lizier. The same story as everywhere; closed today (and for the immediate future). No matter, it didn’t stop me having a good wander around the ancient streets and lanes. There is evidence of it being occupied for over 2,000 yrs. The first view of it from the road is impressive. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a photo, so I’ve pinched one from Wikipedia to give you an idea.

Saint-Lizier_-_panoramio_(2)I would have loved a sunny day like this!

The two dominating structures are the Cathedral of Saint-Lizier and the huge Bishop’s Palace. The Cathedral was built about 900 yrs ago and has a beautiful octagonal tower built of bricks. There are supposed to be some beautiful 11th century frecoes, but ‘Closed, Today’.

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There is a lovely little Romanesque cloister, which was open 🙂

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Let’s take a stroll around the village and see the Bishop’s Palace as well.

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DSCN5990I came upon this rather crumbling but quaint former B & B…..lovely door but I won’t be staying here!

DSCN5994The Bishop’s Palace.

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As I said, the weather wasn’t playing the game, so the views were not as impressive as they would have been if it had been clear, but still very nice I’m sure you’ll agree.

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On the way back home we stopped off at the ‘voie verte’, a ‘green’ pathway that runs from Saint-Girons to Foix. There are loads of these all over France and a lot are old railway lines. They are for walkers, cyclists and are totally car-free, perfect for a walk in nature. A good few hours walk was just what Maggie needed. I guess I needed it too as I seem to be eating rather well….It must be the fresh air and being outdoors.

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DSCN6032Back home, dinner cooked and a certain little lady is knackered!

I wonder where we’ll get to next?

A Bientot!

 

 

 

Posted in History, Maggie, Nature, Podding, Pyrénées | 3 Comments

In the know!

I don’t know about you, but I hate it when the name of a place or person crops up and you are absolutely expected to know who or where or what it is! You know what I mean? Not far from Le Mas d’Azil is a small village called Carla-Bayle. (What!? You mean you’ve never heard of the name before)??? Well, to the uneducated (and that includes me), the village is named after Pierre Bayle, a French philosopher and author born in 1647. He was a Protestant and Carla-Bayle was a bastion for the Protestant faithful. OK, so you are now ‘in the know’.

An old Huguenot citadel, this village is located on a 400 m rocky peak, and overlooks the valleys of the Lèze and Arize rivers, and offers a magnificent view of the nearby Pyrénées. Unfortunately my view was somewhat lacking but the countryside is beautiful.

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Today it has become synonymous with painters, sculptors, ceramists and other ‘arty’ types, and the village itself is really colourful with the brightly painted buildings and shutters.

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DSCN5965Place de l’Europe

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DSCN5972Part of the old fortified walls

As with so many places at the moment, they are closed or have very limited opening due to Covid-19, so I didn’t even get to see any of the art. I’m sure a lot of it would have been well out of my pocket money budget, but you never know, there may have been that one piece that captivated me!

A Bientot!

Posted in History, Podding, Pyrénées | 2 Comments

Le Mas d’Azil.

If I take a walk along the bank of the River Azize from the campsite I come to the charming village of Le Mas d’Azil. The walk itself is really lovely and a chance for Maggie to really go mad and stretch her legs. I don’t know if it is the change of air, the new smells or what, but she is like an 8-month old puppy! Most important of all is that she is happy. Anyway, back to the village. (Yes, I know, I get sidetracked very easily)! Take a look for yourselves.

DSCN5958Panorama of Le Mas d’Azil

DSCN5936Louis XIII Bridge

DSCN5961I LOVE the funky pollarded trees.

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DSCN5962The church of Saint-Etienne

The claim to fame of Le Mas d’Azil is the cave of the same name. If you are into archeology, geology, palaeontology, prehistory and history of caves, this will have you very excited. There is evidence of humans going back 30,000 yrs and is classed a “supersite”. It is the only cave in Europe that you can drive through (and you have to drive through it cos it’s the only main road)! It is impressive and the entrance is like a massive yawning beast.

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DSCN5956The River Azize as it enters the cave.

I can see already that I am going to need a lot more time in this region…so much to see and do. I guess the joy of having my pod is that I can visit whenever I want 🙂

A Bientot!

 

Posted in History, Podding, Pyrénées | 5 Comments

Perfect Pitch.

This is new territory for me – the Ariege, or to be precise the Pyrénées Ariégeoises. It is a Regional Natural Park, and as the name implies, it is part of the Pyrénées. It is a wonderland of forests, streams, nature at every turn, wildlife and sweeping vistas. My first impressions are just how lush and verdant it is. I’m in another fantastic campsite, almost empty, and I was given the choice of pitch. I plumped for a spot right beside the river, the River Arize. I love the sound of running water and that combined with birdsong everywhere, I am well pleased!

DSCN5930This is beside me.

DSCN5944As you can see it is crowded!

DSCN5946All ready for my week here – perfect!

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So, where am I? I’m just on the edge of the village of Le Mas d’Azil. It is only 1.5km walk into the centre along the riverbank, an ideal walk for Maggie filled with new smells and sounds. Pictures will follow in time 🙂 For now I am just absolutely content with the change of scenery, the variation to my daily routine…in fact what holidays are all about.

A Bientot!

Posted in Podding, Pyrénées | 3 Comments

Worth the wait.

Oh, it has been a long time coming. Or so it seems! Here in France our restrictions from Covid-19 are gradually being relaxed and numbers of people with the virus and the number of deaths are dropping. Good news indeed. On a purely selfish note I was thrilled to hear that our 100km travel limit was dropped and that campsites were allowed to open from June 4th. Some may remember I posted about my new ‘pod’ that I bought and collected in the UK in January P(l)odding Along! I did manage a very brief trip to the coast but after that it was parked up in the garden, just waiting and wanting to go out and about.

Well, it’s happened! Here I am on my hols, in my pod and loving it 🙂 I’m on my way to the Ariege, but first stop is a one-nighter in Pujols in the Lot. It’s a fabulous campsite, really clean and tidy and perfectly situated at the foot of the mediaeval village of Pujols. Things haven’t taken off yet and sadly for the site owners there are only 6 people here. But it’s a start, and some people are still a bit wary about going out. I really hope that they survive the financial crisis that this virus has brought. Still, I’m not going to get all maudlin about it. It is what it is and we all continue in our own way as best we can.

So, Pujols is really a very typical old village, (one of the “Most Beautiful Villages”) and has a prime position on top of a hill – it was a fortified stronghold and has magnificent views over the valleys of the Lot and the Mail, and a stunning view of nearby Villeneuve-sur-Lot. The bar and some small shops were open, along with a tiny café that was doing a roaring trade. I settled for a beer as I sat and relaxed and people-watched (a wonderful time-waster and so much fun).

_DSC0255Pod in situ along with Maggie in situ!

_DSC0254Pujols from the campsite

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DSCN5906I’ll be back along this way on my return, so some more photos I’m sure. Next stop the foothills of the Pyrénées.

A Bientot!

 

 

Posted in Podding | 2 Comments

All Change!

I’ve been very remiss at posting recently. I must say that I have been very busy with one thing and another, and with spring upon us, the garden has occupied a lot of my time. With the longer days and warmer weather, the grass has needed twice-weekly cuts, there have been seeds to tend to in the greenhouse, the raised veggie plot to prepare and to plant out… so I have not been idle! The countryside has been bursting into life with it changing almost every day; where there wasn’t a leaf or flower a day ago, the buds have popped open and now blossom fills the trees and hedgerows, there is a beautiful green haze everywhere and life is good.

But of course, as we know, life isn’t really ‘good’ in the current situation, but it is really important to stay positive and upbeat, and thankfully I have the freedom of the garden. It must be so very hard for those confined to a small appartment with no garden space or balcony to get outside.

These last 2 weeks have been really warm and settled with wall-to-wall sunshine and I have lived in shorts and T-shirt…oh, such a delight to feel the warmth once again. I thought that as I am restricted in my outings (essential travel only), I’d share the garden with you.

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DSCN5839This is my ‘wild’ area with cowslips, bluebells, foxgloves and daisies

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So, can you imagine my shock and dismay when I woke this morning and saw the white stuff falling? Actually it wasn’t falling, rather it was being blown sideways in a 70km wind and only 1c (no idea what the wind-chill was but it almost ripped my face off)!

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And as you can see, my pod is sitting in the corner, sulking. I have already cancelled 2 trips away and I fear that it will be some time till I can get away. Such is life! Hopefully you are all safe and well and coping with whatever restrictions you have in your part of the world.

A Bientot!

Posted in Garden, Seasons, Weather | 5 Comments

“Oh I do like to be beside the seaside.”

So goes the song, and yes, I do like to be beside the seaside. I have to say that it has been a long time since I was at the coast and smelling the salty air. With my new pod and a few days of predicted good weather it was a great opportunity to get away and to have my first ‘podventure’. I found a site that was open all year at Fouras-les-Bains, just 100kms from home. Perfect for a trial run!

Sadly the site was not that great and in any other situation I would have turned around and come home, but I wasn’t to be daunted and I really did want to see how I got on, along with Maggie. The problem with the site is that for the winter, most pitches are closed due to the weather, and it runs at a very limited state. Campervans seem to be OK but caravans are not well catered for out of season, and I was directed to park up on a small gravel road nestled between closed-up mobile homes!!! It was like being hemmed in on a run-down housing estate.

DSCN5795The only really good thing was that I was 50m from the sea, and when the tide was in I could hear the lovely sound of the waves lapping and breaking on the beach. Anyway, at only 16 euros a night all inclusive of power, dog charge and modern heated toilet and shower facilities, I couldn’t go far wrong. And it was only for 2 nights.

As I said, the beach was only 50m from the site and there are some really lovely walks along the sea front and around the headland. I was on the North Port side and just a 20 min walk away were the larger beaches of the South Port.

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DSCN5808As you can see the tide was out and I have to say that I haven’t seen such an enormous expanse of mud for ages…it seemed strange that the beach was so sandy and yet just a few metres away was treacherous mud!

One of the characteristics and part of the heritage of the coast of the Charente-Maritime are the traditional carrelets or fishing huts. The huts, perched upon wooden pylons driven deep into the sea-bed, take their name from the carrelets (large square fishing nets) which are balanced in a rather precarious fashion. They are simply lowered into the low water to catch whatever my swim past – mullet, sole, crab, prawns, or eels.

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DSCN5803Hot-footing it in the shallows for a tasty snack!

Unfortunately my battery gave out on me, so no pictures of the town or the imposing mediaeval Fort Vauban. Perhaps next time 🙂 So, it turned out to be a good podding lesson and even though it was just 2 days away, it felt like a good change of scenery.

A Bientot!

 

Posted in Podding | 4 Comments

A Wake For the UK

Yesterday was Day 1 for the UK to be out of the EU. It has little impact here in my sleepy village, for now at least. The Brits living here have no idea what the future holds for them and they seem resigned to the fact that there is nothing more that they can do. So, my small circle of friends gathered yesterday evening for a “Brexit Wake”. Really it was just another excuse to get together for a meal and drinks, much needed in winter when we tend to be in hibernation mode, and with all the depressing news, a chance to let off steam, moan and groan, but also laugh a lot 🙂 It seems that France is sad to see the UK leave, and President Macron wrote a letter expressing this, and it appears that he is keen to have the Brits here still.

_67016068_67007615I tend to not enter into political debate too much, but this picture sums up my feelings about the departure of the UK from the EU.

A Bientot!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Seasonal Confusion

Well, here we are…we made it to the end of January! I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say that January seems to just go on for ever and ever. As always, at this time of year, there is little joy in the weather and for the majority of the time there is little chance to be out in the garden or doing outside chores. Walks with Maggie are a daily pleasure, even in the pouring rain and winds that take your breath away, and she is happy any time that she can sniff around in the grass and be on the endless search for a snack…typical labrador!

To say that it has been mild would be an understatement, the result being that things are starting to wake in the hedgerows and gardens. The birds are singing as if it is spring and it is almost impossible to keep up with feeding them.

DSCN5779This robin is more than happy to sit under the feeder and get it’s fill on the seeds that drop.

DSCN5765One of my greatest joys is the arrival of the first daffodils…they are so cheering and even when the skies are heavy and grey, they can gladden the heart and soul. I have a good mix in the garden so I am assured of them for a few months. Another favourite has to be the primroses, of which I have loads…they just self-seed and pop up in the most unusual places.

DSCN5787Another self-seeder and equally as lovely are the cowslips. These are much earlier than normal. It’s all ‘wrong’!

DSCN5786With virtually no frosts this winter things haven’t died back and I have still got geraniums, petunias and lobelia in flower. Honestly, these are flowers associated with summer! What is going on? And roses too.

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DSCN5782Almost overlooked but such a pretty wild flower, the celandines are starting to cover the grass verges and banks, along with sweet violets. So, there is much to enjoy in this quiet, dull season, even if Nature is all very confused! I wonder if it is just a very mild winter or is it the effects of climate change? What is it like in your part of the world?

A Bientot!

 

 

Posted in Flowers, Garden, Nature, Seasons, Weather | 3 Comments

P(l)odding Along!

The month is already racing along at a crazy pace. I always think that January is a rather miserable month with the cold and damp, the dark mornings and nights and when the sun does decide to shine, it is watery and low in the sky with virtually no warmth. Last week I was in the UK for a very welcome and really lovely visit to my brother and sister-in-law. Unfortunately it was way too short, but better than not seeing them at all!

One of the reasons for this trip was to collect my new micro caravan – a ‘pod’! I have toyed with the idea of having something that will allow me to travel around and still be able to take my dog Maggie with me. At one point I thought about a campervan, but a) they are expensive, high on fuel and restrictive in the fact that if you want to explore, you have to take your home with you. Obviously a small caravan was the choice.

….. And here it is!

DSCN5731As you can see, it’s certainly ‘micro’!

The day I brought it back to France coincided with Storm Brendan. Very high winds, lashing rain and really, the most awful conditions for towing a van and for taking a ferry. Towing it was an absolute breeze (literally) and held to the road like a dream. The ferry crossing was another story with one of the roughest sea trips I have ever made. To be honest I actually like rough seas and the whole thing of ‘riding the waves’. (Yep, I know, I’m crazy 🙂 )

DSCN5743Check-in for the ferry – this doesn’t show the rain and gale-force winds.

Arriving in France was much calmer and the drive home was easy and relaxed. Even so, it was nice to be home and to get pod parked up.

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Unlike in the UK, I have to register the van here in France and wait for a separate log book and number plate. That could take some time, so I have plenty of opportunity to sort out where to put things and to find out what works and what doesn’t in terms of ease of use. I hadn’t got any plans to go away just yet anyway. Once I get my documents sorted there will be no stopping me and I will be off ‘podding’ around France.

A Bientot!

Posted in Podding | 4 Comments

Renewal

Well, there’s no escaping the fact that Christmas is over and that we have moved to the edge of another new year. For some they will be cheering the end of 2019 and the last decade, and others will be expectant of great and wonderful things to come in 2020. Whatever the new year brings, I wish you peace and happiness, good health and joy. But most of all, I wish you all that you wish for yourselves.

Happy New Year 2020 background with fireworks.

A Bientot!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Shepherd’s Warning

Well, we have made it through the month and here we are at the end of autumn, meteorologically speaking. I was thrilled to be able to walk Maggie in the dry for a change and no doubt she was happy too. (I don’t know many labradors that don’t like water, but I got the one)! LOL 🙂 It was only at the last moment that I remembered to grab my camera…so pleased I did.

DSCN5714The glorious sunrise was extremely short-lived. Even though we managed our outing, the clouds built up and within an hour of getting home the wet stuff started to fall…again! Tomorrow is December and who knows, it may be a nice start to winter.

A Bientot!

Posted in Local travels, Seasons, Sky, Weather | 1 Comment

Waiting for…..?

The third Thursday in November is always awaited with a certain degree of excitement here in France. This is the date when at 12.01 am the Beaujolais Nouveau is released – that much-ballyhooed cherry-red coloured vintage that’s best served chilled — is clearly not for wine snobs. This fresh and fruity red is the result of a quick fermentation process that ends up with a tasty, clean wine that is enjoyed by palates the world over. The Gamay grapes that go into Beaujolais Nouveau are handpicked in the Beaujolais province. The wine actually originated about a century ago as a cheap and cheerful drink produced by locals to celebrate the end of the harvest season. 2019 has been hailed as a good year.

900_Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrive posterBeing France, it is also a very good reason (who needs one of those?) to celebrate with some form of party, social gathering or whatever. Locally we had a picnic! Yes, I know it’s mid-November and it is cold and wet, but this was indoors. Nine of us friends went and sensibly decided in advance who was making/cooking what. We’ve been here before and ended up with a lot of the same things! The picnic was fun, plenty of food – far too much food, and wine. A local band played (far too loudly) music from the 50’s through to the present day, the focus being on the ‘old’ hits. Their sound sytem would not have been out of place in a small stadium. Hearing-aids were hastily removed or turned off!

DSCN5707Unfortunately the turn out was low and as I looked around the room it reminded me of God’s waiting room. I reckon the average age was pushing 70yrs, and the sound of creaking backs, clicking hips and knocking knees gyrating on the dance floor was drowned out by the music. By 9 pm the table opposite were yawning and several were visibly nodding off. Surveying the room it was like a ‘Darby & Joan’ convention! By the end of play at 11.30pm most had gone home or had succumbed to Death, with one or two determined to compete with the band by snoring rather alarmingly. Hopefully they had a good time.

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Oh well, there is always next year’s harvest to look forward to! Cheers everyone 🙂

A Bientot!

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Misty Morning

Under a mantle of frost and mist, the countryside is looking radiant this morning as the low sun reminds us that winter will soon be upon us.

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The early morning mist and dew
The faintest sunlight shining through,
The branches of the languid trees
That slowly forms this autumn frieze*

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The mist almost reduced the view
to something dark and eerie
like a fog it rolled across the grass
and made it look quite dreary
and yet it did not quell the joy
of this still Autumn morning
for as the sun warmed up the day
it vanished without warning***

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Late November, our season changes.

Sun-bright is the early morn, but cloud and mist
Have quite white-washed the sky, the familiar hill
Is veiled.**

 

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A frost does form now winter nears
That glistens like the fallen tears,
Of autumn for its end is nigh
As if to say its last goodbye.*

 

* ‘Early Morning Mist and Dew’ by Andrew Blakemore

** ‘Beyond Season, Mist or Mystery’ by Ananta Madhavan

*** ‘An Autumn Mist’ by Phil Soar

Hope that you are enjoying some nice autumn weather wherever you are.

A Bientot!

 

Posted in Local travels, Nature, Seasons, Weather | 6 Comments

Remembering

Armistice Day, November 11th, is a public holiday in France. For a great number I am sure it is seen as an extra day off and a very welcome extension to the weekend. Here in the village our population is very small, but it is still sad that only 20 of us made the effort to attend the brief and simple commemoration this morning with a few words from the mayor, the laying of a wreath and a moment of silence. Perhaps the ‘Glorious Dead’ are remembered in other ways.

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A Bientot!

Posted in Village | 2 Comments

Adieu, Pyrénées.

Better late than never, eh? I have been waylaid these last number of days and just couldn’t find the time to make my last post from my Pyrénéean trip. Although I am back home now, the memories of my time in the mountains will last a good while; until my next jaunt at least! It will be funny to think that a lot of the routes I travelled will very soon be cut off due to snow and ice. The villages will hunker down for the winter and a tourist will inded be a rare sight away from the ski centres. Here in the Deux-Sèvres we have had our first frosts and temps have dropped to 0c, so it it very comforting to reflect of the last rays of warmth from the autumn sun in the mountains.

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All being well I will be back sometime next year. It is comforting to know that it is unlikey to be changed, other than it being a different season. I hope you’ve enjoyed my brief travels in this really magnificent part of France.

A Bientot!

Posted in Pyrénées | 4 Comments

Picture Postcard Views.

One of the things I really enjoy is the sheer unadulterated pleasure of being almost completely isolated, planted firmly in the middle of fantastic scenery, the sound of nature all around me. Add to that a dose of perfect autumn weather and I am happy. It sounds selfish, but when I get moments like this I really get a wee bit grumpy if there are other people about. Fortunately I encountered only a handful of people on my travels in the truly beautiful Aspe Valley. This valley forms one of the through routes to and from Spain via the Col du Somport, but before that there are some historic and beautiful mountain villages.

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One of the well-visited villages is Lescun, a typical village of the region, still very untouched by tourism, despite it being in one of the most celebrated positions in the area.

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Sitting at about 900m it is in a cirque, a natural ampitheatre of mountains.

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I had been told that I should take the dirt track a little way along from the village to Le Plateau Sanchèse, an easy hike and one offering the most spectacular views. I have to say it was one of the best bits of advice I was given. It was 26c, beautiful sunshine as you can see, and the plateau itself was just a total delight. Cascades, bubbling brooks, mountain streams, cow-bells clanging periodically in the distance, birds of prey sceeching from the peaks as they circled above. This was nearer to heaven than I could ever have felt when I visited Lourdes!

_DSC0172Le plateau Sanchèse

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After all the fresh air I was, (as always), ready for lunch. It was only by chance that I came upon a superb little restaurant in the village of Etsaut. True to form, the daily meal on offer (no choice), was cheap, wholesome and with 3-courses, wine included for 12.50 Euros, what is there not to like?

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Suitably stuffed, I continued my way through the valley and took the turn off to the Col du Somport. There is a route (toll) through the mountains via the Somport tunnel, but where’s the fun in that, especially with empty roads, the russets and bronzes of autumn, and scenery to die for?

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_DSC0186At the summit of the Col du Somport. (1632m)

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A Bientot!

 

 

Posted in Pyrénées | 9 Comments

Pilgrims of Desire.

Here I am, back again for the continuation of my trip through the beautiful Basque country. Who would have believed that at the very end of October it could have been so warm…23c and wall-to-wall sunshine. Of course I was thrilled to have such wonderful weather especially with the scenery on hand.

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During the Second World War, this part of the mountain border between France and Spain soon acquired a reputation as the exit to freedom for many individuals fleeing the Occupation. The Basque shepherds, who had first-hand knowledge of the rock outcrops, risked their lives by defying the German patrols to smuggle people out. During the daytime, the fugitives would lie low in surrounding barns. They were given safe passage over to Spain at night… all thanks to these behind-the-scene helpers.

DSCN5643Today the Basque shepherds seem content to ‘block’ the roads as they move their flock to new pastures, not that I was complaining. I mean, what better scenery than this?

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Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a good photo of the Griffon vultures that were circling overhead, but they were certainly plentiful.

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As with a large part of this region, the Chemin St Jaques is ever present. The pilgrim route Camino de Santiago has a starting point (“the French Way”) in the small town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Nestled at the foothills of the Pyrénées and just a few kilometers from the Spanish border, this pretty town with influences from it’s mediaeval past was buzzing with pilgrims and tourists. The hilly streets are mild compared to what lies ahead as they wend their way to Spain.

DSCN5645The 15th century church of the Assomption-de-la-Vierge also known as Our Lady at the End of the Bridge

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Pilgrims of a very different type gather in their numbers in the small but very popular village of Espelette. Known nationally for its unique and subtle red peppers that hang on the facades of the houses to dry at harvest time, this village is never short of devotees of this important ingredient. In Espelette and around the region, you’ll find plenty of products made with this red pepper: from jelly to salt, salsa, jam, and even oil, honey and chocolate. I was really lucky to be there on the eve of the two day pepper feastival…had I been later I’d never have been able to park.

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DSCN5671Perhaps a chilli flavoured beer?

DSCN5673Or a chilli coffee?

DSCN5675At least chilli goes with meat!

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Strolling through the pedestrianised streets was a real joy, savouring the delights of the local cuisine (free tastings), the ‘buzz’ of the impending festival and the beautiful local houses. This area has so much more to show me and a future visit will be on the cards.

A Bientot!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Nature, Pyrénées | 3 Comments

The Hidden Gorges

Today is part one of a trip into the peaceful and rural French Basque country. The Basque country of Spain seems to be much better known, unfortunately due to the association with the Basque Separatists and the Spain-ETA conflict in days gone by. French or Spanish, the people of the Basque country are both fiercly proud of their heritage, language and culture. For me it was just a fabulous day, empty roads, beautiful weather, superb scenery and great walking.

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DSCN5586Hidden away in the folds of this wild land is the outstanding natural site of the Gorges de Kakuetta, a canyon that was formed more than 80 million years ago. The sunshine was left behind as I entered the cool of the gorges, mosses and ferns adorning the walls and rocks. DSCN5594

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At the end of the walk you are rewarded with a 20m high waterfall. Other than the few people also visiting, it was amazingly quiet with only the sound of birds and water for company….perfect for recharging the batteries!

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Come back tomorrow and I’ll show you more of this fabulous area.

A Bientot!

 

Posted in Nature, Pyrénées | 2 Comments

Pilgrims and Plastic Virgins.

Where do I start? Being so close I decided to make a visit to Lourdes, a small town in the foothills of the Pyrénées. It is perhaps best known as a major Catholic pilgrimage site with millions visiting every year to the Sanctuaires Notre-Dame de Lourdes, or the Domain of Our Lady of Lourdes. This is where in 1858 the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to Bernadette (later Saint Bernadette), a 14 year old peasant girl. She was commanded by Our Lady to wash and drink the water from a spring. The waters were subsequently declared ‘miraculous’… I will leave you to look up the story if you don’t know it!

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DSCN5529This is the Grotto of the Apparitions and the site of the events that took place. The spring is protected by a glass panel and you can’t actually touch the water here, but lines of the faithful, hopeful, or just interested or doubtful file past the spot. Water dripping from the rocks seems to serve as an adequate substitute for the spring water with pilgrims running their hands over the wet rocks and then wiping their heads and faces in the hope of divine intervention. Nearby there are numerous taps where you can fill bottles, wet your face and hands and drink the water.

DSCN5533The crowds gather (between the orange trees) to await their chance to be ‘submerged’ in the miraculous waters. The baths seem to be an integral part of the experience. There is the constant murmering of prayers and the never-ending fumbling of the rosary beads.

DSCN5528The view towards the 1000 year old Chateau.

I have to say that I am not a believer and remain very cynical. But I also appreciate and acknowledge that faith is a huge factor and for millions of people around the world, this gives them great hope and comfort. But the thing that really jarred with me is the commercial aspect. To me it seems that the sick and the vulnerable, the weak and the hopeful are being taken for a major ride. Surrounding the sanctuary are rows and rows of shops with fantastic names; ‘Palace of the Rosary’, ‘Mini-Market Alleluia’, ‘Our Lady of Victories’, and so it goes on, selling everything from china virgins made in China, plastic virgins, luminous statues, resin saints and every form of religious exploitation you can think of. Plastic containers of various sizes can be snapped up for several Euros so that you can have a religious ‘Take-Away’ of the holy water. And don’t forget your candles!

DSCN5513Obviously no environmental concerns here!

DSCN5514Luminous Virgins

DSCN5534Statues and candles of every size (and every price)!

DSCN5515I think that this tops it all. I’m not sure what a 12th century Archbishop of Dublin has to do with Lourdes, but as I said, it seems that everyone is on the religious band-wagon.

My visit was certainly an eye-opener and left me feeling rather sad and depressed at the whole fiasco.

A Bientot!

 

Posted in Pyrénées | 4 Comments

“Un Bouchon”

It’s time to leave behind all of the pretty little towns and villages and to get back to nature! OK, so I’m driving, but to be able to enjoy the great outdoors I need to drive! I am NOT going to be walking up these mountain passes, I can tell you.

Overnight I was woken a few times by the heavy rain pelting against the windows but I was very pleasantly surprised when I looked out to a relatively clear sky. No good staying in bed (even though it was only 8c and I was SO comfortable). My little trip today was to the Col du Soulor, a mountain pass of spectacular beauty and one that is a Tour de France classic, having featured in over 60 rides since 1910. I did encounter a few lycra-clad sweaty bums as I drove to the summit…not my idea of fun (either the cycling or the lycra-clad bums)!

DSCN5482As you can see there is little room for cars to pass and in a way I dreaded meeting a large truck, campervan or coach. Just imagine how pleased I was to come across this…..

DSCN5472There was absolutely nowhere to go and these two were locked together in a metallic embrace by their side lights. Although there is virtually no traffic on these roads, especially at this time of year, a small bouchon developped. A bouchon is a cork (as in wine bottle) but it is also a traffic-jam. How frustrating was this? I could see where I wanted to go but nobody was going anywhere very fast. Well, they jiggled and shuffled and shouted and looked. They climbed in and out of their cabs, the poor driver on the right having to climb the wall each time. Eventually, I don’t know how, like a cork being pulled from the bottle, they slipped by each other without incident. Perhaps they’ve done this manoeuvre before!

Onwards and upwards, with sweaty lycra once again my companion. It has been said that this is one of the most beautiful roads in the world…I don’t know about that, but it certainly has spectacular views, making driving so hard because there is something to see at every turn.

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DSCN5474The overnight rain had fallen as snow at this altitude, and was some of the first of the season. I’d love to see it after a really good amount of snow on a crisp winter’s day.

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DSCN5489And we’re here…at the summit of the col in glorious sunshine. 1,474 metres (4,836 feet) altitude, and just a handful of tourists.

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DSCN5496… And down the other side.

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DSCN5502My legs are tired now after all that pedaling! (As if).

A Bientot!

Posted in Nature, Pyrénées | 3 Comments

A trip around the Béarn

This was a day spent dodging the rain, but eventually it caught up with me. Thankfully I am on the western side in the Pyrénées Atlantiques. To the east on the Mediterranean side they have been experiencing massive deluges of rain with terrible flooding and so much damage. They have had 2 months of rain in 24hrs! I consider myself very lucky.

My day started of with a beautiful drive to the Bastide (fortified town) of Navarrenx, one of the Beaux villages de France. It is amazing to think that there has been a site here dating back to the 1st century. The fortifications were built in the mid 1500’s with 10 metre high ramparts, reputed to be impenetrable.

Navarrenx (hélicoptère)Obviously not my photo, but it gives you a very good idea of the fortified town.

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DSCN5412There’s a LOT of wall to get through, isn’t there? I’m not suprised it was impenetrable!

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DSCN5401Navarrenx has also been, and still is, a major stage of the pilgrim’s route to Santiago de Compostela, with the crossing of the Gave d’Oloron.

DSCN5406Onwards through the glorious countryside to Sauveterre-de-Béarn, a mediaeval village and originally a walled refuge, perched above the river Oloron. In the Dark Ages this was one of the main routes to Spain due to it’s old bridge. The stone part remains with the old wooden section long gone.

DSCN5422The Bridge of Legend

It is called the Bridge of Legend because, as the legend goes, in 1170 the recently widowed Queen Sancie gave birth to a still-born and malformed baby. Witchcraft was rife in those times and she was accused of killing her new-born child. So, her brother, the King of Navarre, ordered that her fate should be decided by God by having her hands and feet tied and to be thrown into the raging river below. She survived and was therefore declared innocent! Nice lot, weren’t they? From the bridge there is a lovely view of the church and the Monréal Tower. I doubt that Queen Sancie had time to take in the view.

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DSCN5424The 12th century Tour Monréal

DSCN5417The 13th century Église Saint-André (Church of Saint Andrew)

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The bells had rung out and everywhere was closing for lunch…well, it’s France so everything stops for 2 hours! And if you can’t beat them, join them! In such a small place, options were limited so I followed the crowd to the only restauant in sight. Initial feelings were that it wasn’t going to be that great…it looked a bit grubby and run-down, the staff were totally not bothered and one spent more time on her mobile phone than serving. That left a young chap (who looked to be about 14yrs old) to take orders, run around like a headless chicken and smile when he had time to breathe. There was no choice of menu so you had what you were given or went without! But at 13 Euros for a 3-course meal that turned out to be really excellent there was nothing to complain about.

Suitably refreshed (well, I just wanted to go to sleep really), it was time to continue my round-trip. The rain had started to fall and the clouds were lowering at every turn in the road, but I was only a short distance from Salies-de-Béarn and as I always say, you never know when you’ll be back in the area, so go and see places! I’m pleased I did.

DSCN5432Salies-de-Béarn

This is the ‘Citadel of Salt’ Throughout the ages salt has been it’s lifeblood and the town has grown and developed due to the salt. The River Saleys runs through the town in a sort of long drain, set below the street level.

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Along with it’s picturesque streets and buildings, Salies-de-Béarn has developed as a renowned health spa, due to the salt. If you are feeling in need, you can take the ‘cure’.

DSCN5441The Thermal Baths

It seems that you can get cured from all manner of ailments.

DSCN5443I can happily report that I am in no need of any of these being ‘cured’!

But there was a funny incident when I was wandering around and snapping pics at the Thermal Spa. A couple, perhaps their 70’s, were leaving the spa. They were in a state of semi-undress, sandals unbuckled, hair still wet and Monsieur licking his lips as if to savour every drop of salt he could manage. I have to say that they didn’t look in great shape, and Madame was wheezing and coughing whilst hanging onto old Salty Lips. Next thing…Salty was on the ground having slipped down the last step. He yelled out and of course Madame Wheeze went with him. She was NOT happy with him and whilst both were sitting on the gravel, in the pouring rain, she started yelling at him like an old fish-wife! Before anyone could get to help them, she fished in her bag and produced a hip-flask which was passed around, but not before they both lit up a cigarette! Obviously the ‘cure’ was working 🙂

Last stop of the day was a brief dip into the Basque Country and another of the Beaux Villages de France, La Bastide-Clairance. This fortified village was founded in 1288 and features the traditional and very distinctive white and red (or green) colouring, typical  of the region.

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The church, Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption (1315) is unique in the region for it’s covered cemetery yard with pavements of gravestones…very unusual indeed.

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DSCN5467Inside I was also amazed by the tiered wooden galleries that completely circles the nave…certainly I’ve never seen this before in my travels. I wonder if ayone else has.

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I’m sure that like me, you are tired of the travelling and need a nice glass of wine! Cheers till next time.

A Bientot!

Posted in History, Pyrénées, Weather | 3 Comments

Taking a Break…

No, not from blogging, but having a small holiday 🙂 I am currently in Oloron-Sainte-Marie in the region of Béarn at the foot of the Pyrénées. It is only about 4h30 from home, so only a half-day drive. Maggie has gone for her holiday as well, staying with a wonderful lady who runs doggy kennels. From the moment I dropped her off I was missing her, but she has been there before and is really well looked after.

It was a rather miserable drive down with a lot of fog, rain on and off, and not that warm. However, I don’t expect great weather at this time of year and certainly not in a mountainous region. My initial impression of Oloron is that it is a lovely old town with some really nice buildings, a great situation and bigger than I expected. I am staying in the old quarter of Sainte-Croix.

DSCN5371My ‘home’ for the week (my room is the double windows).

DSCN5366Place St. Pierre, the view from my room

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DSCN5372After driving I was more than happy to stretch my legs and to get a bit of a feel for my surroundings. The evening light was fading fast, but still a chance for some pics.

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DSCN5388Along the Gave d’Aspe ( Gave is a mountain river)

DSCN5389Autumn trees in the public gardens

I have plenty to explore and places to see. I just hope that the weather plays nice this week. Stay tuned! I’m off to have dinner as it is being cooked as I type and it smells amazing! Bon Appétit

A Bientot!

Posted in Pyrénées | 3 Comments

Summer’s Last Hurrah?

Well here we are, mid-October and it is 26c. Much needed rains have fallen for the first half of this month and everywhere looks refreshed and invigorated. The weeds are making up for the heatwaves of summer and the grass is requiring an almost twice-weekly cut! It has remained very mild and to be honest, other than the darker, shorter days, it is all very bearble. The last 3 days have been wonderfully warm again with clear blue skies and almost summer temps. In fact our minimum teperature last night was 18c and I am so pleased I didn’t pull out the warmer duvet!

As my neighbours keep telling me, “Il faut profiter” – Take advantage! I don’t need to be told twice and I did just that this afternoon with a short drive to Sompt, a small village about 20 mins from home. The main attraction for me was a walking trail that is nearby, and as you can guess, Maggie was in her element having new territory and a plethora of smells to explore and investigate. We only did a short section but it forms a 10km round trip. We’ll be doing the whole circuit someday I am sure.

DSCN5354The old ‘lavoirs’

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DSCN5357Following the path through the trees you come to La Barbette – a small picnic area and the site of an old mill that pressed walnuts for oil

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DSCN5359The Barbette Mill

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DSCN5363I have to say that it was absolutely idyllic walking along the river bank, shaded from the heat and the only sounds were the numerous birds and the water tinkling over the stones. Oh, Maggie was also rustling through the leaves, but she is a very quiet walker 🙂 It beats mowing the grass!

A Bientot!

 

Posted in Local travels, Nature, Weather | 2 Comments

Just Maggie

Well, I am getting fed-up with my dad cos he never seems to let me have a say on what goes into this blog! Anyway, he’s in the garden pottering about so I thought I’d have a go at this computer thing and introduce myself to you. In case you haven’t clicked yet, I’m Maggie. Woof!

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God! I’m a stunning dog, don’t you think?

I’m an adorable (and sometimes impossible) chocolate labrador. I’m 2 1/2 yrs old and I was born in France. I don’t speak French very well at all and there don’t seem to be lessons available but it isn’t a big problem because I understand everything that my dad says to me…honestly, NO MAGGIE! is much the same in any language, isn’t it? I know that I am naughty sometimes, but you know, he really does love me and always forgives me. If I give him one of my ‘looks’ I even get a treat sometimes…he is such a walk-over! Like most dogs, I love my food. No, I REALLY love my food…as much as I can get and as often as possible. I eat almost anything… regular food, stones, leaves, sheep droppings, seeds, soil, wild berries and so on. The list is endless. I have the nickname of Maggie Mangetout. That French name says it all, doesn’t it – ‘eat it all’! Well, it seems such a shame to let something go to waste and you never know when or where your next meal may be.

Thankfully my dad loves to go for walks and doesn’t seem to mind any kind of weather. I take him out 3 or 4 times a day and I try to get about 10 kms in total under our belts, so you see I’m not bad at keeping him exercised. I like going out as well, so it’s no hardship.

Oh, I can hear him coming in so I’d better not get caught sniffing around the computer or it’ll be another “NO MAGGIE” moment. WOOF

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I may catch you again another time. Nice chatting to you all. Bye.

A Bientot!

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Reluctant Storm

Eighty-eight of France’s 95 metropolitan départéments are currently dealing with strict water restrictions after the hottest summer on record in many parts of l’Héxagone. Mid-September and temps are still into the 30’s and to say that the ground is parched would be an understatement. Fortunately I have managed to stretch out my saved water to keep the vegetable patch going, and some ‘essential’ plants hydrated, but with levels dropping rapidly, I am hanging out for some good steady rain.

Yesterday evening saw the clouds building and the sky darkening by the second. A quick check on the French weather site, Météo France, indicated an imminent storm…cheers all round!

DSCN5295Well, what a wash-out it turned to be….but not in the wet sense! We managed a short, sharp shower, a few claps of thunder and that was it. My hopes and expectations were dashed, I can tell you. Later in the evening I took Maggie out for her usual walk and she didn’t even get wet feet. The reluctant storm had moved away, taking a few minor cloud-bursts with it.

DSCN5303Even the lonesome partridge was getting desparate, flying into the garden to drink from the water in the pond.

DSCN5288Waking this morning I was woken by the glorious sound of the rain pattering on the ground outside. Thankfully it has continued for several hours today and although a spit in the ocean, it has at least given some minor relief to the garden, and dampened down the dust.

A Bientot!

 

Posted in Garden, Sky, Weather, Wildlife | 2 Comments

Winterising!

I don’t know if it’s even a word but this is what I had done to the car yesterday. It was due a service and revision of  the computer and so on (all too technical for me), and seeing as we are into mid-September, the garage performed the pre-winter checks. Living in a rural area, my options for getting a car service are a bit limited. The last time I took it to a Renault approved garage in Ruffec (approx 20 mins away) which is great being close-by, but I’m not convinced that they did a very thorough job, so this time I returned to the main dealer where I bought the car, in Niort, a 45 min trip away. They wanted the car first thing so I needed to get my act in gear, but not before snapping a picture of the gorgeous sunrise.

DSCN5265With little traffic I arrived in good time only to be left standing at the counter for 15 mins! When I did get served it took another 15 mins to check the car in. Honestly, the French have NO concept of customer service! I was told that it would take 90 mins to service the car but I knew better. With such wonderful weather I decided to walk into the city centre, at least grab a coffee and to have a whistle-stop look around Niort. The city has recently been given the rather unfortunate and rather dubious title of the ugliest city in France. Of course it is the opinion of one media writer, so not very representative at all. I have been here many times and even though it isn’t the prettiest of cities, I don’t find it ugly. There are some fine buildings, open places and tree-lined boulevards.

DSCN5278Perfect coffee-stop and place to people watch.

DSCN5270Niort’s oldest church, eglise Notre-Dame, begun in the 1400’s

DSCN5271Looking more like a Victorian rail station, Les Halles is a magnificent glass and steel market from 1869 which is a bustling space on market days.

DSCN5268The old pillori dating from the 1500’s stands on the site of the mediaeval pillory. Up until the revolution this was Niort’s town hall.

DSCN5273The Donjon dates back to the 12th century when, after marrying Eleanor of Aquitaine, the English King Henry II attempted to shore up his new lands by building spectacular castles like this. How much easier today’s political climate would be if the English had held onto their own little part of France! 🙂

So, that’s just a sampler of the ‘ugly’ city for you. Back to get the car, which of course wasn’t ready. Winterising obviously takes more time than expected, especially when it was 33c in the early autumn sun!

A Bientot!

Posted in History, Local travels | Leave a comment

Climate Change

I suppose it was bound to happen. Summer just can’t last for ever, nor would I want it to, but as we left August behind, September greeted us with strange looking grey skies developing into a soaking, fine rain, and a drop in temperature of almost 10c! That felt a bit sudden I have to say and was a shock to the system. After a successful rummage in the back of the drawers, a much needed sweatshirt was found.

_DSC0114By evening the clouds had cleared and the temperatures were back into the mid 20’s, sweatshirt discarded (but not packed away)!

Since then, the last few days have been very gradually warming up again and we have had 27c. The sun is just that little bit lower in the sky and it’s getting darker at about 9 pm. But once the sun has bid adieu for the day and with clear skies, the temperatures have taken on a real autumnal feel.

DSCN5185The grapes are looking good and there are hopes of a good vendage. The hedgerows and trees have that lovely warm hint of yellow and brown, but I have a feeling that part of that is also due to the drought!

DSCN5194The swallows have started gathering on the power lines, looking more like musical notes. They will be migrating south to Africa very soon now…literally they are there one day and all gone the next.

DSCN5236With the change in the season, the heat of the day is lost as soon as the sun sets, but we have been rewarded with glorious sunsets that make me want to be all poetic and lyrical! Sadly I am not a poet, but I can take an OK photo. The last walk of the day with Maggie has been made all the more enjoyable with some wonderful sunsets

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DSCN5233Hopefully you are enjoying the seasonal change wherever you are and have the chance to appreciate the beauty of the world around us.

A Bientot!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Nature, Seasons, Sky, Weather | 2 Comments

Signs

It doesn’t seem possible that we are into the last week of August….Already? I can’t bear to think that it will be turning autumnal so very soon. It gives me a certain feeling of melancholy. The signs are there that the year is progressing at a pace that is just a little bit too fast for my liking. With the return to school in just over a week, families are packing up, last minute tidying and clearing is being completed and the shutters will be tightly closed, gates locked and their holiday homes put into hibernation until next year.

Like sitting in a saggy old armchair or wearing a well-worn sweater, it feels as if the Village is settling into its own comfortable space, taking the time to reflect and take stock of the holiday season. Echos of families and friends having BBQ’s into the wee hours, laughter and chatter, glasses clinking, children shouting, more laughter. More wine! But those moments of reflection and peace have already been shattered; a rude awakening! The dawn of the chasse – the hunting season! The periodic bangs of rifles being discharged has broken the tranquility of the mornings…a sure sign of autumn. My hope is always that the animals get away unharmed, and in all honesty I think it’s more a case of ‘boys with toys’ in this region, the ‘macho guys’ gathering for a bit of fun and hopefully little sport. I know that my neighbour has been out hunting for the past 3 years and all that he has managed to hit is a mangy wood pidgeon, which he offered to some friends, lead shot included for free! For me the chasse means I have to choose my routes and days when walking Maggie. We would not be the first to be killed by errant hunters!

DSCN3541On a more pleasant note, the trees and hedgerows have the first hint of change and with that comes an abundance of blackberries; so perfect with apples, and made into a pie. YUMMM! This year they seem to be plentiful, (blackberries that is, not pies) and I must make time to gather some before the short season is ended. I seem to remember from my childhood that they were always full of little maggots or worms, and I was put off eating them. Here they just seem to be plump and void of nasties!

DSCN5179There have been a few mornings when it has had a decidely cooler feel, a slight mist and even some dew. I toyed with the idea of pulling out a sweatshirt but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It would feel as if I was admitting defeat and accepting that summer was drawing to a close. So, shorts, T-shirt and sandals remain the order of the day! Having said that, we have entered another mini heatwave and the last 3 days has seen temps of 37c in the garden. It looks as if we will have at least another week of settled hot and dry weather. But with the cool start to the day, some of the local wildlife have taken to using every opportunity to warm up with a bit of sun-bathing.

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DSCN5176This one is totally harmless I know, but snakes are not one of my favoured animals. Using a zoom lens is about as close as I want to get. However, they are rather beautiful, and the markings and colours show how well camouflaged they can be.

As the seasons change and the days grow shorter I have also noticed changes in the sky…just another sign that we are reaching the year’s end. I do love a good sky!

DSCN5141Now don’t get me wrong. This isn’t meant to sound all doom and gloom! I absolutely love the seasonal change throughout the year and each month offers something new and wonderful to see and experience in this lovely patch of rural France. I can’t wait for the glorious sight of the leaves changing colour. That, of course, will be another post, but not just yet! We don’t want to wish the year away, do we?

A Bientot!

 

 

Posted in Nature, Seasons, Sky, Wildlife | 3 Comments

Head in the clouds

The last heatwave in July was really unbearable at times. There were days when it reached 40c+ and I felt as though every ounce of energy had been sapped from me, leaving me lethargic and almost unable to function. I would wake every morning, look outside and almost groan to see an endless blue sky! Oh, how many times have we all wished for a long hot summer?

Of course, we all know that things change with Mother Nature in a blink. Well, her blink was more like a case of lazy eye, and the cool change certainly took a while. The promised rains just didn’t happen. That is until today. The clouds started gathering like an army on the horizon, gaining strength and multiplying as they made their progression across the sky. Wonderful big clouds. Dark, heavy clouds, pregnant with precipitation, the brisk wind chasing them from the west.

I could smell the rain in the air and there seemed to be a new, different feeling in the atmosphere. My eyes were turned upwards and I found myself standing and staring at the sky.

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And?…….It is raining. Really pouring, and it is wonderful.

 

Posted in Sky, Weather | 1 Comment

Boiled or Baked?

As I sit here on a quiet and very pleasant Sunday afternoon, enjoying my lunch and a glass of a very fine chilled rosé under the shade of the gazebo, I am looking out over the garden, or what is left of it! It seems only the other day when everything was fresh and green, the grass needing twice-weekly cuts and I could get away with watering the vegetable patch either every other day or just once in the evening. After about 6 weeks of summer heat and temps hovering around the 30c mark, the garden has taken on the air of a parched, ever browning space. There was a week of intense heat in that period with 40c+ which compounded the dryness. With water restrictions looming and no end to the heat and dry, my focus has been to keep the vegetable patch watered (now an am and pm exercise). The grass is brown, the soil in the flowerbeds is cracked and as hard as rock, and the leaves are wilting under the searing sun. Of course, the chances are it will all recover in time but not before we have another canicule (heatwave). I doubt it will be the last.

Screenshot_2019-07-21 METEO HANC par Météo-France - Prévisions Météo gratuites à 15 jours sur toutes les villes de la métro[...]For those of you that don’t know my region, I am in the 41c area (central SW France). It’s going be a bit of a scorcher and no doubt Maggie and I will get ‘walkies’ done very early in the day and last thing at night.

A Bientot!

Posted in Seasons | 8 Comments

Eclipsing the pique-nique

Common at this time of year are the many small local events; picnic’s, music evenings, night markets, concerts, quizzes, brocantes, exhibitions, fairs…in fact almost any excuse you can think of to have a ‘get-together’ and for communities to just get out and to enjoy the glorious summer weather, usually in the evenings. The days are long and the weather balmy, so why not?

A new venture in one of the local villages has been a week-long art exhibition, giving local artists and artisans the chance to show off their paintings, pottery, jewellery, printing, sculpting and so on.  This was a free event culminating in a ‘pique-nique’ and some local musicians providing the entertainment. It was a simple affair, the kind I enjoy best. All that was required was to show support, bring your own chairs food and drink, and to relax, enjoy the evening with friends and family, and to be part of the community.

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DSCN5101As the night unfolded, the sun dipped low in the sky and it progressed from blues to pinks to purples. The greedy swallows gave up their frenzied feeding and swooping and were replaced by tiny bats taking on an aerial display that felt as if we were under attack! Most of the crowd were now happily relaxed on wine and beer, the music ramped-up, some started dancing under the stars, and before long we were all clapping and singing along to pop classics by Queen, Prince, UB40, The Beatles and Elvis. Tina Turner and Abba got a look in too (but not in person)!

DSCN5103A great night was certainly had by all and with a deepening night sky we all turned to look at the partial eclipse of the moon, and perhaps those of us who could remember turned our thoughts to that momentous occasion 50yrs ago when Apollo 11 was launched, propelling the first people to walk on the lunar surface. Even now I marvel at that remarkable achievement which, to a then 11 year old, was pure science-fiction.

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Happy ‘pique-niques’ and summer entertaining.

A Bientot!

 

 

 

Posted in Local travels, Sky | 4 Comments

That was our National Day!

The sun shone on the festivities and it seems that a very good time was had by everyone…all 300+ of us. Kick-off was midday and within minutes the wine was flowing, people were mingling and chatting, handshakes and kisses were exchanged, even with strangers…and who cared today? There was an ambiance that I’ve hardly felt anywhere else I have ever been; so relaxed, laughter, friendship, new friendships forged, and even more laughter. The simple but adequate meal was spread out over a few hours, more wine, more laughter.

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DSCN5085The children (and plenty of adults) played tug-of-war, both sides rolling on the ground in fits of giggles, and both side claiming they had won. The sack race was a free for all with no clear winner; taking part was all that was required. Competition was more heated by the teams playing pétanque this was taken very much more seriously!

The music came in the form of our very own Billy Connolly look-alike and not even a hint of Scotland as he crooned away in French.

DSCN5093As the sun was setting on our day here in our peaceful corner of rural France, with smiles on our faces, bellies full of food and heads a bit light from the sun and wine, and without a care in the world, it gave me a contented, warm feeling to be part of this lovely community I call home.

A Bientot!

Posted in Village | 1 Comment

Our National Day

There is a quiet busyness in the village this morning. Sundays are usually even more sleepy than usual but today there is a low rumble of trucks and vehicles around the village green where tables and benches are being set up in readiness for the ‘repas’ (meal) that will be shared with the commune…and no doubt washed down with plenty of wine. Today is La Fête Nationale, the national day here in France. I have a feeling it is going to be a relaxing and long day 🙂

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A Bientot!

Posted in Village | 1 Comment

If Wordsworth was French…

‘I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden …… Sunflowers!’
I am sure that William Wordsworth would have been moved to write such a poem if he could have experienced the absolutely wonderful sight of fields of sunflowers that stretch for as far as the eye can see. Along with fields of poppies, sunflowers are so uplifting and fill me joy; I feel myself smiling uncontrollably at every turn of the path.
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I hope your day is bright and cheerful.
A Bientot!
Posted in Flowers, Village | 2 Comments

All Good Things….

…Come to an end!

Well, it just isn’t possible to always stay on holiday, no matter how nice a time you are having! The reality is that I was ready to come home even though I was truly enjoying the change of scenery, spending time with friends and visiting new places. I was missing Maggie (I bet she was having a great time in the kennels)! I was also keen to return to my more relaxed, less structured routine…I guess it’s just feeling comfortable and easy that I missed.

My journey home wasn’t without some drama. When I went to Germany part of the journey required the connection from Montparnasse to the Gare du Nord. This relatively short journey via the Metro took an hour, but I had another hour spare waiting for my train.  So I was really concerned that I only had one hour on my return, not allowing for any delays. It was with some degree of difficulty that I changed my return ticket to an earlier one, giving me several hours free to cross Paris. We set off to Bonn centre to catch my early morning train, leaving enough time for traffic and so on. I am a good, well-seasoned traveller, and am usually relaxed and well organised, but this short car ride which normally took 10 – 15 mins was fraught with roadworks, every traffic light hit red and with angst rising, Hartmut suggested that I should be ready to grab my bag and to run, only having about a min to get the train to Cologne. God! I hate travelling on a knife-edge. But I made it and knew that in Cologne I had about 15 mins connection time. As it turned out, the train was delayed by 45 mins due to ‘people on the track’ which meant a suicide!

DSCN4996Fortunately the rest of the journey was without incident, but thank goodness I changed my ticket allowing me plenty of time for connections. And now I am home again, Maggie faithfully at my heels, just in case I decide to leave her again! The heat which I had hoped to leave behind has followed me, and we are in the mid-30’s with no change expected yet. Time to take it easy and absolutely no dashing around or being too organized…there is always tomorrow 🙂

A Bientot!

Posted in Germany | 1 Comment

Burning in Bonn!

Well, perhaps ‘burning’ is a bit of an exaggeration, but the heatwave across Europe continued and it seemed to be getting hotter. The expected high was 39c but with the humidity they said it was going to feel like 45c. It surpassed 39c and felt like an inferno. I would have been happy to stay home and relax and to try and find something that resembled cool. (Anything around 30c would have been cool)! But my hosts had other ideas and plans for me, namely a visit into Bonn, the former capital of Germany. As seems to be the case with a lot of cities around the world, refurbishment and renovation of important historical buildings was present almost everywhere…sometimes if seems that they will never be free of scaffolding and covers!

DSCN4978The Romanesque Münster from the 11th – 13th centuries.

DSCN4977It wouldn’t be Bonn without a statue of Beethoven.

DSCN4982And of course, his birthplace!

DSCN4980The Rococo style ‘Altes Rathaus‘ (Old Town Hall, 1780) in the market square.

DSCN4979These pigeons had the best idea…only stupid tourists were padding around in the sweltering heat!

Suitably sweaty and totally exhausted, we made our way back in the direction of home, and thank goodness we took the bus! I think that I’d have protested if walking was involved. However….WHAT a delight was instore for me (I must have been very bad in a previous life). We got off mid-way and climbed a hill. Of course, I had no idea where we were going and it was too late to start my own little revolution…so like a dutiful puppy I followed, wondering what was going to  come next. Perhaps I was in need of some divine guidance. Well, I made it up the Kreuzberg Hill and we came to this pretty church.

DSCN5012The Kreuzberg Church was built in 1627/28  and is considered one of the finest Baroque creations in the Rhineland. It is a pilgrimage site and as if climing up a hill in record temperatures wasn’t enough to get you into Heaven, they have a set of ‘Holy Steps’ which the devout and faithful climb on their knees.

DSCN5013But, the rich Baroque paintings were very beautiful and I was suitably impressed.

DSCN5015The interior of the church itself was blissfully cool and equally adorned with beautiful paintings and decoration. I wonder if I had done enough to earn my spot in heaven?

The walk back down was relatively easy and the trees did provide some shade. I thought that refreshment had been very definitely earned and was required.

DSCN5017Now, this is my idea of heaven!

And…….

IMG_5010I’m happy 🙂

A Bientot!

 

 

Posted in Germany, History | 4 Comments

Getting hotter on the West Side

As hard as I try, it seems impossible to avoid this heat. Of course I am not alone seeing as most of Europe continues to be barbecued by the current blast from Africa. We had to go to Cologne by train the other day, and thankfully the air-conditioning was working 100%. The trouble was leaving the train and then having to walk in the city, trying without any success to avoid the sun. 37c made it all a real effort, but my hosts were insistant that we got off the train one stop early to take in the fine views of Cologne Cathedral from the other side of the River Rhine.

DSCN4987Even though it can be seen from almost every point in the city centre, this was the best vantage point. On the right is the Hohenzollern Bridge and was one of the most important bridges in Germany. Even under constant daily attacks in World War II, it avoided being badly damaged but in 1945 German military engineers blew it up as the Allied troops made their assault on the city.

Walking across the bridge it is impossible to miss the ‘love locks’ which adorn the railings. As proof of their love, couples fix padlocks to the railings of the bridge; to ensure everlasting love, they then throw the key into the Rhine below. I wonder how many have found eternal love!

DSCN4989I can tell you that the heat was reflecting off the bridge and all that metal hanging on the railings seemed to intensify it! But on we continued…

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DSCN5005The truly magnificent and vast interior was a very welcome moment of cool relief, but unfortunately, as so often happens with famous cathedrals, the crowds push and jostle to see everything, they become ‘must sees’ and are more like going to a museum than a church. ‘Selfies’ are snapped with almost nobody actually looking at the buildings fine and graceful columns which give the interior a feeling of weightlessness, nor the beautiful stained glass windows. Admittedly I was also one of those snapping pictures, but I like to think that I did stop to admire the fine craftmanship. This enormous space has room for more than 20,000 people but I doubt if they ever see a congregation of that size.

IMG_4995These people had the best idea…cooling their feet in the fountains outside the cathedral

As we hit over 40c we headed inside again, but this time it was to the Musical Dome. I don’t think I have ever felt in need of air-conditioning so much. We had several hours to luxuriate and relax in the fresh cool air and to enjoy a truly fabulous performance of the original classic by Leonard Bernstein (and in English too).

DSCN5010Sadly it seemed even hotter when we left but at least they were not insistent on crossing the bridge again! The station was withing spitting distance of the Dome and yet again, air-con awaited us with open arms.

A Bientot!

 

 

Posted in Germany, History | 2 Comments

Cool Cruisings

The heat continues and it seems that Europe is slowly baking to a crisp. I have always thought that once we are over 30c, anything is hot, but 40c is just crazy and I am pleased to have avoided the record 45c in France. Even if it is psychological, there is always something cooling about being in, around or near water when searing temperatures make even moving unbearable. So, the other day we got the tram into Bonn and took a short cruise on the River Rhine.

DSCN4956We were heading upstream, and despite the temperature, there was a slight breeze which moved the air just enough to make it tolerable.

DSCN4959Looking back towards Bonn.

The River Rhine is a huge river, a major highway for trade and tourism, but we were just going for 2hrs, past Königswinter and onto Remagen.

DSCN4963Coming into Königswinter

DSCN4965The 19th century Drachenburg Castle (L) and Drachenfels (R) with ruins of 12th century castle.

DSCN4967In Remagen we met up with Gerhard’s uncle, a wonderful character of 80 yrs with a wicked humour. After a very cheap and substantial Italian lunch, Hartmut and I took a short (shaded) stroll to visit the site of the Ludendorff Bridge often referred to as the Bridge at Remagen.

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DSCN4970Securing the Ludendorff Bridge, undamaged, was a crucial strategic victory for the Allies in 1945. It allowed thousands of troops and vehicles to cross the vast River Rhine, and thus turn their eyes towards Berlin. Thousands of Allied troops crossed the bridge immediately after its seizure. Allied area bombing had damaged some Rhine crossings to the north, while the German Wehrmacht destroyed others in controlled explosions to slow down its adversaries.

On 7 March 1945 an advance unit of the 9th US Armored Division, led by LT Karl H. Timmermann, an American of German descent, reached the last intact bridge, just after the German defenders twice failed in their demolition attempts. The capture of the bridge is known in the annals of the war as the “Miracle of Remagen”.  General Eisenhower stated that “the bridge is worth its weight in gold”.  In the days immediately following, the German High Command made desperate attempts to destroy the bridge by bombing and even employing frogmen. Hitler irately convened a court-martial which condemned five officers to death, four of whom were actually executed in the Westerwald Forest. On 17 March 1945 the bridge collapsed.  At least 30 American soldiers lost their lives.

Today the remaining towers in Remagen are a Peace museum.

After ice-cream (yummmm) and more water we took the train and tram back to Bonn and finally collapsed in the cool of the appartment.

A Bientot!

 

Posted in Germany, History | 4 Comments

Managing the German Heat…or not!

I’m playing catch-up, being a day behind with posting, and I think it will be like that the next few posts! I am blaming it on the heat, but in reality I am having too good a time to spend all my time blogging, and besides, it would be very rude to my friends and hosts here in Bonn. My friendship with Hartmut started way back in the early 80’s as a pen-friend. (Does anyone remember those days when we wrote letters and exchanged photos and formed friendships through an exchange of information)? We have remained firm friends all these years, with many years of not having caught up in person when I was living in Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Now after almost 30 yrs I am back in Europe and obviously a lot closer, so really there is no excuse not to renew the friendship.

DSCN3919Gerhard (L) and Hartmut (R)

The plan was to take a short drive to the nearby Eifel Mountains, a low area of about 700m above sea level, and to take an 11km hike in the countryside. The weather put paid to all that with almost 40c heat , blazing sun and endless blue skies. It would have been absolute madness to even contemplate such an activity and no agreement was needed to call it off. So, we took a drive around the area, safely cocooned in the car with air-con almost blasting us out of our seats.

First stop Maria Laach, a small Benedictine community with nature trails, the lake and of course the monastery.

DSCN3877The lake is a water-filled caldera, a remnant of the volcanic activity in this area and is the largest lake in the region. With the lake and land all owned by the monastery, it was an easy stroll (in the shade) to the Abbey.

DSCN3878The Abbey was founded in 1093 and after a very chequered history, including fire, it was re-colonized by the Benedictines in 1892. We stayed for a short pause in the almost icy cool of the Abbey for about 10 mins to hear the monks chant which was rather beautiful. I’m not religious but there was a lovely peace just sitting there listening to this beautiful sound filling the space.

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With our souls suitably saved and our bodies cooled and refreshed, we braved the burning heat to return to the car which was, of course, hotter than an oven! With the engine/air-con struggling to get the temperature down from over 60c inside the car, we made our way through verdent hills and valleys, passing beautiful villages and towns until we dropped into a narrow valley and came to Monreal, an almost secret village dating back to 1229. This mediaeval village crammed full of half-timbered houses made you feel as if you were in a time warp.

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DSCN3903If you ever go there, I can 100% recommend the small cafe on the left where you can eat really excellent cakes!

Passing along our route we passed numerous castles, ruins of towers and fortresses, but far too many to stop and photograph, and also just far too hot to stop and get out of the car. It was truly exhausting being so hot. However, one worth the stop was Bürresheim Castle.

DSCN3913It is a mediaeval castle, built on a rock in the Eifel mountains and is only one of three on the left bank of the Rhine that has never been destroyed. The exteriors were used in the filming of ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’. (I’m full of useless info’)!

Making our way on the circuit home we next stopped in Mayen. It really felt that the mid-afternoon sun was getting hotter, and strolling around we could feel our feet burning from the scorching cobbles and that was in the shade! This lovely town was an important centre even in the times of the Romans and it is somewhat sad to think that during the Second World War, in particular during the allied forces air attacks in Dec 1944 and in Jan 1945, approx 90% of the town was destroyed. After the war the people voted to rebuild the town.

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DSCN3910Some welcome cooling!

DSCN3911The last leg of this long, sweltering day was to stop in another pretty town because Gerhard had some chores to do there. We were now in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, another historic town with evidence of people here back in 1000BC. Today there are small cosy lanes with beautiful half-timbered houses.

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IMG_4948And finally a wonderful meal and a VERY well deserved beer!

You will perhaps need a beer or a wine after reading all of this. Enjoy and relax 🙂

A Bientot!

 

 

Posted in Germany, History | 2 Comments

Hot on the tracks!

So, yesterday I took the train(s) to start a short break in Gemany. There is something really nice, in my mind, about train travel. It is easy, certainly cheaper considering the price of fuel and road tolls, and less tiring. I don’t think that there is the romance of train travel any more, but even so, I do enjoy the whole thing about travel, crossing borders, hearing different languages, and wondering who people are, where they are going, what do they do, where are they from and so on! The timing of my visit has clashed with an exceptional heatwave in Europe with France and Germany in the thick of it! Leaving home in the early morning gave some respite from the heat, and my train to Paris was nicely air-conditioned.

DSCN3869I had about 2 hrs in Paris to take the Metro from Montparnasse to the Gare du Nord…an easy and cheap trip, but with the underground being packed worse than a tin of sardines and increasing temperatures, I was at least grateful of grabbing a seat.

Then onto the high-speed train to Cologne.

DSCN3871I found my seat and got myself settled for the journey. Before long an absolutely delightful old lady sat next to me. She greeted me in French and I picked up an accent that didn’t sound totally French. It turned out that she was German, but was a countess (possibly fallen on harder times as she was in 2nd class, or perhaps she was just frugal)! We chatted for a while about anything and everything, and then eventually we both retired to our books. As is often the case, I nodded off, book dropping from my hand, head slumped and I pray to god I didn’t snore or at the very worse, dribble! Mind you, with the amount of sweat I doubt if anyone would know the difference if I had slobbered down my front. After my short nap of only 20 mins or so, I woke with rivers of sweat pouring down my face, trickles of wet pooling at the base of my back and the carriage feeling very warm to say the least. Outside it was 39c and it felf much the same inside. Thankfully we arrived in Brussels and once passengers had alighted, we were told that the air-conditioning had broken and we should change to another car. Everyone moved towards the front of the train but one guard told me to go to the rear. The only free seats were in 1st class, and I was told that was OK, so you can guess I was even more than pleased when I entered the carriage and it was a cool 20c. Bliss! It turned out to be a blessing in disguise because there were various delays, signal failure, track works and so on and we ended up being 40 mins longer on the train than expected.

Another change in Cologne to take the local train to Bonn and exactly 12hrs after getting up, I arrived at my friend’s house. The heat is increasing and I have no idea what is planned for my visit. I just hope it includes lots of shade and cold drinks. Hope you all stay cool.

A Bientot!

Posted in Friends, Germany | 2 Comments