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 | 3 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.

_DSC0177Cirque de Lescun

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 | 5 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

DSCN2295Nothing to see here!

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!

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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

Summertime, an’ the livin’ is easy

As the famous song says, the livin’ is easy, especially now that it really does feel as if summer has arrived. It has been a strange spring and summer up till now with wetter and cooler temperatures than expected, and certainly more wind. I am a firm believer that whatever weather we get, Mother Nature sorts herself out somehow, and right now we are blessed with a run of sun and heat. In fact we have a canicule (heatwave) predicted for next week with temps into the high 30’s. Sounds like it’ll be shade, fluids and a good book.

_DSC0085To me a field of poppies is the epitome of summer in the French countryside, along with the deep, rich purple/blue of lavender

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Wherever you are, I hope the “livin’ is easy”

A Bientot!

Posted in Nature, Seasons | 1 Comment

Staying Home

Although there is a change on the wind today, the weekend has been absolutely glorious. The thermometer climbed above 30c, the sky was clear and as the days progressed it would have been just plain silly to do anything other than sit in the shade, relax, eat and drink and to contemplate just how good life is. As anyone here will tell you, when you have an old house, the work is never done, and it’s true that there are plenty of jobs to do around the garden as well. I have been busy over the last many months with shovelling tonnes of earth, grassing my new area and getting the vegetable patch planted. As I say, there are plenty of projects, but this weekend it was so very pleasing to sit and reflect, and to gaze out over some of the completed work.

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Sometimes it’s just really nice to stay home!

A Bientot!

 

Posted in Garden, House | Leave a comment

Learning from History?

With the European elections coming up soon, the hoardings have been put up in the village and gradually the various parties will stick up their posters. The first one has been pasted onto their allocated space and my only question is “Have they been following the events in the UK?”

DSCN3815There really isn’t anything else to say, is there?

A Bientot!

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La fete de la victoire

Under a leaden sky and with clouds pregnant with precipitation, a small group of us gathered around the village war memorial to celebrate the day in 1945 when France was liberated at the end of WWII. It was a simple event, with a small flower display placed at the foot of the war memorial, a few words from the mayor recounting the message from General Charles de Gaulle to the French people, telling them that it was the official end to the war, and the names of the dead read out. As the rain started and the wind picked up, it was soon over and time to make our retreat home. It’s good to remember the events of that momentous time history. Unlike Armistice Day which is solemn, whilst still remembering those that gave their lives, this is a day with some degree of celebration.

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A bientot!

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Lucky May

This morning dawned with clear skies, the sun beating down and the birds singing as if they were going to burst. Being May 1st, it is a public holiday here in France – “Fête du Travail” – International Worker’s Day or Labour Day, so the roads were quiet. (WHAT am I on about? The roads here are ALWAYS quiet)! LOL. Maggie was, as always, keen to go ‘walkies’, and with such a glorious day, who could blame her.

DSCN3762As we came back home, I was greeted by my neighbours, bearing a small bunch of Lily of the Valley – ‘muguet’ which of course, was presented to me for luck and prosperity. I read somewhere that the French forked out somewhere in the region of €32m to buy this sweet smelling flower to give as a token of love and affection, luck and prosperity.

DSCN3772The tradition of giving lily of the valley flowers on May 1 is said to have begun in 1560, when knight Louis Girard presented King Charles IX with a bunch of lily-of-the-valley flowers as a token of luck and prosperity for the coming year. It is said that he took a shine to the idea and began the custom of presenting lily-of-the-valley flowers to the ladies of his court each year on the same day. I am fortunate enough to have a massive clump of muguet right outside my front door, and I have to say that the smell is wonderful. Even if you didn’t get a sprig of lily of the valley, I wish you all luck and prosperity.

A bientot!

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On the doorstep

It seems that April has almost passed me by, and I haven’t posted anything. It isn’t that there hasn’t been anything happening. Au contraire, I don’t feel that I have stopped for breath. Being spring, the garden has taken plenty of work with my new raised veg patch needing to be planted out and of course, tended on an almost daily basis. I do not profess to being a gardener, and venturing into veggies is a new direction for me, but I am hopeful, and my gardening philosophy is that it has 2 chances; live or die! The weather hasn’t been too great, but we have had a lot of rain, which was very much needed after the dry months of February and March.

At the start of the month I made a short trip to my brother and sis-in-law in the UK. It’s always great to visit them and to catch up, eat and drink plenty, and to have a lot of laughs. There was the usual trip to the supermarket(s) to stock up on some favourites that are either very expensive here or just not available….well, it’s good to treat myself, isn’t it? Whilst I was there, Maggie had her first stay in the kennels here in France. I was the anxious dad, more worried about her than she was I’m sure. The lady said that she was really settled and interactive, no signs of distress, and seemd to just take it all in her stride. Of course, I was really pleased with her care and even more pleased to be reunited on my return.

I needed to go to a local village the day before yesterday, but somewhere I’d never been to and with all of the little lanes and backroads, I programmed it into my the car GPS. It turned out that it was only 10  mins away. But en route, the GPS stopped working and I was ‘lost’. As is so often the case, road signs were somewhat lacking, but I knew roughly the direction to take. Imagine my surprise when I turned a bend and came face-to-face with this chateau.

DSCN3758This is the Chateau de Jouhé, in the village of Pioussay. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to see much of it, but it was an unexpected sight sitting in the middle of nowhere, and yet only a few kms from home!

Chateau-de-Jouhe-for-sale-Pioussay-Deux-Sevres-79110-002This picture is from the internet estate agent site

It is in private ownership. It is a classified building going back to the 1100’s. It seems that it was (not sure if it still is) for sale in March, so if you have just over 1.6 million euros going spare, it could be yours!

DSCN3756This pretty little church is in the village of Lorigné. I’m unable to find out anything about it, but at a guess, I’m thinking it’s Romanesque. I love coming across small places like this, and all thanks to my failed GPS! It’s amazing just what you can find on your own doorstep, isn’t it?

A bientot!

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Leaving like a lamb

Can we really be at the end of March already? It seems only yesterday that I was posting about March coming in like a lion, and here we are, on the cusp of April and the month, true to the old saying, is going out like a lamb.

DSCN3743The clocks jumped ahead by an hour this morning whilst the majority of us were sleeping, so we can now look forward to the longer evenings…perfect for sitting outside enjoying meals and drinks. I absolutely LOVE this time of year and even though summer is yet to arrive, I do feel that it is summer. Recently the European Parliament has voted to abolish daylight saving time in France, but not until 2021. The swallows have returned and are putting on their usual aerial display, swooping and diving as they hunt for food. The cuckoo has been calling loudly for at least the last 2 weeks, such a cheering sound and one that reminds me of childhood when we would hear the cuckoo in the woodlands surrounding the village in the UK. A bird missing from my childhood, but very present here in France is the hoopoe. This one took up prime position on my neighbour’s roof.

DSCN2768Unfortunately I didn’t get a very clear photo, so this next one is a stock photo from the internet.

The hoopoe (Upupa epops), Epupa epops, sitting on the branch with green backgroundThey are very exotic-looking birds with their bold stripes, long curved beak and funky “do”, and certainly in this area they seem to be very plentiful. The distinctive call (three “oop-oop-oop’s”) is a sure sign that spring is here. Perhaps we will have a change in the weather this next week with the return of some much needed rain. I know that some farmers were already concerned about the dry earth and their crops.

DSCN3746The village of Hanc slumbers in the late March heat, the days grow long and all is well in the world. I’m sure it’s time for a nice glass of wine. Santé!

A Bientot!

 

 

 

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Close to Home

To say that I am exhausted would be an understatement. Now that we have some glorious mild temperatures and an extended period of dry weather, I am busy sanding and painting les volets (shutters) on the house. Being new, they are taking 3 coats of paint making the process just a little bit too long-winded. However, there is a great sense of achievement to see them gradually completed and hanging once again. Readers of my blog will remember that I recently laid grass seed to a new area in the garden, and true to the information on the seed box, and much to my amazement, germination actually did take place 7-10 days after sowing! Simple things, but I am thrilled, and there is a very definite green hue to the once barren soil. (No pictures this time)!

Needing a break and having the urge to leave the painting for a while, I took Maggie into nearby Chef-Boutonne for a walk. First stop, the Eglise Saint-Chartier, a Romanesque church from about 1150. A staging route on the Roads to Santiago, the church of Saint-Chartier attracted many pilgrims who, hoping to be forgiven for their sins, came to venerate the 115 relics brought back from the Holy Land. There is mention of a fragment from the Christ’s cross, thorns from the crown of thorns, the Virgin Mary’s dress and her belt. Who knows if they really were the genuine article, and the number of pieces of the cross that are reported to be around the world leads me to think that it must have been enormous! Faith is an amazing thing for those that believe.

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DSCN3737Having a bad day?

Passing through an arch to the side of the church is the Chateau de Javarzay. This was the site of an early castle, with it being reconstructed in 1514. In the 16th century it was one of the most magnificent buildings in Poitou. Today, all that remains of the chateau is the building which joins the two towers and the chapel.

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DSCN3731Maggie really wasn’t interested in churches and castles, and just wanted to be getting on with the walk. There is a small lake and some very pleasant grounds to stroll around, and more to the point, lots of new smells for her to explore!

DSCN3730An almost perfect scene.

Suitably relaxed and refreshed, it’s time to get back to the painting.

A Bientot!

 

 

 

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The wearing of the green

Well, I couldn’t resist it. It is St Patrick’s Day, after all! However, I am avoiding the obvious pictures of green-clad leprechauns and shamrocks, pots of gold and Guiness! Anyway, there aren’t too many of them sitting around in rural France (leprechauns I mean). Come to think of it, I’ve yet to see any in Ireland, but perhaps my imagination button was turned off at the time! The green I’m talking about is the real kind, vibrant and fresh, bursting forth from this wonderful earth. It never fails to fascinate me just how the solid ground, frozen hard in the depths of winter can produce such verdant vegetation year after year. Surely one of lifes miracles, happening right before our eyes. As if by magic, the trees wear a hazy mantle that will only increase as the days lengthen. I love this time of year, full of hope and expectation.

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DSCN3706And just for good measure, Happy St Patrick’s Day. Sláinte

A Bientot!

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One for the rook, one for the crow.

Following on from my post of a few days ago, I have now shifted all of the soil; several tonnes of it into my new raised bed (for my potager), and the rest now levelled out for a new grassed area. To say that it has been back-breaking is an understatement, and a slightly pulled muscle bears witness to my hard work. Moan? Yes I did. Sweat? Yes, by the bucket load. Think it would never end? Of course. But there is a wonderful sense of achievement when a job is completed and you can see the fruits of your labours. I already have some lettuce growing and my garlic has beautiful green shoots pushing their way skyward. Packets of seed are waiting my not so green fingers, and I am hopeful of some homegrown delights in the not too distant future. My thoughts are that everyone else seems to be able to grow veggies around here and I’m sure that they’re not all experts, so why not me? Anyway, back to the soil! I wonder if anyone else has the same problem as me….it’s almost impossible to get decent top-soil. Perhaps I should say it IS impossible, at least in this area. The soil I have was free, is full of stones (like all of the ground around here), and was full of weeds and old roots and rotting wood. But, it can’t be so bad, can it, seeing as it is absolutely crawling with worms?

DSCN3683This is the area which was the above-ground pool, all finished and grass seed scattered. I’m really hoping that the wire will stop Maggie from traipsing all over it and digging holes at random. Ideally it will rain a little and we won’t have a total deluge to wash the seed away into a muddy pile! I’m also hopeful that the birds will leave well alone. There is an old saying, as my post title suggests.

Plant four seeds in a row, one for the rook, one for the crow, one to wither and one to grow

Seems like a lot of seeds to plant, and I’ve never seen a rook or a crow in the garden, so fingers crossed that I will have a lush green lawn in no time at all!

Other garden things…I have finally cut down a tree that I didn’t like at all. It was in the wrong place and was too big. It was a liquidambar (or American sweetgum). I have to say that I HATE cutting down trees and love to see them growing, but it had to go. I have left some of the trunk and have planted a beautiful scented jasmine to climb over it.

DSCN3684I think that in no time at all it will be completely covered by the jasmine and add some more scents to the garden, and be another source of food for the bees. What are you all doing in your gardens? Whatever it is I hope everything is growing well and that you profit from your hard work.

A Bientot!

 

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Water of Life

Whilst making our lunchtime stroll around the village, my nostrils started twitching…you know that kind of thing when you catch a smell in the air and you think you know what it is, but then again, you’re not sure. Then you get a full blast…and it’s gone, lost on the breeze till the next whiff? It’s a fruity smell, warm and comforting and then it turns slightly acrid all in the same breath. Turning the bend in the road you are met with…….

DSCN3693Hummmm! Travellers? New campsite in the village? Pop-up-toilets? Who would know. Of course, being nosy, I had to find out and fortunately the owner was lurking there (very camera shy)! He explained to me that it was an alambic or as we would know it, a still. This mobile still goes around all the towns and villages in the Deux-Sevres, making eau-de-vie. For a fee, you can take along your apples, pears, plums, grapes (or whatever you have lying around it seems to me), and Monsieur will distill it for you. Perhaps that accounts for the acrid part of the smell…you have no idea what he’s boiling up in his wagon. Anyway, he was very informative and gave me a detailed tour which took all of 2 mins!

DSCN3692It reminds me of a mix of Heath Robinson and Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang, with Monsieur being Caractacus Potts.

DSCN3691Unfortunately I hadn’t taken along an old pair of socks, a pile of potato peelings and rotting vine leaves, so I wasn’t able to sample the end result, but he did assure me that I was more than welcome if I felt the need to ‘take the waters’. I think I’ll stick to my sealed bottles of wine and beer.

A Bientot!

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Lions, Frogs and Gendarmes.

So far, March is living up to the old proverb of coming in like a lion. We have been battered by strong winds, hail, torrential rain and clouds scuttling across the leaden sky at break-neck speed. Generally the weather wouldn’t bother me at all but I have a new area in the garden that I want to get sorted out sooner rather than later. I have a pile of soil that I have started to level off so that I can put down some grass seed, but with so much wet the soil just sticks to my boots and I come back to the house several cms taller!

DSCN3677The picture doesn’t show just how wet the ground is!

This lunchtime we managed to have a dry walk around the village and the clouds even parted to allow some very welcome sun and warmth to reach us. The frogs have started their mating and their calls for a female are more apparent. Taking advantage of the warming stones they sit on tiny ledges in the wall by the stream, well camouflaged, and ready to dive to safety.

DSCN3669The warmth has also brought out the ‘Gendarmes’ – not the French police, but the vibrant firebugs. The French call them ‘Gendarmes’ because red and black were the colours of the original gendarme uniforms when they were soldiers and part of the army. (See, I’m full of useless facts)! There can easily be a hundred of them all grouped together. Thankfully they are harmless.

DSCN3672Not hundreds here, but there were lots of smaller groups all over this wall.

I’d like to be optimistic and think that this brief dry interlude is here to stay but another band of rain is heading this way and already the skies are darkening. Oh well, I have plenty of other things to be doing.

A Bientot!

 

 

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Spring….or not?

There will be many people arguing if March 1st really is the start of spring. Take your pick…today is the meteorological start of spring or you can wait for the astronomical start with the vernal equinox on March 20th. I’m going with today! After an unseasonally warm and record-breaking February, the weather has cooled somewhat but still remains above average for this time of year. A few days ago I was basking in temps of 24c and working in the garden in shorts and T-shirt. Crazy, but very nice! The exceptional temps have really brought the garden and countryside to life, possibly a bit premature, but blossom has appeared, buds have popped and the willow is in leaf, wearing a mantle of pale green.

DSCN3652The celandines are in full flower cheering the road verges and hedgerows. This wildflower was also known as ‘Pilewort’ as its use was also thought to be beneficial in the treatment of haemorrhoids. It was also known as ‘Scurvywort’ for the use of its vitamin C containing leaves. In the Middle Ages it was used for treating jaundice, cancer, eczema and other diseases.

DSCN3663The sweet violet or wood violet is in flower and the scent is beautiful (even if it does remind me of old grannies). This tiny wild flower has a long and romantic history in European and Asian folkelore. The Greeks used it to make perfume and the Romans to make wine…all I can think of is drinking parma violets! (ugh). Ancient Britons used it for cosmetics and Mediaeval French troubadours used it to represent constancy in their tales of chivalrous love. Apparently Josephine threw Napoleon a posy of sweet violets when they first met. After he was defeated at Waterloo he was permitted to visit her grave one last time before he was sent to Saint Helena. He found sweet violets growing there and picked some. Upon his death these were found in a locket around his neck.

DSCN3666With it’s yellow ruff, there is nothing more cheering that the wild cowslip. It is closely associated with English folklore and tradition, including adorning garlands for May Day and being strewn on church paths for weddings. Over the centuries it has been called ‘Herb Peter’ as it was supposed to have grown where St Peter dropped his keys. The name actually means ‘cow-slop’ (ie a cowpat) in reference to it’s habitat. If you can get your way through the cowpats, it is supposed to make a very good wine! In ancient times this humble plant was used as a sedative, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic and an expectorant to name a few.

Be assured that I am not about to start my own country pharmacy…I’m just content to enjoy the beautiful sights and smells of the early wildflowers. Happy Spring to you all.

A bientot!

 

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Saintes

Mid-February and we are basking in very spring-like temperatures; 15 – 18c, and one corner of the garden, which is a real sun trap, recorded 20c the day before. It really is essential to make the most of this kind of weather at this time of year, and after having had a week in the garden I decided it was high time to have a day off! I am, afterall, retired, so should be able to do what I want whenever I want. One of my missions this year is to try and explore more of the region, and my first outing of the year was to Saintes in the department of Charente-Maritime. It is just over an hours drive from me, and it is all cross-country, so a really pleasant drive.

I was amazed just how lovely this historic town is with the Charente River dividing it into the Left and Right banks. It boasts Gallo-Roman, mediaeval and classical heritage and an important resting place on the ancient pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (The Way of Saint James).

DSCN3624The Arch of Germanicus, (with some horrendous modern art work thing going on). I was reassured that this was a temporary installation…God, I hope so! Anyway, it was built in 18 – 19 AD and thankfully was saved from demolition in 1843. Directly opposite is the river and the Left bank and the historical area of Saint Pierre.

DSCN3627Dominating the skyline is the Cathedral of Saint Pierre.

DSCN3645Another gem of Saintes is the Gallo-Roman ampitheatre, created by Claudius in 40 – 50 AD and is one of the best preserved arenas in France.

DSCN3635The Basilica of Saint-Eutrope

DSCN3638So this is just a ‘teaser’ of Saintes because there is plenty more to see and I need to explore longer. I will be back!

A bientot!

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Cranes

DSCN3621Almost 30 years ago I was living in Canada in Northern Alberta. As you can guess, winters were long and hard, but very enjoyable. However, after far too much snow and ice and regular temps of anything between minus 10c to minus 40c, and suffering from cabin fever, spring was very eagerly anticipated. The first sign that winter really was on the way out was the arrival of the geese…thousands and thousands of them, honking their way high above as they made their migration from the south. It was a sight and sound that really did fill the heart with joy and was a spectacle to behold. I was reminded of that this morning as we took our (frosty) early morning walk when an ever increasing noise came to my ears. To my absolute delight I saw a skein of cranes migrating north-eastwards to their nesting grounds in Northern Europe. Their distinctive honking cries, which sound like badly-oiled cart-wheels are a constant as they communicate with each other.

DSCN3618The frosty mornings soon give way to beautiful clear and cloudless days with the sun gradually having a touch of warmth in it. Roll on spring.

A bientot!

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Valentine’s Day

DSCN3583I can’t decide if this is natural or the product of some secret lovers who carved a heart into this tree. My wistful, romantic side wants to believe that they met in ‘lovers lane’ years ago and declared their undying, true love. I pass by this on most days and let my imagination conjure up all sorts of stories.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Early one morning….

Weather-wise, it feels as we have had little else other than rain, damp, fog and overall misery these past weeks, so when we get a nice day it gladdens the heart and soul and it sort of makes it all worth the wait. Crazy, I know, and there may only be one day before the return of the winter rains, but there is only one thing to do; get out and make the most of it. Talk about making hay whilst the sun shines! A watery, low sun it may be, and no hay at this time of year, but the frozen land is being prepared for the year ahead and there are very small signs that the season is progressing with the buds of some trees swelling and celandines and cowslips starting to form new shoots. An early walk in sub-zero temps was bracing to say the least, but resembling the classic Michelin man I was well protected, and before long I had worked up a bit of a sweat.

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DSCN3576Minus 6c was a bit of a shock, but as you can see the sun was up and the sky was clear, and it wasn’t too long till the frost started to retreat. By the time we were on our afternoon walk it was positively balmy and a sweltering 2c…but not yet shorts and T-shirt weather!

DSCN3587The farmers have already started ploughing and preparing the soil, making beautiful symmetrical patterns over the fields. With the amount of water laying on the land I’m amazed that their tractors don’t get bogged down.

DSCN3590Have a good week and stay warm and dry wherever you are.

A bientot!

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February…at last.

It is often quoted that February is the border between winter and spring. Thankfully we have now left January behind. I always think that the first month of the year is such a long, tiresome month that feels endless and certainly one with more weeks in it than the calendar indicates! February brings the expectation of spring which feels as if it is almost there, but still very much out of reach. Mother nature will still have plenty to throw our way, dashing our hopes and giving us a timely reminder that we’re not there just yet. The mild weather is expected to take a back seat this weekend – we’ll wait and see as Meteo France never seem to get the forecast correct for this region. Thankfully we are not yet able to change and control the weather.

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A bientot!

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Wet.

There is something perfectly lovely and cosy about waking up to the sound of heavy rain beating down on the tiles and lashing at the windows whilst being inside, still in bed, warm and dry, Maggie pushed into my side and neither of us really wanting to move. Such was this morning. The smugness and joy of being snuggled up in bed was soon wiped off my face as we stepped outside to be met by a deluge of the wet stuff. A curtain of torrential rain beat down like a curtain from the heavens and soon we resembled a pair of drowned rats. Doggy walks need to happen whatever the weather and to be honest Maggie didn’t seem to be put off. After all, there were too many new smells to explore.

dscn3563The heavy downpours have been interspersed with brief spells of brightness and the sun has broken through several times, lifting the lanes and countryside with a glorious light and weak warmth. My philosophy today is to make the most of those moments of respite and to make a dash for it! I certainly didn’t expect it to be as pleasant as this, even if it was very short-lived. The most we could muster this lunchtime was a hasty walk around the village.

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dscn3574As expected, the wet is back and we are home again, Maggie taking prime position beside the fire, me with a cup of tea and a plate of scones and jam. Life aint so bad.

A bientot!

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Another day.

Who would have believed that a day could change so fast? We have been spolied by the generally mild winter so far, with above average temperatures, certainly no snow (rare for this area), and little in the way of storms or biting winds from the east. Yesterday started with a fairly hard frost, minus 5c, and a rapidly changing sunrise.

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dscn3422I love these kind of mornings when the ground is hard underfoot and there is a fresh crispness to the air. Feeling those weak fingers of sun across my face brings hope and expectation for the coming spring. Of course there is still plenty of winter left and no doubt we will get a really cold snap at some stage. The frosty start soon gave way to a beautiful day  that struggled to reach double digits. This beautiful afternoon sky certainly made me forget the early morning chill.

dscn3544This was yesterday…today we have thick fog, drizzle but it is milder. I guess we just have to take the nice days when we get them and make the most of it!

A bientot!

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Freezing Fog…UGH!

If there is one thing I really hate, it is fog, followed very closely by freezing fog. I let Maggie out at 6h30 whilst it was still night…bitterly cold, frost covering the dark world and millions of stars twinkling so brightly in the crisp night sky. An hour and a half later the sky had the palest hint of pink and a nice day was expected. Imagine my face when we stepped out for our walk at 8h45 and the whole area was blanketed in thick freezing fog. Visibility was only about 20 metres and there was a really eerie feeling, hardly a sound and any that I did hear was muffled and dull. It felt more like Hallow’een. As the walk progressed it lightened a little and finally the low, watery sun dared to briefly show it’s face. Sadly that was the best effort the sun could manage. I think it’s a day to stay home in front of the fire and venture out only when I need to.

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dscn3505Stay warm.

A bientot

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Golden Glory.

        Look out and see an ascending sun;

Her light dances

upon frosty blades of grass

in early morning;

as dawn breaks

and fog parts.

Surrendering

to a fleeting warmth.

(Copied from ‘Valley of Light’ by Lily in Hello Poetry)

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I am back in France and the weather has turned decidely cold. Frosty mornings and light winds make for a brisk walk in the morning with Maggie. The land is dormant under the mantle of ice, but there is a wondrous beauty in the countryside with days like this. No hanging about when it is this cold (-4c). Maggie seems not to notice the chilled ground underfoot, happy to run through the frosty grass and munching on the thin ice covering almost dry puddles. I prefer a nice cup of tea…so I’m off to get warm.

A bientot!

 

 

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