June 30, 2010

THE NEXT MYSTERY VILLAGE

I have mentioned already the difference between the countryside where we have our holiday home in France and where Pete and Cyn have theirs.

A stroll in many areas of the Loire will conjure up images of wealthy kings, flamboyant chateaux and lavish entertaining. One could easily imagine a few contented peasants toiling happily in the meadows or tending the vines.

Looking around the catalan villages we saw in the Pyrénées Orientales, I could somehow tell that life had been, and probably still was, hard for some people.
Fellow bloggers Leon and Sue are currently posting about their time in the region and if you would like to find out more about the history of the place, you could try there.







During our little tour, we came across another village which was also very picturesque and charming. There was a pottery selling lots of lovely bright pots ready for the tourist season, and some very attractive more artistic pieces. We bought a small dish to add to our collection of pots purchased all over France.




The lady in the pottery (the French term is potier, I think) told us that the village church was in such poor repair that it is no longer in use. What a shame. (The dog in the picture belongs to the potier.)





The village had some very old buildings in poor repair and others that were beautifully restored. I wondered who lived in each kind of house, if the better ones were maison secondaires and therefore unoccupied a lot of the time. I hoped not.



We admired the potier's handywork on the outside of the building. (Poteriste would have been a better word, I think . According to the principles of Crabtree anyway !)



We also admired the wildlife inside the building !
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We thought this building looked unused and deserted but there was the distinct sound of running water coming from within. Looks can deceive, it seems.

June 27, 2010

CATALAN WINDOWS & DOORS.

I love windows and doorways and am always wondering what it might be like on the inside. The village where we stopped to look around had lots of really interesting ones, providing much fodder for my imagination. (Nosiness is a basic human condition, I feel.)











I would find it difficult to say which one is my favourite but I think it might be this last one.

June 25, 2010

CUPCAKE, ANYONE ?

At my place of work we have a fund-raising event every November, for "Children in need". We have a cake-stall and sell home-made cakes to the shop and office workers nearby as well as to passers-by.

Lately we have had help from Jack, who makes cakes for the sale and also helps to distribute the goodies around the town.

He has branched out into cupcakes and brought us some samples to try. What a star !!


These particular cupcakes are some he made for a wedding.




If you passed Jack in the street, you would never think "there goes a man who looks like he makes delicious cupcakes". But as you can see, he is very talented.
We ladies are all thinking of asking him for lessons.
Just in case you're wondering, they taste just as good as they look.

June 23, 2010

THE PYRÉNÉES ORIENTALES


Pete and Cyn have their house in a region called the Pyrénées-Orientales and the scenery could hardy be more different from the Loire. There are wide valleys and huge hills and mountains. In fact there was snow on the top of the highest mountain when we were there the first week of June.



It is all very dramatic and picturesque. The hillsides and valleys are a pretty patchwork of small vineyards, the vines all planted in perfect rows but each little plot at a different orientation from its neighbour. There are craggy outcrops of rocks and villages nestling on or between them with the houses clustered precariously against each other on the steep hillsides.



Pete and Cyn took us for a ride along the Gorges de Galamus. I was doing the driving and we didn't stop to take many photos. If you want to see a sample from the web, click here. With its steep valleys and frighteningly narrow and twisty roads passing occasionally through tunnels of overhanging rock, it was quite something.




As we climbed out of the gorges, we came across a small village, whose name I can't remember, and stopped to take some photos. It was possibly one of the Corbières villages. Later in the day we passed through other similar villages and as I wandered around with my camera it occurred to me that the region seemed much less wealthy than the Loire. Many of the buildings looked even more crumbling, apart from the few that had been restored beautifully and were in tip-top condition.





This is the side door of a house that we think was for sale, pictured below.




The church was in the process of being repaired and a local person produced the key and let us in for a private look around. Inside it was beautiful but in a sorry state and we could see that it would take a lot more than the 400€ a year allocated to it by the Mairie to restore it to its former glory. Some of the stained glass windows were broken and Cyn offered to help with this as she is studying the techniques in her spare time. Every little helps when the locals are trying to restore the church by doing the work themselves.









Our view of the mystery village as we left it behind us and climed further up the hillside.

June 19, 2010

HAVE POODLE WILL TRAVEL

Our standard poodle, Lulu, is the perfect dog to travel with. She spends most of the journey asleep in the boot of the car, in her own little den, which is made very comfortable with lots of soft blankets for her to curl up in. She is absolutely no trouble at all. She doesn't bark at other cars and just looks up occasionally to see where we are. We usually stop every hour or so to stretch all our legs.



Bearing in mind that she had already done an epic journey, 12 hours and 600 miles, in the car from our home in England to Le Grand-Pressigny, after only two days we were up and off again, all the way south to Perpignan. It would be another 6 hours and 400 miles. She is so adaptable and when we got to Pete and Cyn's, she happily explored her new surroundings, settling in really well straight away. Of course, if the host gives her the bowl to lick it always helps.
Having explored all the rooms on the first floor, she then shot upstairs and out onto the balcony. She was perfectly comfortable 60 feet above their back garden, watching whatever was going on below.







We had a lovely evening with Pete and Cyn, dining in comfort and style. They are vegetarians and it is always a treat to eat veggie food cooked by such good and enthusiastic cooks. A lack of meat does not mean that food has to be boring and in fact we have meatless meals ourselves at home quite often.



For main course we had a superb vegetarian moussaka that Cynthia had made for us. Lulu was available for any titbits that might just come her way. Veggie food is fine with her, especially if it happens to have some of that delicious sauce on it, like the one she tasted from the bowl earlier !




Next morning, Nick fetched bread from the boulangerie in the village whilst Lulu helped Peter to make a few calls and Cyn laid the breakfast table.




Nick reported that his shopping experience had been quite a challenge. He had used his best Crabtree French but had had difficulty in making himself understood. The local accent is very different from that in the Loire and not only that, the bread was completely different, too. He came back with whatever he was given by the shopkeeper, beating a hasty retreat before he dug an even bigger hole for himself. Luckily, it was very tasty.


After breakfast we all piled into our car, including Lulu, and off we set for a day out. Our destination was the Gorges de Galamus, which is not very far away.

June 17, 2010

VENTURING ELSEWHERE

Not long ago, Nick pointed out that it was three years since we had been anywhere other than Le Grand-Pressigny for a holiday. I really hadn't noticed. He himself has been to various foreign locations for his work but I have not ventured elsewhere at all. So, we arranged with our friends Pete and Cyn to visit them at their house in Cassagnes, up in the hills near Perpignan, for a couple of days when we were next chez nous in France at the end of May.


The hills west of Perpignan


Having spent the weekend at LGP, we travelled south on the Monday morning. We had a reasonably early start but progress was slow as the weather was awful - we had heavy rain for the first 3 hours. The motorway was especially busy around Limoges and Toulouse, making it very hard work. Suddenly it cleared up and we arrived at Cassagnes at apéro time - 6 pm.



Our view of Cassagnes as we arrived in the evening sunshine.

The journey south brought back many happy memories as we passed Souillac, Cahors and Carcassone - all places we had stayed in the past, usually on our motorcycle camping tours. Gradually the surroundings changed and we lost the lush green of the Loire valley and the creamy crumbliness of its buildings. Around Toulouse the terrain started to look drier and the roofs of the buildings became flatter - mediterranean style.

When we arrived it was noticeably warmer and sunnier than further north. No surprise there. But there was a strong wind blowing, the tramontane. This is the southwest's equivalent of the mistral. It felt like we were being blown constantly by a warm hair dryer. Pete & Cyn said it can blow for several weeks at a time.


Pete and Cyn's house.


Their house is a three-storey building, built in a style which is typical of the region. They have been gradually "doing it up" over the five years they have owned it and the renovations are almost complete. They have transformed it from a rather unloved house into a beautiful family home. They have moved the living areas (kitchen and sitting room) to the top floor where they have built a balcony which has magnificent views over the village and of the hills in the distance.


The view from the balcony.



We had a great evening with our friends, eating a lovely meal, admiring the progress they had made with their renovations and catching up. Their experience in buying and renovating in France influenced us a great deal when we came to look for a house ourselves. They gave us much encouragement and helped to dispel many of the fears we had.

We had a good night's sleep and awoke refreshed and ready to do some exploring the next day.