Day 5: Moods and Misadventures

The first mood was the weather – we had planned to drive to the top of Mount Aigouil, which is the highest point in the area, but the weather wasn’t playing ball. It was grey and rather murky, and as we drove towards the mountain it became clear that we’d see nothing from the top: it was covered in cloud!

We drove a bit aimlessly, trying to decide what to do, but finally settling on visiting Nimes-les-Vieux. This isn’t, as you might imagine, a town, but rather what is sometimes known as a “chaos”; an area where the outcrops of limestone rock have been worn into fantastical shapes by wind and water. The Yorkshire Dales has Malham pavement and Malham Cove; we had the chaos of Nimes-les-Vieux.

On the way we stopped in a small town for lunch. Which is where Misadventure 1 took place: I was walking along the edge of the road, in the gutter, as a pavement café was taking up the pavement, when I took a sidestep to avoid an advancing waiter; my foot found a hole. Twisting and turning, trying to avoid falling onto my knees, I staggered forward, clutching at a planter full of bamboo, and finally plonked myself down on a convenient bench. Unfortunately, as I was wearing my arm brace that day as my arthritis in my wrist was bad, I couldn’t manipulate my hand very well, and so my thumb took the force of my hand grabbing at the bench. I half-ripped my nail off. Concerned people from the café came over and gave me a plaster, as my nail was bleeding quite copiously. I had twisted my foot too, which was beginning to throb.

We quickly found a place to have lunch – I had a slightly disappointing salad, while Mr FD had a delicious pizza – and we discussed what to do. We knew there was a place where you could view vultures nearby, and thought that would be better if I was still in pain. The GPS was programmed and off we went. The GPS told us which way to go and Mr FD ignored it, because “it was wrong.” Of course, it wasn’t wrong, but by the time he admitted this we had gone too far to turn back.

So we reverted to the original plan of Nimes-les-Vieux.

But I wasn’t really in a Very Good Place. Grumpy, ticked off because I’d had a disappointing lunch, in a bit of pain from my foot and sciatica, and unimpressed by the weather, I stumped off along the pathway (4.5 km around the site.) After about 5 minutes Mr FD said “You’re not enjoying this are you?”

“No.”

“Well, go back to the car and wait for me.”

Hmmm. Not much sympathy there then! I didn’t want to just sit in the car for an hour, so I continued. Grumpily. Mr FD strode on ahead. Grumpily.

After another 5 minutes or so, I thought I had to take myself in hand, so I paused, and gave myself a good talking to. And I prayed a bit too. Thinking about the beauty of the place I was in, my health (OK, so I’m not in the best of condition, but I can walk – albeit slowly ), the fact I was with my Dear One…

And then we continued, with my mood a brighter one.

Here are some photos I took – Kezzie sometimes takes photos of clouds and asks her readers to say what they think they look like. So here are two of the rock formations; what do you think they look like?

  

As we walked round the trail, we went through several different landscapes, from rocky, like this

to more grassland, with flowers. We passed lots of these, most with their resident bee/butterfly/both!

At about the 3.5 km mark I was getting tired, and thinking that I wished we’d brought more water with us…when much to my surprise we saw a sign pointing to a Buvette (snack bar) We followed it, and there in a farmyard was a little room selling drinks and local produce! The drinks we had were very welcome!

Soon after we set off again came Misadventure 2. As you’ll have gathered some of the path involved clambering over rocks and finding footholds in places. Well, as I was traversing a fairly narrow gap between two huge boulders, my foot slipped and I got my leg stuck between two rocks. I couldn’t move! With my arm brace on as well, I couldn’t use one arm very successfully either, so for a couple of seconds there was panic and weeping (from me) and exasperated sighs and eye rolling (from Mr FD) With his direction, and help, I finally managed to get out and get to my feet, but not before a French family had come upon us, and had to be persuaded not to call the Pompiers! I was fine – a bit shaken, and only slightly bruised – but felt a bit stupid. Mr FD claims it was through lack of fitness that I couldn’t extricate myself, but it was more arm braces, and back pain through sciatica (and, although exercise could improve the latter, I don’t think the former is anything to do with fitrness levels!)

During our walk we’d experienced all kinds of weather – bright sunshine, driving rain, grey skies and wind. By the time we got back to the car it was fairly clear, with blue skies and sunshine, so we decided to go to the top of Mount Aigouil after all. When we got there (you can drive!) it was blowing a hoolie, and I was feeling tired, so I stayed in the car. Mr FD braved the gales and took some photos of the view

  

We got back to Chez Nous at about 5.00 so had time for a cuppa and a snooze before we went out to dinner. The nearest village, Saint Martial, was tiny: no shops, a church, a blink-and-you’d-miss-it kind of place. But it also has a good restaurant, recommended by several people. So we went there for dinner…It was a delight!

It wasn’t cheap – we had the 30€ menu, with a half bottle of wine – but not too extravagant, we felt, for what we got.

Starter: Tartare de thon, et sablé nois, glace saumon fumé (Tuna tartare, with a hazelnut biscuit and smoked salmon ice cream) Which sounds weird – but it was delicious! There was more to it – with a wasabi cream and wasabi peanuts, plus something else crispy that I don’t know what it was, and little preserved peppers which were sweet…We kept making “yummy noises” as we were eating it!

Main: Coeur de rumsteck, croute d’olives noirs, polenta crémeuse. (heart of a rump steak with a black olive crust, served with creamy polenta) If you don’t like your meat rare then don’t order this! We weren’t asked how we wanted the steak: it came as the Chef thought it should be! Happily for us, rare is not a problem, and it was lovely!

Dessert: This wasn’t written down, so I can’t tell you it in French, but it was basically white chocolate with a frozen cheesecake-y filling and a centre of apricot purée, served on a crunchy biscuit crumb with plum compote. Gorgeous!!!!!

We went to bed feeling very replete!!

Advertisements

Day 4: Bamboozled!

Today we had already decided was to be the day we visited La Bambouseraie going from Saint Jean du Garde by steam train, so we awoke bright and early to catch the 10.30 train. It was a tortuous route that the GPS took us, down roads that were distinctly “intestinal” – steep and tightly hairpin-bended. We arrived in plenty of time, and were able to watch the steam locomotive fill up with water

Of course, this was a popular tourist attraction, but we managed to find a seat in a carriage, with open windows and the opportunity to take lots of photos as the train travelled through the beautiful countryside

 

 

When we arrived at the Bambouseraie the queue of people waiting to pay was huge – the train had, after all, just disgorged most of its passengers – so we paused for a drink and a muffin before jopining the end of the queue. It took about 20 minutes but finally we were in! And it was lovely! Well worth the entrance fee, and the wait! Yes, it was mostly bamboo, ion its different forms, but well presented, beautifully shady and – even though there were lots of visitors – it didn’t feel crowded.

Here are some of my pictures – I’ve left them in “thumbnail format” but click on any to biggify them.

 

And who’s this strange beast, found lurking in the shadows?

It was a wonderful day. Unfortunately the train back was delayed, which made for a long wait, but it couldn’t dampen our enjoyment of the day.

After a couple of false starts, we found a restaurant in Ganges that was just right – it was in an open courtyard, shaded by a huge lime tree, serving food cooked on an open fire. Mr FD chose a huge magret de canard, and I had a gammon steak with honey and gaots’ cheese. It came with baked potatoes and lovely honey glazed green beans. We finished off with Tarte – mine was tarte aux noix (walnuts) and Mr FD had Tarte aux myrtilles (blueberries) Perfick!

We were back to “Chez Nous” by about 9.30. Time for a night cap (I’d taken a little jar of whisky with us!) and a sit, looking up at the stars wheeling above us… A really lovely day!

Bastille Day

Yesterday, 14th July, was a public holiday in France – or at least, it would have been, had it not been a Sunday. I do think the British bank holiday system is better: fixed days, usually on a Monday. And if it’s a moveable feast (for example, Christmas Day & Boxing Day) and it falls on a weekend, days get added after the weekend. Splendid! Here in France if the bank holiday falls on the weekend, well, tant pis!, you lose it!

Anyway, there were celebrations going on all over France, to commemorate the storming of the Bastille in 1789. which is recognised as the beginning of the French Revolution. Wikipedia gives you more information about this, should you be interested.

We did no storming of anything however. Our friends who own a restaurant in the next village were having a Mechoui (a spit roast). I had a photo of their poster to put here, but the picture of a spit-roast pig was a bit graphic, and I’m aware that there are some vegetarians who read this, and may not appreciate such photos. Here, however, is a cropped picture of people tucking into the meat

We met up with someone we’ve not seen for ages, and caught up with news on her and her daughters – they came to France 12 years ago, speaking no French at all, and now one of the girls is working in a help-centre for UK customers in France, after 3 years doing languages at University, and the other (who struggled at school) is working as a chef in a hotel kitchen – both loving it! It’s always good to hear about young people doing well.

We had our meal – which was enjoyable, and quite filling – while chatting to a Dutch couple. They had cycled over from St Just, having seen the graphic poster for the meal. They were having a rest day on their epic ride from Holland to Spain! The woman had left her job, and the guy was self employed so had stopped working; they had taken 4 months out to ride to Barcelona (I think) from their home in the Netherlands. It was interesting talking to them & finding out more about their trip.

Then,  Jean-Luc (the owner-chef) and his band played into the afternoon…

…the music was good, but the lyrics (all in English) were mangled. If you didn’t know what they were supposed to be singing you wouldn’t know what they were singing! If you see what I mean.

!

We sat in the sunshine, drinking our Perrier and enjoying the sounds of the 70s and 80s!

Take it away, Jean-Luc! Guitar solo time! (J-L is on the right)

Dire Straits, Beatles, Status Quo, Rolling Stones…all the oldies were there!!

We left about 5.00, but I’m sure folk were there well into the evening, but Mr FD wanted to get home to watch the end of the cricket world cup final, which England won after what I was assured was a nail-bitingly exciting ending.

An enjoyable, relaxed day.

We had had to choose, unfortunately, between this event and the Fete des Voisins meal, which was happening on the same day. We went to this event last year, and it was good fun, but this year we chose to go to Jean-Luc and Traudel’s event. And next year, who knows…

 

Eating, drinking and celebrating.

So as I mentioned a few posts back, I went over to the UK to celebrate mum’s 90th birthday. I had a great time.

Of course, I got over anxious about the journey, but it went very smoothly: Friend Cathy took me to Roanne station, for the 10.15 train to Lyon. I then took the express tram to the airport, arriving just after 12.00. My flight was at 17.25!!! Well, I knew I had plenty of time! No need to panic. So, I treated myself to a meal in a restaurant – tapenade and breadsticks, followed by a very nice gratin de raviolis. Washed down by a very nice glass of beer, I was perfectly happy. I spent another hour drawing a zentangle, with a quotation about travelling on it, which I then left for someone to find, and then I went through security. I sat in the departure lounge and drew another zentangle and then strolled in a leisurely manner to the gate. As I didn’t know what time the trains from Manchester airport to Liverpool were, I didn’t panic or have to run. I just made my way to the station, and found there was one leaving in 10 minutes – perfect timing…but I’d’ve been panicking about whether I’d catch it or not if I’d known what time it was! At Liverpool, I picked up a taxi, and got to mum’s at just after 9.00 pm. A long day, but one that actually was less worry-filled than I’d expected.

The following day we did some food shopping, went for a walk, read and chatted. Mum was itching to garden, but the weather wasn’t great.

A view of (part of) mum’s garden

In fact, we got a little damp on our walk, but it didn’t really matter.

I think there’s some water birds on the picture somewhere! These are the flood plains near mum, which are used to regulate water levels. We disturbed a lapwing who did the distraction technique that I’d heard about but never seen. Crying piteously it flew in one direction, low to the ground, trying to lure us away from its baby (which we’d already clocked running around in the long grass) So it didn’t need to panic any more, we walked back along the path, in the direction we’d come from, upon which it stopped calling and flew back to its nest. Fascinating.

In the evening, we went to some of Mum’s friends, who had laid on a birthday meal for her, together with a cake.

Surprise, surprise!

On Friday I went into Liverpool to do a bit of shopping, and to meet up with an old school friend. We had a meal in the Pen Factory bar & brasserie,

and then went to The Everyman theatre, to see Sondheim’s “Sweeny Todd”. while it wouldn’t have been my first choice of Sondheim musical, it was a great performance, which I really enjoyed. Very minimal set, but very effective. It was good to catch up with Tracy too, and to hear her news.

On Saturday, we went out to lunch with mum – this was the “proper” celebration. There was me, my sister & her husband, my brother, one of my nephews, and one of my nieces, with her husband and baby Bill. And mum, of course. We went to Moor Hall, “The Barn” – Moor Hall is a michelin starred restaurant, but The Barn is on the same site, but a less formal experience. Mum felt more comfortable with that – and it was delicious!! I meant to take photos but forgot! I had a duck terrine, with an apple compote, followed by chicken, with a leek and potato layer and wild mushrooms, then a fantastic dessert: a light choux bun, filled with rhubarb and custard, with a blood orange ice cream. Lush!!

This is The Barn

and this is the posh restaurant part

My niece, Rose, her husband, Dave, and Bill the baby

Bill enjoyed his chicken goujons with garlic-and-pesto mayonnaise

When we got home after lunch, we had coffee and cake (my photos were very blurry and not very good.) and then we all felt the need for “a little zizz”!! Afterwards, we sat around the table with a few glasses of wine and reminisced and talked. It was all very sociable.

On Sunday it was mum’s actual birthday: Rose left Bill at home with Dave, and came over from Manchester. We all went to church – possibly the worst sermon ever. I think God or Jesus was mentioned about twice, whereas Cilla Black got several mentions!! Never mind. There was coffee and cake (more cake!) after the service, and everyone wished mum happy birthday.

Here are just some of her cards, arranged around the fireplace.

We went out for a late lunch to the Scarisbrick Arms

where we had another delicious meal…I had a steak with chips, and onion rings and other delicious trimmings! I’d ordered the sirloin, which had a £2.50 extra charge (it was a set price menu) but the waiter came and said that they didn’t have any sirloin left. So I said I’d have to have the rump, which was the same price – “unless”, I said,”I could have the fillet steak (which was £¨4 extra) at the same price as the sirloin – to make up for my disappointment…” Yes, that’s fine, the waiter said!!! And it was lovely.

We got back, and another zizz was in order! The evening was spent reading, and trying to work out how the TV works! Mum has two, one which she uses most frequently, in her kitchen/sitting room, and a larger one in the main sitting room. This one is more complicated and she always forgets which remote to use and how they work. None of us are very technically minded, so it was a bit of a shambles – but we finally managed it!

On Monday Mum and Judy went to buy Judy’s gift for her – a bird table – before Judy set off for home. Mike, mum and I went over to see Rose in Manchester, and had lunch there. Then we went out to a park in the afternoon – Bill enjoyed playing on the play equipment

and seeing the animals, but then got a bit grizzly as he hadn’t had a nap

.

Mike & mum, in the sunshine

A Manchester Bee

So we left a little earlier than planned. Mike cooked us an enjoyable meal of pasta and salmon and asparagus, after which we just relaxed (again!) and watched a bit of TV.

On Tuesday, it was time for the journey home. Mike took me to the airport on his way back home to Yorkshire – I was only 4 hours early for the flight this time!! I did start to worry on the plane about having time to get through the airport to catch the last possible express tram to make sure I caught my train home. I was thinking “Will it take me an hour and a half to get through security? Will I have enough time?” (Yes, honestly, I thought it might take that long to get processed through immigration. Sigh) As it was, it took me all of 15 minutes to disembark, go through seciurity AND get to the tram station! I had plenty of time – in fact, enough time to have a coffee at the train station before catching my train home – where Mr FD was waiting for me.

A lovely trip home, to celebrate a very special Mum.

 

 

 

Procrastination continued…

Thank you for your concern, but actually, it wasn’t the blog post that was the thing I didn’t want to do – it was more like the blog post was the way of procrastinating, but I couldn’t think what to write, so I didn’t even do that!

Yesterday I had to phone my health care providers, in French, as I couldn’t get on to “My Account”. I’d been putting it off for a few weeks, not so much because I was worried about speaking French (I just kind of launch into that and hope for the best) but rather I was afraid I wouldn’t understand the instructions given to me! However, all was well, and I understood. I’d just been entering the wrong number into the “Identification” box.

So I was quite pleased with myself by the end of the day.

This morning I did some batch cooking. With Mr FD now working (well, training to work) I can’t expect him to spend a long time cooking when he gets home. Before, I had no problem asking him to prepare something that maybe took 30 – 45 minutes (to prepare & cook) but now it seems a bit unfair. So today I made two batches of lamb,butternut squash and spinach curry, and three batches of a basic beef-mince-and-tomato mix to go in the freezer. These can be used to make quicker meals. My meal planning will take into account the need for quicker to prepare meals.

I also made some spiced carrot soup, as we both like taking soup for lunch, and prepared a dish of potato/sweet potato gratin for tonight. I felt very virtuous by the end! I impulse bought a Christmas ham from IKEA, which I roasted with a marmalade/honey/orange glaze on Wednesday

We had this with mushroom linguine last night, we’ll have it tonight with the gratin & some mange touts from the freezer, and then with chicory and a cheese sauce on Monday. The rest can go in the freezer or be used for sandwiches.

The problem is that the freezer is quite full of food already, so I’ll have to take something out to make room for the new stuff!! There’s quite a lot of fruit in there so I think I might take it out and make a peach,raspberry & redcurrant cobbler for dessert. I made an apple crumble last weekend as well! Mr FD won’t be able to believe his luck – I hardly ever make desserts!!

And…

HUZZAH!

My mammogram and ultrasound were clear!

Christmas Eve

(I’m writing this on Christmas Eve, but I’ll probably schedule it to publish on Boxing Day)

Well, this morning Breakfast TV was discussing people who haven’t finished their Christmas shopping, or at least, their food shopping; reporters were standing in supermarkets – which, I feel, were disappointingly empty for their reports. “There are people queueing for the vegetables”, the reporter announced as the camera panned across the fresh produce aisles where a few people were picking up bags of parsnips. We are all organised – although we did pop down to Carrefour for extra-soft “Balsam” tissues, as I have a stinking cold, and we may have bought a bottle of fizzies to drink tomorrow (as I’d only bought really cheap stuff from Noz!)

Mr FD is on his computer, I’m on mine, the cats are sleeping somewhere around the place, and the house is quiet.

Pomme, sleeping on the amplifier under my desk – a warm “underheated” space!

 

There are only the two of us on Christmas Day – we’ll have a quiet day of good food, a walk, some reading, some Christmas radio, some music and some TV. I think “The Princess Bride” is planned for tonight (Inconceivable!) If you don’t know this film, I’d heartily recommend you seeking it out without further ado. It is a perfect family film.

It’s strange but I always feel one should eat fairly simply, and preferably vegetarianly, on Christmas Eve – I wonder if this is something left over from my childhood? So last year’s discovery of the French Graisse de Noel soup fits perfectly with this. Here’s a link to the recipe (in French) So we’re having that for our “tea” tonight, with maybe a smidgeon of pannetone!

For lunch I have fancied up an old recipe which I found in my ancient recipe book. It was a very simple receipe from a Waitrose recipe card. Here’s my “enhanced” version:

  • Jar of marinaded peppers
  • tin of tomatoes
  • green olives (a couple of spoonfuls)
  • parsley
  • aubergine
  • mushroom
  • mozzarella

Whizz the peppers, parsley, olives and tomatoes together with a blender. Season to taste.

Thickly slice the aubergine (For two of us I sliced one aubergine into 8 slices.) Brush with olive oil and bake until softish.

Pour the pepper/tomato sauce into an ovenproof dish. I topped with grated parmesan because I had some to use up.

Slice the mozzarella into 4 thick slices. Slice the mushroom crossways to make big rounds.

Put a slice of aubergine onto the sauce, then a slice of mozzarella, then a slice of mushroom, then the other slice of aubergine. Repeat until you have two stacks per person.

Add a little grated cheese. I also added some truffle flavoured olive oil because why not?

Bake for about 30 minutes at about 180°

Ready for the oven – if you enlarge the photo, you might be able to read the original recipe.

We’re going to have this with some corn bread from the bakers’.

This afternoon, I’m thinking I may crank my heater up a bit, and curl up in my Slanket with some choccies and a book. It’s a grey and drizzly day outside, so I think that may be the cheeriest thing to do!

A walk around Strasbourg

One of the things we did while we were in Strasbourg was to take a free walking tour – we’ve done this in Budapest and in Turin, as well as here in Strasbourg, and always found them to be really interesting. I’d recommend looking one up if you’re visiting another city. Of course, one gives a tip at the end, but you give what you think the tour has been worth.

One thing that I found very moving was when our guide, Leo, talked about the way Strasbourg and the surrounding area had passed from French to German hands and back again, a&nd back again…how a member of his family who was still alive had “changed nationality” five times in his lifetime! Leo took us to a war memorial: Here’s my picture of it, taken on a rainy day in December.

Here’s another photo:

Leo explained that the sculpture shows the mother “Alsace” mourning for her dead sons…but, uniquely for war memorials, these young men are naked, they wear no uniforms, nothing to identify them. The words on the memorial read “A nos morts” (To our dead)…almost uniquely, nothing about “dead for the Republic”, or “died for the glory of France”.

And why? Because there had been people from Strasbourgian families who had been fighting on both sides – for the Allied forces, but also for the German, simply because of where they lived, and who had been “in charge” at the time. So the memorial simply commemorates all who died. I found this very moving.

The rest of the tour was informative and interesting too..with a very engaging guide.

We were lucky enough to also have a rapid tour with an acquaintance, Denis, who we’d met for Vin Chaud. He told us about a space between two pillars, outside the Cathedral…Apparently, people had to go through this space at the end of Lent. If they couldn’t fit through, it showed that they hadn’t been very good at their Lenten fasting and were therefore fined!!

Here’s Jane proving that her Lenten fasting had gone well

despite us having eaten one of these, which is a cross between a pretzel and a doughnut (a doughzel? a pretnut?)

and one of these, which is a cross between a Danish pastry and a pretzel (a Danzel? a Pretzish?)

Both were delicious, but I preferred the doughzel – it was much lighter than it looked. We had shared one, but would have liked one each! Unfortunately, we’d taken it back to the flat to eat, so it was too far to go back to buy another one!