Day 6: A Happy Accident

We were coming to the end of our holiday – it was now Friday – but we had had a great time so far (mostly, give or take a few grumps!) Today we were going to see the Cirque du Navacelles. The what?! you may ask.

Well, remember in geography you learned about ox-bow-lakes? (Having discussed this with an English couple we met, we decided that ox-bow-lakes and the water cycle were the two things everybody remembers from their geography lessons! At least, everybody in the UK) The Cirque du Navacelles is like an Ox bow lake on steroids (without the lake.)

We parked the car near the Visitors’ Centre and strode off to the viewpoint. There were a few people there when we arrived, and they appeared to be having a guided tour, as one woman was explaining the geology of the area.

So we started listening, and when the group moved over to the model of the area, and the guide asked more questions, we joined in! We learned about the rock, and identified different varieties: chalk, limestone, granite, “others”. It was really interesting and fun.

Then, as the group set off we asked if we could join in. The guide said Yes, but it was 6.5 km of walking, and our feet might get a bit wet. Did we have other shoes? Oh, it’s OK, I said. And so we joined in! We paused, so the guide (whose name I didn’t get. Let’s call her Mireille) could point out a cave, somewhere on the cliff face to the left

This cave was used by Protestant worshippers, during the Religious Wars in France – they had to lower themselves on a rope, or follow a dangerous, tortuous path, to reach the place where they could worship in secret. It made me fleetingly wonder if I’d be willing to do that, if I had to…

We then all piled into cars to drive to where the walk “proper” began. This was a descent down to a group of mills, which had been in place for over 900 years. They were built at the point where the river burst out from its underground flow, so these mills harnessed the power behind the water.

It was a real clamber down, and I was grateful for the help of Fiona and Charles, a British couple from Yorkshire (Mr FD was behind us as he and a couple of others had been parking the cars) who helped me down the steepest parts. We paused beside the river to have lunch and then we continued. It was a fairly brisk pace, and I did struggle to keep up at times, but Mireille stopped regularly, to instruct us on different trees and leaf forms, so I had time for a breather.

Then we came to the edge of the river and everyone started changing their shoes.

“Do you not have other shoes?” Mireille demanded.

“No…” I then realised that I had probably misunderstood when she said our feet “might” get wet…!! Finally I waded through the river in my trainers, without socks, and Mr FD started off barefoot. As it was very pebbly, he gave in halfway across, and rather wobbly, he put on his trainers. Mireille was concerned we’d get blisters, if we continued the walk in wet trainers, but actually it was fine.

When we arrived back at the cars, Mr FD, Fiona and Charles and I decided to pause for a beer and an ice cream in a delightfully eccentric little bar. It was good to sit and rehydrate – but I felt inordinately proud of myself! I hadn’t fallen/slipped/given up! Huzzah for me!

We dropped Fiona and Charles at their car and then we paused briefly to pick up something for our dinner. We had salad, a ready meal of Parmentier de Canard, and a lemon cheesecake. Again, sitting outside, enjoying the peace and quiet of our little place!

 

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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!!

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!

Day 3: Tourist traps and Prehistoric Villages

We awoke with Mr FD feeling back to normal, so we decided to visit St Guilhem le Désert (St William of the Puddings?), designated one of the most beautiful villages in France. Its abbey is registered as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in conjuncton with the french section of St James’ Way to Santiago de Compostela in western Spain.

However, as is often the way, it had become a victim of its own success – a tiny Medieval village with narrow streets wasn’t designed to be innundated with thousands of tourists… The roads were jampacked with cars, all parked in precarious places on the side of the road leading into the village. A large car park on the outskirts of the village provided more secure parking and a shuttlebus taking us into the village.

While it was an attractive place, it was full of shops hoping to lure tourists in to spend money – not exactly tourist-tat, as it was mostly quite tasteful, but definitely over priced. It was difficult to take any photos to show the village itself, because of the people (and yes, I know we were “people” too!)

(not my picture!)

So I tried to take photos that aren’t exactly “of” the village, but that give a flavour of what we saw…

 We’d brought a picnic with us, so managed to find a reasonably quiet and shady place to eat, and then continued to explore the village a little more.

Mr FD also took some (better) photos:

 

We then decided to take the shuttle bus out to view the Pont du Diable (Devil’s Bridge) It was constructedby Benedictine monks in the first half of the 11th century, it provided a link between the abbey at Aniane and the Gellone Abbey at Saint Guilhem. Of course stories and legends grew up –

Every night, the Devil destroyed the work carried out by the two abbeys of Aniane and Gellone as the bridge over the Hérault river was being built

Guilhem decided that he must come to an agreement with the Devil. He promised him the soul of the first creature to cross the bridge if the Devil would help him to build an indestructible bridge in that place. The Devil agreed. When the bridge was built, they rewarded him by sending a poor dog with a cooking-pot attached to its tail. Maddened with rage, the Devil tried to destroy the bridge … in vain, of course!

Out of spite, he threw himself into the river at a place known as ‘The Black Abyss’.

The Devil’s Bridge
Looking up the Gorges of the Herault River
We set off for home, but it was still quite early, so when we saw a sign for a “Prehistoric Village” we decided to explore a little. I’m very glad we did. Despite it being a bit of a hike down an uncomfortably stony path, we considered it worth the effort!
The Cambous archeological site is a Bronze Age village about 5000 years old, one of the oldest prehistoric sites in France. In addition to the shape and layout of the houses in two groups (hamlet-A and hamlet-B), the site provided many artefacts, from arrow heads to pottery.It really was fascinating!

This replica Bronze Age house with thatched roof was built from scratch in 1983 to demonstrate the houses that existed on the two parts of the site, with the long ovals of low stone walls. Most of the roof structure was built from local trees, and the pole sizes were based on the hole sizes in the stones of the excavated houses.

The pottery objects inside the reconstructed prehistoric house are copies of artefacts discovered at the site.

A fine example of pre-historic man…

We were very glad we’d come across this site as it was very interesting. Nothing fancy, just us and the remains and a few information plaques in French.

We got home about 6.00 and sat outside with a lemonade, to rehydrate from the day. We then had the meal we’d originally planned for last night: salad, chorizo sausages and aligot, and a chocolate mousse to finish. The room had a little kitchenette corner – just enough to prepare simple meals, with two rings and a microwave. We were worried about cooking smells lingering until bedtime but it was fine!

 

Again, we sat outside in the twilight, reading and listening to music, until the mozzies drove us indoors. Another fairly early night ensued…

 

 

Days 1 & 2: Travelling and Not Going Out

On Sunday we left about 9.00 to drive to our holiday base.

Mr FD had booked a restaurant near a town called Marvejols. He particularly wanted to visit this town because it is the location that he has been working on, virtually, planning the fibre optics. He wanted to send photos back to his colleagues!

The restaurant was good – I had melon and local cured ham, followed by magret de canard. Desert was…forgettable! (I really can’t remember what I had!) We were sitting next to a group of handicapped people, out for lunch with their carers. It was a pleasure watching the carers interact with their charges, even when they didn’t get much response back. The restaurant had catered for this group – they were served a rather unappetising looking mush, but something that they all could manage to eat easily. And everyone seemed to enjoy it, on the whole.

We arrived at our destination just after 5.30, giving us time to unpack and settle in. We’d brought the makings of a light supper, so we sat out in the peace and quiet, and watched the house martins swoop in the twilight. I sipped a glass of very good wine – one which we’d actually taken as a gift for Dominique our hostess (a wine local to us, here in the Cotes Roannais) but which Mr FD had opened in error for me. Oh well! She didn’t know she was going to get it, so she didn’t miss it! We gave her a jar of local honey instead.

In the morning we explored a little, going into the town of Ganges, about 12 km from the place we were staying. We just mooched a little, bought some bread, and had a drink in a pavement café. Unfortunately, after lunch, Mr FD had a bit of an upset stomach and didn’t want to stray far from a toilet, so we stayed in. And relaxed. At least, he did. I drove back to Ganges to find a pharmacy to buy some Immodium, and to buy something for dinner. Then I relaxed – reading, snoozing, doing a few word puzzles. It was actually very pleasant, as often on holiday we get really busy doing things, that we forget to just chill.

I made pasta-and-salad for my dinner, but Mr FD didn’t have anything, except maybe a bit of bread.

An early night for us both…

Questions asked…

Someone at church who occasionally reads my blog asked me recently “Why is Andrew known as Mr FD?”

Others of you may be wondering.

So here is an explanation.

In my second year of teaching, I was living and working in North London, while Mr FD was working in the city, and commuting by coach to his parents’ home in Maidstone (which is where we’d met, during my first year of teaching) Every Friday, I would travel into the city, meet Mr FD and take the coach with him back to his parents’. We would arrive there about 6.30 pm, and after our evening meal, I would fall asleep on the sofa, rousing myself briefly to go up to bed, and finally surfacing at about 11.00 am the following day! I was absolutely exhausted at the end of each week! Because of my somnolent habit I became known as The Dormouse.

This is a hazel dormouse. These are an endangered species in the UK.

This is the kind of dormouse that most people think of, but there is also another kind, Latin name Glis glis, which is the edible, or fat, dormouse

These were a favourite delicacy at many a Roman feast. These are known as loirs in French, and can cause no end of damage if they get into your roof space.

I first started my blog way back when, using a “wiblog” account, and used the moniker “Dormouse”; it was also called The View from the Teapot. The wiblogs no longer exist, but some of my “rescued” posts are available on the links above “Some dregs from the other teapot”. Then, when I started getting more-than-a-little overweight, I decided to start another blog to document my food-and-dieting adventures, which I named Fat Dormouse Getting ThinnerHere’s a link to my very first post on the blog in January 2011

So, from that, the person formerly known as MrD, became Mr FD.

Here is Mr FD

Any other questions…?

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…