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29 August 2011

September on the way.

After a week of almost 40c heat, the rain started. It rained cats and dogs for three days, almost non-stop. We were trapped indoors, not even a break long enough to go for a quick walk using an umbrella. As a result the garden is a jungle, weeds everywhere again in the courtyard, groan groan. Back to normal again now, with cool nights and beautiful warm days.

The garden is still producing - the roses are magnificent, they love the rain. Our neighbours all around us are trying to give away some of their huge harvest of stone fruit - trouble is, everyone has supplies at the same time.
Every time I pick beans, there are more the next day. John groans when I bring a bowl of beans again from the garden. Now we have heaps of cherry tomatoes, so starting to work our way through them. Salad is finished, and probably the last few potatoes unless some are hiding as they often do.
What a season this has been, we have not had to buy fruit and vegetables at all this summer, except in the first few weeks after we arrived. It has been incredible.l
The sun is going down a little bit earlier, and its still slightly dark when John gets up around 6.30 to look at the internet. I don't we will be eating outside in the evening for much longer, but enjoying doing so while we can.
Being trapped indoors for some days meant we both got lots of work done on our computers. I managed to do a great deal of research reading and making notes, sometimes with the help of a friend for translation. John was writing, and happy with all the work he managed.
I had my book group lunch last week, at a country auberge sitting outside on a terrace looking over rolling green hills, in a tiny little stone village. The French countryside is dotted with beautiful small villages, aged stone houses, 10th and 11th century churches, and lots of lots of flowers this summer.
Neighbours call in from time to time, and we do the same to friends around us.
Sunday is the day for the grand "puce" or flea markets around the villages. Yesterday we went to two and bought some DVDs and very old postcards which tell a story in themselves. We enjoyed our drive through the countryside, I never get tired of the beauty of our surroundings here. On the way back we stopped for lunch at an auberge, a very pleasant end to our outing.
A local farmer has moved some young rams into the orchard opposite our window, they are madly eating the blackberries as far as I can see. They will probably jump over the wall and cause a chase down the road (this is a frequent happening and amuses us greatly).
Our goods and chattels have been delivered to our new home in Tallong, and we will be setting off in six weeks time to return and settle in to our new surroundings. We are looking forward to it very much. So much to do, but hopefully it will be lots of fun.
Well, better go out and pick some more of those dratted beans!

25 August 2011

a slow French holiday!

This family is wandering around our valley in a little wooden caravan on wheels drawn by two beautiful horses. They have a little trailer behind with their bicycles, and their dog is trotting along beside them!!

10 August 2011

Some more photos for post Tarn Gorge and Mende

We have just had a wonderful dinner at the hotel in Mende, so at last I have time to upload some more photographs from our trip today:

The tapestries and altar at Mendes cathedral.

Florac to Mende and the Tarn gorges

Today we crossed, recrossed and crossed the River Allier again as we followed its gorge through the mountains.

We left the hotel and parked at the station. There was another person waiting, a Dutch guy. Shortly afterwards a bus drew up, the driver came out to us and explained there would be no trains today, but that we would be picked up by the bus on its return journey from La Bastide about an hour later. Changing our plans, we decided to skip the train and continue to follow the track of RLS across some high mountains, where today there are ski resorts in the winter.

The trip was so worth while, and the views were stunning. We sat at the summit of Mount Lozere, 1600 metres high – at the top of a ski slope – and got out our hot box to connect with the rest of the world as we had had no internet access the previous evening. We felt as though we were on top of the world almost! The wild flowers were beautiful -

enormous thistles with bees having a great time busy in their huge purple flowers. As we set off down the road we were surrounded by a large flock of very healthy looking sheep of various colours who didn’t seem to be at all concerned about our car driving slowly amongst them while trying to manoeuvre our way through. A bit further on we came across a couple who were using a donkey to carry their packs.

Earlier we had seen several families with children using donkeys for the walks. Most of the time, the donkeys seemed to be doing a lot of grazing, and not too much walking! However, they all seemed to be having fun with these patient animals.

I guess it turned out for the best, as we would never have seen that spectacular scenery at such a height if we had taken the train.

We then came into the Tarn gorges – I have to use the word spectacular again – rocky, severe mountains, pine forests, steep plunges and winding roads into gorges and out again. A lot of people around with baskets collecting mushrooms and myrtle berries in the forest. Apparently with such a rainy season, the locals said “its raining ceps”; a great season for this very sought after mushroom. Also a great season for berries - for wild strawberries and raspberries as well as myrtles.

We revised our plans and decided to try Florac. No accommodation in Florac so we revised our plans again and decided to miss the rest of the trail, and head for Mendes.
On the way we continued along the Tarn gorges, passing the area covered in menhirs and dolmens(prehistoric burial sites). An area very busy in this the high tourist season. The dolmens and menhirs can be dated back to around 2,600 years BC according to the information we found. There is a great deal of speculation as to how the huge blocks of stone were moved to erect the huge menhirs and to build dolmens, it is thought they were moved on logs. One of the largest dolmens near Florac, contained the bones of 13 people (6 of them children) dating to about 2,500BC. Hard to imagine. Various decorations, jewellery, and pieces of ceramic have been found in some of the graves. All dating long before JC.

Well here are in Mende, a very ancient town, going back to Roman times and before.
We are in very comfortable accommodation, internet again and about to go downstairs for an apero and dinner. We have had a great wonder around this historic town, and sat in awe at the wonderful Aubusson tapestries hanging in the cathedral. It seems to be a cross roads for several regions around, and according to its history, this was a great market place in ages gone by.

Perhaps we will head home over the Millau bridge tomorrow or towards the Auvergne, see what happens.

St Bastides, Pradelles and on to Chasserades

Wednesday, 10 August
At Monastier, the jazz concert at the hotel turned out to be very pleasant. A large group of young keen musicians playing trad jazz. However, some of the happy guests were very noisy returning to their rooms around 2am or so…
We set out towards La Bastide, driving through beautiful countryside again, covered in volcanic cones and bowls. Passing through St Martin de Fugères and Goudet, we stopped at Pradelles for a coffee. An interesting fortified town, but sporting the most ugly bright red statue of the BVM – hideous. At the lookout we could see three different counties. Had a good walk around but we were freezing cold, so huddled in a café for a large coffee to warm up.

On the way to St Bastide, we visited the monastery of Notre Dame des Neiges occupied by Trappist monks of the Benedictine order. RLS stayed overnight here. What a beautiful setting, high up around 1,000 metres, amongst pine woods, the trees whispering and murmuring in the wind all the time. They have accommodation here for walkers, and also for people on retreats. We visited the shop, where there was a lively business going on in sales of wine, lots of cookery books on using medicinal and other wild plants, and various religious souvenirs. We had a walk around, and sat in for the end of a mass. The monks who were dressed in traditional garb of a white hooded robe with a brown belt, seemed to be all very elderly.

Our next stop was at St Bastide, a quick visit to the tourist centre for wi-fi, and a pleasant salad lunch at a Relais. No accommodation available there, so we decided to push on to Chasseradès. Found a delightful small accommodation house there, the Relais de Modestine, and tried what is called a ‘demi-pensione’. This gets us a room, breakfast and dinner and is good value.

We went for a walk while waiting for our room, and noticed a neat small bright red train buzzing along. When we enquired we discovered we could train to Mendes and back going through delightful country, so decided that would be the plan for the next day. Apparently the train is very busy in school terms taking country children to school in the larger centres. There are several tunnels, built to keep the train clear of snow in the winter, as it can be very heavy here.

In this out of the way accommodation, most of the guests are walkers on the RLS track. A van comes to transport their luggage to their next stop, where they have booked in for the following night. What was very interesting for us was that dinner was served at 7.30pm, aperos before if so wished, and all the guests sat down together at a large table, 10 of us. People from all parts of France, most of them serious walkers. The couple beside me told me they walk 7 hours each day. One woman was on her own, and she carried her own baggage!! It was very interesting evening, nothing controversial, mostly conversation about the track and comparisons of the different Relais (rest-houses) they had stayed in. A pleasant couple own this house, the husband sat down with us to dinner. We had copious servings of potatoe and vegetable salad, a casserole of chicken and green lentils, and another casserole of chicken and rice with spicy sausage. A large green salad, a platter of cheese and home made myrtle tart for desert. Very good!
This morning for breakfast we were served juice, home made yoghurt, coffee in large bowls, and several home made jams with fresh bread. Several of the walkers set off, the van came to collect luggage and we decided to take a train ride.

08 August 2011

Following in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson, without Modestine the Donkey.

On impulse we decided to follow in the steps of Robert Louis Stevenson when he walked through the mountainous country of the Cévennes, with a donkey named Modestine carrying his pack, 150 years ago, in 1878. In all he walked 220 kms, in 12 days, quite an achievement when you take into account the steep climbs on tracks winding up and down mountains.

We arrived this morning in Le Monastier and booked into a hotel by a small lake, by the side of the walking track. We couldn’t have access to our room until the afternoon, so we decided to have lunch and walk part of the track near our hotel. The lunch wasn’t so great, but the track gave us a tough climb over rough ground, with a beautiful view when we got to the highest point.

We visited the oldest church in this village - it had a very beautiful altar.

We are in the rugged southern foothills of the Massif Central, a sparsely populated region with stunning scenery, mostly designated a national park these days. With ruined castles dotting the skyline, megalithic standing stones, Roman churches, abandoned farmhouses and chestnut groves, this is dramatic country. The castles and farmhouses are built of local granite, mostly rather sombre grey and black. The red tiled roofs give some colour relief.

After a walk around Le Monastier – it was Monday, nothing was open and much to our disappointment even the museum was closed, despite the fact that this is in the tourist season with a music festival on at the moment. The streets were fairly unkempt, with weeds and dog pooh, so that didn’t thrill us overmuch. A jazz concert is promised at apero time at our hotel, that should be enjoyable.

We went for a drive to some of the other villages that RLS and Modestine passed through, we had to keep stopping, the scenery was so beautiful. Gorgeous wild flowers everywhere along the roadside, the colours so gentle and pleasing to the eye against the deep green richness of grass and wooded hillsides.

The road we travelled wound around the Loire gorge, and as we approached Solignac sur-Loire, we stopped to take a photo of the stark outline of the church tower and three bells, high on a hill in the town.

We continued on to Cayres, oohing and aahing about the scenery all the time. We were heading for Le Bouchet Saint Nicholas where RLS spent his first night at an inn. We found an inn ok, and had a beer to try to settle the greasy lunch sitting on my stomach like lead. I felt much better after that and we drove on to Goudet – another stunning village with a ruined castle on a rock and another castle with a colourful tiled cone like roof. This brought us on to St Martin de Fugéres, where we stopped to look back at Goudet and take some photos.

03 August 2011

With the Gallo Romans in Lyon

We spent a very enjoyable day at Lyon – exploring the Gallo Roman area and museum. Lyon was settled by the Romans about 43BC, where they built many beautiful villas, arenas for gladiatorial fighting, debating, and for the circus. Under the Romans it was called Lugdunum. Roman veterans from the 5th Legion settled at the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône.
There are many traces of the Romans still around Lyon, and many great examples of these traces are contained in the Gallo-Roman museum at Fourvière.

What a position high up overlooking the river and island between the two rivers. Gauls from a Celtic tribe were settled along the river banks and there was a great deal of trading between merchants. The river was used as a highway, and boat Captains were important. Apparently Caesar Augustus appointed his son in law, Agrippa, with the creation of the road network around the town.

There are wonderful mosaics preserved in the museum depicting scenes from the day to day life of the Romans. Originally they would have been on the floors of their houses. The huge open air amphi-theatres or forums, could seat 30,000 spectators, and in another one,10,000.

After an exhausting and thrilling morning in the museum, we walked down steep stone stairs to the old town and had a delicious lunch, before returning home.

Early in the week we had a visit from Richard and Beth Payne who are travelling around France in a very luxurious motor home. It was quite tricky getting it into our courtyard. A very pleasant visit indeed, including a lunch at Berzé la Ville looking over the vineyards.

Alain will come for his English lesson soon and we are expecting more visitors tomorrow, should be fun.