A celebration, Col De Port and cowbells..

Yesterday we attended a celebration with many of Susie’s friends. It wasn’t on the occasion of a wedding, christening or engagement but a celebration of the life of Keith. Peta and Keith were dear friends of Susie’s and after Keith passed away earlier this year, Peta was determined to hold an event on his birthday.

It was a gathering filled with sad moments certainly, but mostly happy tales and memories of him and his life. It was quite wonderful and Susie and I were priviledged to have been invited to share in such an amazing send off.

Peta lives in Seix, almost two hours drive from Rivel, where we are staying with Maggie. I relied mainly on the satnav to get there, but the return trip was more, well lets say spontaneous. We went over the Col De Port, which if it isn’t on ‘Le Tour’ as a mountain stage, darn well should be. I drove round winding hairpins, slowly ascending through tree lined cliff faces and crossing fast flowing streams. At the top, we were rewarded with the sight ofa large herd of cows, gently grazing the mountain pasture and ringing their cowbells as they meandered through the roadside fields. It was a wonderful scene and of course we stopped so I could take photo’s.

We descended and drove towards Rivel, though when we reached Lavelanet we were greeted by a different celebration. Young people were waving French flags, hanging out of speeding cars and being pursued by gendarmes in patrol cars with blue flashing lights….Yes, France had won the World Cup….how fortunate I thought, that we were driving a French registered vehicle and not an English one…

Sweaty lycra and a flexed finger..

Normally, superstitious people would tell you to avoid travelling on Friday the 13th. So obviously we didn’t take any notice of silly things like that when we planned a short trip down to the Ariege where Susie used to live. We reckoned without the Tour De France. Fridays stage ran from Fougeres to Chartres and bisected our region West to East. We wanted to travel North to South. It’s difficult to portray how important Le Tour is, certainly enough to invoke major road closures while the riders pass, though preceded by a lengthy publicity caravan and followed by the team cars, medical personnel and official cars.

I slaved over online maps and the race time schedule, trying to locate the most convenient point to try and reach when the roads were open again. Needless to say that afternoon we couldn’t attempt to drive down our chosen road and we circled back towards home and tried a more direct route. Friday the 13th doesn’t always turn out as predicted, as we arrived at the crossing point just as they were removing the plastic barriers. Much relieved we headed toward the autoroute.

Some five hours later and despite an unexpected, sat nav induced tour of the light industrial areas of Poitiers, we arrived in Pierre-Buffiere and the Auberge Dupuytrens. It’s a charming place (though with lots of stairs to it’s rooms) and has a good restaurant. In our room, to which the term bijoux could readily apply, we read about Guillaume Dupuytrens, who was born in the town and was an anatomist and military surgeon in the early 19th Century. It was he who first described a condition of flexed and rigid fingers which became known as Dupuytrens Contracture. I’d appreciate a quick mention if this nugget of information ever came in useful during a game of Trivial Pursuit or a pub quiz with a very eclectic and esoteric question setter.

This morning we were on the road again and by mid afternoon (without sat nav dramas) we’d arrived in Rivel to stay with friends Maggie and Martin. Tomorrow afternoon we drive to Seix to join in a celebration of the life of one of Susie’s friends who died earlier this year.


Not quite what the doctor ordered…

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. Amongst other things we’ve (the royal we that is) had eye training, tried a new restaurant, been to the doctors and fitted in three birthday celebrations.

The eye training is carried out in St.Hilaire. It isn’t possible to leave your eyes to be trained so Susie has to undertake supervised eye exercises. As far as I know her left eye has yet to run round the block or achieve 10 sit ups but the right one might be coming up to Olympic standard soon…

Susie’s doctor is located in Bourgneuf Le Foret, a 40 minute drive away. He was the closest ‘medecin’ who prescribed homeopathic remedies..His consulting rooms are conveniently located between a driving school and a hairdressers. Susie talks to him about his dogs and other non medical things…ocassionally she asks about her blood sugar levels.

Because the doctors appointment was around 11am….well you know we can’t go out without having lunch so we decided to try somewhere new. Our route home conveniently takes us through Ernee where we found The Living Room. It’s a lovely place, run by a friendly, charming Anglo/French couple. The food was delicious and innovative, well presented and seasoned. We liked the restaurant so much we’ve been back…. One for our list…

We celebrated Susie’s (age redacted) birthday three times this year. I took her to dinner at Toque Aux Vins, the evening before. The day after, we went for a special lunch at L’Aromate with our friends Owen and Margaret, which included one of those indoor Roman candles…I passed on that, preferring a chocolate pudding. Then the following day we had Sunday lunch at L’Abbaye where the hosts, Pete and Trudi presented Susie with a bunch of flowers. All the meals were excellent, a fitting way for two foodies with expanding girth problems to celebrate a special occasion.

Things we learnt from our holidays…

Now that we’ve got back into the hectic lifestyle here at home, I thought it might be nice to write a few reflective lines about the three weeks we spent away…

  • Driving in Spain is just as hairy as in France, especially if a car decides to overtake you and the bus in front on a blind cliffside hairpin..
  • Girona Airport is easy to park at and easy to catch a coach from.
  • Barcelona is probably one of the great cities of the world…unless you live there of course, in which case, you’ll possibly hate it.
  • When ordering a burger (even if the menu says it’s ‘gourmet’) be aware it’s supposed to be cooked all the way through.
  • Because of my reckless disregard of the above, I became intimately familiar with the inner workings of Barcelona’s sewage system.
  • There are still hidden gems to discover in Barcelona.
  • It’s not always warm and sunny in Spain.
  • It sometimes rains there….heavily.
  • If you can pack an umbrella and a waterproof, you should.
  • Girona’s population doubles during the Flower Festival.
  • They all set their morning alarm for the same time.
  • You can get pancakes, with cream, bananas and maple syrup for breakfast.
  • Your sat nav can be annoying…..really, really annoying.
  • Restaurants catering to tourists are similarly poor in Spain and France.
  • Bass notes from modern dance music can defeat the best ear plugs and rattle heavy wooden shutters.
  • We can model Kimono and not fall over.
  • 950km is really too far to drive in one day.

Would we do it again? Of course…

The even longer but slightly less boring road…

Our debut as catwalk fashion models was moderately successful. Well, at least we didn’t trip up or fall into the laps of the not inconsiderable audience. I’m certain that kimonos in Gruissan have never been modeled so well. Equally I’m also fairly certain that kimonos haven’t been modeled in Gruissan at all. However, all who attended had a great time and we enjoyed a communal meal together after the show.

A highlight of our stay in Gruissan were two meals at Aux Deux Oliviers Well constructed, cooked and presented food, with outstanding service.

We left Gruissan a little dissapointed. It’s a pleasant place but seems to be used by the beach visitors as a ‘watering hole’. Our view was also tainted by the fete that went on at length, well into the next morning. On our last night, I had to resort to wax ear plugs, which the chemist insisted I didn’t push too in far, in case the wax couldn’t be removed. Luckily I found it tended to fall out of my ear, so no worry about the need for A&E, but the loud bass beats just near to our window got through. In fact they rattled the shutters…

Sunday morning, we set off for home, a not inconsiderable drive of 950km, which I insisted I could do without Susie’s help. We took the route which allowed us to cross the Millau Viaduct, a stunning sight, no matter how many times you do it. We stopped for lunch at a Courtpaille just south of Clermont Ferrand and rolled up at the house just after 9pm. I wouldn’t recommend undertaking such a long drive, especially as it becomes quite boring after you crest the Massif Central. Next time…yes, of course there’s a next time…we’re breaking the journey home.

So, that’s the end of our Spanish, French, kimono modelling adventure. I wonder if they sell kimono in Gdansk?…Guess we’ll find out later on this year…

Gracias or Merci?..I’m so confused…

The last couple of days have been a bit blurred, not through excess alcohol consumption but transferring from one country to another…

On Thursday morning we visited the Dali museum in Figueres. It’s every bit as offbeat as Dali was. It contains a lot of his works, though does show what a fine draughtsman he was and how he experimented with differing painting methods and styles. I enjoyed it, but as ever it was somewhat spoilt by guided groups who filled rooms and blocked exhibits.

We drove up the costal road on our way out of Spain, stopping in Portbou for what can only be described as the biggest plate of stodge we ate in Spain, before driving up and over the top, back into France. This really is a beautiful part of the world and each cove and cliff top view is more enchanting.

So we arrived at Gruissan, on the coast south of Narbonne. We are in a small B&B, in itself really nice, though with portaloos just outside our window. It’s fete weekend in Gruissan and as luck would have it we seem to be at the end of town with all the temporary bars. Our intention was to meet up with Susie’s friends, Maggie and Martin. Maggie is an expert in Kimono and is staging a exhibition of Kimono at a contemporary arts centre in the town. We went out for a lovely meal and chat last night, then this morning we went along for a preview. Maggie and Martin have worked very hard to display the kimono beautifully as you can see from these photos.

Tomorrow evening we’re going to the exhibition and with a lot of arm twisting, I’ll be wearing a kimono. Susie, being a born performer, needs no such persuasion…..

El Grumpo (2), Casa Dali and the singing waiter…

Some of my long standing readers may remember El Grumpo, the bad tempered waiter we met in Seville. Today we met his northern brother….

Hotel breakfasts are not as a rule taxing work for either guests or staff. This hotel doesn’t break that rule. It provides a buffet of hot and cold drinks and food. It’s not particularly nourishing or gastronomically spectacular, it is what it is. We needed a fairly early start this morning and trotted along the corridor just after 7:30am and called the lift. It arrived complete with a waiter, a trolley and some dirty plates. He wished us a surly ‘hola’, let the doors close and dissappeared. No apology or offer to vacate the lift and let us use it. We called the lift again and took the now empty one to the 1st floor and the buffet.

We were first in and had to work out how to use the coffee machine. The Catalan El Grumpo appeared and asked for our room number so he could ensure we were charged for breakfast. Susie asked for water and he did his best ‘Basil Fawlty’ exasperated sigh and pointed towards the orange juice. Susie was still perplexed and he had to show her where they had hidden bottles of water behind the juice. He cleared tables after diners but never smiled. I’m sure he is poorly paid and works unsocial hours, however he could take lessons from a fellow service worker we met later…

Much of our day was taken up with a drive to Port Lligat and a tour of Salvador Dali’s home. The house was enlarged by knocking together several fishermens cottages. It probably goes without saying that it’s a bit wacky. Although really interesting and providing an insight into Dali’s home life, I felt as though I was intruding. The exterior is beautiful and the swimming pool stunning in it’s quirkiness.

Leaving Port Lligat, we decided to pass on a visit to Cadaques because of the parking problems and came back to the hotel. Thanks to the sat nav we also had an extensive tour of the network of one way streets that makes up Figueres but we made it in the end.

Needing a quick lunch, we returned to the lovely place where we had the patatas bravas and squid rings. Our waiter was the same as yesterday and he also sang. He sang when he laid out the cutlery, he sang serving our food and always with a smile on his face. Oh how we could do with him at the hotel…..