Many rivers to cross…*

*Or, how we went from Toulouse to two showers.

It was far easier than I thought to find our way out of Toulouse this morning. We were heading for our last destination, Chateau D’Oleron. It started in quite promising weather as I pulled out of the hotel garage, found my way on to the peripherique and subsequently to the autoroute for Bordeaux..

We’ve travelled via autoroute for most the time this trip. A feature of these toll roads in France (in contrast to the UK) is the frequency of their ‘aires’ or rest stops. These are either with or without petrol. The signs for the non petrol ones usually show a large P, a picnic table and a shady evergreen and two children playing on a rustic looking see saw. We’ve shortened this type to ‘pee, tree, play’.

I’m not one for driving at the maximum and am usually overtaken quite frequently. This morning a very rapid Range Rover went past, though just after it’s car number and ‘trop vite’ flashed up on one of the overhead gantries. I did wonder if this extended to a speeding fine. Going round the Bordeaux peripherique is a bit of an experience though you do cross two spectacular rivers, the Garonne and the Dordogne.

We stopped to fill up and bought two of the most disgusting ham and cheese baguettes for lunch. Pressing on, the sun disappeared and quite close to our destination it began to rain. We arrived at the hotel in a heavy drizzle and quickly brought in enough things for tonight before moving the car to a proper parking spot, just round the corner. The hotel is really boutique, quirky, homely and warm. We have his and her showers in the bathroom, or if you were athletic you could soap yourself under one and run across to rinse off in the other.

It being off season, our choice of eating places was very limited. However, we had a great meal just up the road from the hotel. No Michelin stars but very honest and tasty.

We hope the sun will poke through the clouds tomorrow and we’ll have a stroll round the small town here…if not we’ll get wet..

I was born under two Michelin stars..

It’s been a day for ‘splashing cash’ in smaller and greater amounts. This morning, we walked no, make that limped in an ungainly fashion due to Toulouse fatigue, to Capitole. We went in search of a coffee house, which seemed to have closed, paused to have a coffee from a street vendor and listened to an excellent blind busker singing to a backing tape of No Woman, No Cry.

We located both the shops we’d intended to visit, the first, selling rather kitsch ‘Hello Kitty’ sort of merchandise. Two items were purchased, a cute human shaped tea infuser which hangs over the side of your cup and a large coffee mug, moulded into a grumpy face. Any subtle hint of irony or stereotyping has now been abandoned apparently. Secondly we called into the tea shop that Susie used to frequent when she lived near here. Amazingly we purchased some tea…

After a restful couple of hours back at the hotel, we walked round to Michel Sarran a two Michelin starred restaurant. We’ve never dined at this level before and considering the second mortgage size of the bill, it my be some time before we repeat the experience. But, what an experience. The food, flavours, textures and presentation were all at a different level to other restaurants we’ve dined at. We were presented with a copy of the menu, signed by the owner as we left, which made our evening complete. I make no apologies for including all of the food images…

Tomorrow we leave Toulouse for Chateau D’Oleron. Visiting a big city is great for a few days but I think we are both ready for a couple of relaxing days…

Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare…

Some cities you love or hate, some you love and hate and some leave you a little undecided. Barcelona I love and London is definitely love and hate, though perhaps hate is too much of an emotive word. We walked extensively (emphasis on extensively) round Toulouse today. I began with pre conceived ideas about it, which changed as the day went on. I can’t ignore it’s obvious homeless rough sleepers, an encampment of whom were about to be evicted by the municipal police from a shop frontage this morning. I’m not condemning them at all, just that their presence makes you feel a bit on edge. However, the rest of Toulouse began to win me over. It has fabulous architecture, intriguing history, lots of open spaces, quirky and swanky boutiques and more variety of bars and restaurants than you can poke with a Michelin star.

On our rambles, we came across Capsule a quirky small pavement cafe run by two lovely girls. We had a hot drink and a couple of very yummy patisseries and found out that they had only been open less than a week. We loved it so much we decided to return for a late lunch.

From late morning we wandered around, taking in the Capitole, then down to the Jardin des Plantes and up the Allees Francois Verdier, where an antiques market was in full swing. There’s certainly plenty of variety in Toulouse.

By now we were flagging and our weary legs led us back to Capsule for a much needed light snack and a cold drink. It’s a shame they aren’t open tomorrow, as I’m certain we would have returned. Retracing our route from this morning, we walked past the river and then the canal, where we paused to watch a tourist boat negotiate the locks back into the river, with the lock keeper operating the gates by remote control. This evening we’ve relaxed in our hotel room, massaging our over used legs with virtual essential oils…or eating crisps as we know it..

We’ll wander a bit further tomorrow, then in the evening we have a date at a two Michelin star restaurant. Let’s hope they turn the lights on…

We want to see the bright lights tonight..

All this travelling is playing havoc with my body clock, so I’m unsure as to whether it’s Friday or Saturday, I have little idea of the date and the only way I can tell the time is if I’ve eaten lunch or dinner…ah, you knew food would enter at some point…

Yesterday afternoon we were joined at Maggie and Martin’s by two new house guests. Peta, who is an old friend of Susies and Janice, who is house sitting for Maggie and Martin next week. We all went out for a tapas meal at Le Relais in Mirepoix. We had a great meal in a private side room and as is usual with us, we were the last ones to leave..

Today, we said goodbye to Peta, then Maggie, Martin and Janice and continued our travels to Toulouse. Susie loves Toulouse, so much so that her enthusiasm was having a negative effect on my perception of what the city would be like. Anyway, as usual the satnav took us on a small detour before dropping us at the door of the hotel. We checked in, parked, unloaded, found our room and once orientated, set off for Compans Caffarelli and it’s Japanese Gardens. Let’s make it clear, I’m not a huge fan of gardens, though these were impressively beautiful. Marred a bit by the number of people disturbing the Zen quality of the scenery, it was still tranquil and serene.

We found our way back to the hotel and got ready for our 8pm reservation at Sept, a Michelin starred restaurant, some 20 minutes stagger for two overweight and travel weary pensioners.

I think it’s meant to enhance the establishments ambiance but each table only had one small light and the restaurant was lit like a cinema just before the main feature begins. Add to this the staff being outfitted all in black, I was amazed there weren’t more culinary collisions. We were offered the choice of two degustation menus and chose the one with the least courses. The food was outstanding, though I’ll apologise for the poorly lit photos…

It was almost 11pm by the time we came out and we sauntered back to our hotel through the Saturday night student revellers. Amazingly, there isn’t a plan for tomorrow. I’m sure one of us will come up with may involve food one way or another.

Kick out the confitures, brothers & sisters

*For those confused by the blog title (and who wouldn’t be), Google MC5, 1969…

When we stayed in Pezenas, three years ago our breakfasts were greatly added to by jam from a small producer about 40 minutes drive away and on our way towards our friends in the Ariege we decided to take a small diversion to try and buy some.

We left our B&B in Pezenas after breakfast, though not before we got a parking ticket while we collected our suitcases from our room. The jam makers shop was located in the strangely named Neffies. It was a little hard to find, though the square where the shop was located was very interesting. Susie bought quite a few jars of differing flavours, we got back to the car and headed off for Rivel, where Maggie and Martin live.

A short hop down the autoroute and we arrived, had a long chat over coffee, did some unpacking and had a lovely dinner.

The next day, we went to see more friends, Annie and Gary, to collect some furniture of Susies, which they had been storing. This is now being stored with Martin and Maggie until we can arrange for a man with a van, to transport it up to Normandy.

in the evening, we went to Creamundo for dinner. We’d been three years ago and the cuisine is still excellent. Well seasoned, with big flavours and even bigger portions…

Yes, that really was beef stew and fries, which Chef emphasised were Belgian fries, not French…..


The Long And Winding Road…

Today was our last full day in Pezenas. There were places here that we hadn’t either explored properly before or that we wanted to see again, so today was mostly given over to that. I say mostly, as by the time lunch was over, today had become a mini version of a UN meeting.

We began this morning with breakfast at our B&B. It was worth waiting for, coffee, bread, orange juice and super mini pastries, freshly delivered (and still hot) from the boulangerie round the corner. Following breakfast we wandered through the artisan area of the old town, up to the 13th century Jewish quarter, then a stroll down the 18th century Cours Jean Jaures.

Lunch was about due and we looked for a charming French bistro..we ended up at a Thai restaurant. It wasn’t bad and we were seated close to two ladies who were speaking english. Susie ended up chatting to them and found that one was indeed English and the other lady, Finnish. She spotted that Susie was wearing Issey Miyake and the conversation soon turned to fashion. The Finnish lady owned a boutique nearby and stocked Annikki Karvinen, an 87 year old fashion designer and of course, Susie has some of her clothes. We were invited to visit her boutique and of course, Susie now has more Karvinen clothes. The boutique also stocks art by the english lady and the english husband of the Finnish lady.. I hope you are all paying attention as there’ll be questions at the end….

We had reserved a table tonight, at a restaurant with no roof, though it was on the proviso that if it rained the restaurant would be closed. You might guess it began raining about an hour before the restaurant opened and I confirmed that it was closed online. Just across the road was an establishment we’d earmarked as a back up. Having dined there tonight it’s only suitable for emergency purposes and I make no apologies for a lack of photographs which were largely uninspiring.

So tomorrow we leave Pezenas, sure that we will return, if only to visit that boutique. On we drive to Rivel, to stay with our friends Maggie and Martin…

Good morning sunshine…

We aren’t having much luck with breakfast here. We are having some, but it isn’t where we are staying. It may be poor communication but we’ll see if we fare better tomorrow.

It was hot and sunny today, probably into the high 20’s and we had chosen this day to visit Sete, which is on the Med coast, not too far from here. We’d already booked a promising restaurant for lunch which was a little away from the centre, so we parked up just across the bridge and prepared for an hours wander round a beautiful town. Oh dear…

I’m not saying Sete doesn’t have it’s good points, it has a lovely waterfront. But there’s no charm, it’s full of commerce and tourist trap bars and restaurants. The town centre is quite built up and pedestrianised. We got lost trying to find the Tourist Information Centre which says a lot. Anyway, we eventually did and armed with a map and directions we went looking for Terre et Mer, our lunch spot.

It was worth the walk…The waiter was charming, food delicious and we ate outside in glorious sunshine, what more could you want?

It was very warm when we waddled back to the car, perhaps the excess food didn’t help. We walked over the bridge, just a French version of the ‘Yellow Submarine’ went under. A peculiar looking thing, I guess it may be a glass bottomed boat, at least I hope so, otherwise there will be some very wet tourists if it’s semi submersible.

We drove back to Pezenas and found our sneaky parking spot had been taken, so we’ve had to leave the car up at the old railway station overnight. Tomorrow we go in search of special jam….hopefully that doesn’t involve one leaving our car park….

Strike a pose…

We weren’t expecting today, or should I say we didn’t expect such an action packed Sunday. Well, not that we were in the action exactly…

We began by walking along the main street here, searching through the many kerbside restaurants for one that served breakfast. We found one which faced a cordoned off area of the car park, on which we were informed a tournament of tamborin was taking place.

It’s very much like tennis, though without a net and lines on the court and five players on each side. It’s played with a form of tambourine, though without the jangly bit on the outside.

We finished our breakfast and strolled on into town, where we could hear music being played. A little way further and we saw a ‘float’ being carried along by hidden figures and accompanied by a band. It paraded around the streets, the children dancing along.

Along the street, a small cordoned off area was holding a fashion parade, further up there was a mass Zumba session, for which we were sorry that we’d forgotten to pack our exercise gear. A lot of the artisan boutiques were open, so we shopped a little, then rested on a nearby seat, watching the passing ponies and a donkey taking children for rides around the old town, where they left deposits outside the shops. Luckily, they were collected quite efficiently. We’d reserved a table for lunch at a restaurant we’d used and liked three years ago. what a difference now. The food was ok, but not to my taste. Susie was suffering with her air conditioning allergy and we had our coffee outside on the terrace. We were supposed to be dining there on Tuesday but the attitude of one of the waiters today precludes us going.

We strolled back towards the B&B, pausing to watch a little tambourin, which was apparently reaching it’s final exciting stages. We tore ourselves away, got back to our room and had a nap. It’s all that tambourin that does it….and the Zumba…


Keep on running…

It seems that we are fated to meet up with enthusiastic athletes. In Bilbao last year we arrived on the night of their marathon. Today, our route plans were rather disrupted by the Millau 100k, not only a marathon but a much extended run along the course of the Tarn. We were heading to Pezenas but our route of choice was closed for this event.

However, we said farewell to Etienne (himself a keen runner) and Adeline, owners and hosts of Villa La Muse this morning. We’d arrived as guests and parted as friends, which is as it should be. We hope to return in a couple of years. Our revised route to Pezenas took us to Les Vignes, away from the gorge and onto the causse or plateau. Driving across the causse, we joined the autoroute and crossed the Millau Viaduct, whereafter it was an hours drive to Pezenas.

Pezenas is not an easy town to negotiate even without a braderie taking place. Anyway, I managed to find a temporary spot near to our B&B, albeit on a red and white striped piece of tarmac saying ‘access pompiers’. We were only there long enough to unload and a space became available in a small car park nearby. Once settled in our huge room and after lugging the suitcases up a spiral stone staircase, we thought we’d have a walk round the old town.

This area of Pezenas is filled with small artisan boutiques and you can easily while away a few hours wandering round. We walked up one narrow street (this area is the old Jewish Quarter) and I heard a cats plaintive cries. Looking up I could see a very thin black cat, enclosed in a wire basket which was wedged on a window sill. The owner of the boutique below was concerned and tried to access the apartment but without any response from the occupier. He then got a ladder and climbed the last part to the cat and I believe gave it food and water. Just after, two municipal policemen arrived and with the help of other boutique owners put on an unrehearsed acrobatic act, while an intrepid policeman got up to window level and shone a torch through to see if there was anyone at home. By this time, we were suffering with hunger pangs and unfortunately went in search of coffee and crepe before we knew what the outcome was.

We came back to the B&B where we got ready for dinner, in the restaurant attached to (and underneath) the letting rooms. It was an excellent meal, even though it was burgers and not our usual gourmet fare.

Tomorrow we’ll have breakfast and lunch out (probably only separated by an hour or so) and wander round some more. Luckily the weather has again improved and I’ve managed to cast off my jumper. Who knows what else I’ll manage to throw aside on Sunday…


We built this city, on rock (and roll).

This morning, over a leisurely breakfast we said farewell to David and Marianne. Contact details have been exchanged and we are sure to keep in touch.

It was they who mentioned the Cite De Pierres, not as you may expect, a town where everyone is called Peter, but a site with grand vistas, some activities and walks.

I’ve never thought of us as walkers. In fact when anyone mentions walkers, I automatically think of the firm that produces shortbread biscuits rather than the process of putting one foot in front of another and producing forward motion. However, we arrived at Cite De Pierres this morning prepared to at least try a short waddle.

The brochure offers various options, you can climb on the ‘via ferrata’ and use the zip wire. I think we considered this for perhaps a nanosecond and moved on to the ‘on foot’ selection, which promised rambles from 30 minutes to 2 hours. There were limitations to our time (and legs) so we searched for the shortest route and set off. At first it was fairly easy going, though I did point out that we were descending and inevitably that would mean an ascent. There were interesting rock formations to view along the way, with luckily rather long explanations to read which gave us a short respite in which to catch our breath and rue our lack of fitness and mobility.

The further we went, the worse the ground underfoot became and gravel paths gave way to stone steps, with varying degrees of height and difficulty. We consulted the map and realised that we could either retrace our steps or complete the circuit back to the car park but by negotiating a more difficult route, which in all probability would include a stop at Everest base camp.

However our salvation came in the form of the sites tourist train. We had considered this option at the start and thought it best not to appear as complete wimps. Not far ahead, we could see that the train (and it’s four passengers) had stopped to look at some intriguing flora. Susie enquired whether it was possible to join the train at this point and was much relieved to receive a positive response. On the way to the loop where the train turns for home we saw that our intended route seemed to disappear then reappear on the other side of a huge rock outcrop before meandering down to the loop. Our legs were very grateful and we sat back to enjoy the ride back, noting with some satisfaction how much of the route we’d covered on foot.

In glorious sunshine, we had a small snack seated at the panoramic viewpoint. Crisps and biscuits rapidly replaced the calories we’d burnt in the previous hour. We’re now back at base camp as it were and will be getting ready for dinner at L’Alicanta where we’ll consume a comfort blanket of food, whilst bathing in the afterglow of our achievement….though that may be sunburn.