Thursday, July 22, 2010

July 14th - Bastille Day

  Rather quieter on the novelty front this week.  The weather was hot and sunny for the French family who spent a good deal of their time fishing in the millpond. The three boys are polite and well-behaved and seem to have enjoyed themselves. Their mother made a delicious rhubarb tart and cooked some of the crayfish (the American ones) in a sauce. We were invited to partake of both of these dishes.  

 Crayfish in sauce
Malek has been helping Jim with several chores around the domain including the vegetable watering which is becoming rather a time-consuming job because of the dry weather.

 Jim's vegetable garden
I have finished the patchwork quilt for the main bedroom and will have to get a new project going soon. I have also more or less finished the painting of the bedrooms. I will start on the kitchen ceiling next.  
Rufus has a new hobby. Instead of catching lizards he has turned his attention to flies. He is fairly successful at this and when he has caught one he eats it. The numbers don’t seem to have decreased though and have become a nuisance. We have been driven indoors more than once by them. You don’t know whether they are going to bite, sting or just crap on your dinner so the more that Rufus can catch the better. Hornets are something else!
A pleasanter topic which I should have mentioned last week is the perfume of the chestnut flowers (Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa). Apart from the walnut trees the domaine of the Moulin is blessed with a quantity of chestnut trees. These flowered late June, early July. The scent of the  flowers hung over the valley and was particularly strong in the evening. It was a delight to take a late stroll out into the fields and breathe in the heady perfume. Another marketing opportunity there for you, Peter, if only we could bottle it.  
Friday 15th July
 The French have gone and we left it too late to fire up the bread oven. They want to come again so may be will get another chance.
Sunday 18th July
 Last night we attended the July 14th supper in the village. The affair was in the newly roofed marquee and we were entertained by a magician/comedian/musician. We had a good time although everything was in French as you would expect and we didn’t really know what was going on. We had salad, quiche, grilled sausage and meat and ice cream.
The Dalmon family including Anaîs and Flora who were there minus their parents made us welcome and invited us to sit with them. We sat opposite a lady who was secretly feeding her dog under the table – we shared a joke about this. A good evening altogether.
Matthew and family arrive tomorrow so we shall scrub the place up and move into the gîte.
Flora and fauna
Corn Cockle
Marbled White Butterfly
Sunset from the village

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Millau Viaduct and more

A much more eventful week than last week when I had to resort to shopping news.

Our French friends have arrived to stay in the gîte again. This week, Malek and his brother René and next week Malek will fetch his family of wife and three boys.
I hope the weather will be kinder to them this time.

Firstly, a trip down to Millau to see the Norman Foster viaduct. Millau is about 2 – 3 hours journey away.
We stayed the night in the centre of town, spending the afternoon wandering Millau’s lanes and alleyways. Plenty of interesting shops and cafes here and lots of people enjoying them in the sunshine.

Lane in  Millau
Rufus and Me by a water feature

The following morning we planned our route to the viaduct after having checked things out in the Tourist office. There is a tour bus and it was thought they might allow dogs – because we had Rufus with us, but we decided against this as it was so hot. We made our own way to the main viewpoint under the bridge, where, of course, there was a retail therapy opportunity as well as information about the design and construction of the viaduct. I bought a jigsaw puzzle of the viaduct.


For lunch we drove to Peyre and small hillside village with a good view of the viaduct. After a snack and a wander around Peyre I said I wanted to go on the bridge – I couldn’t imagine returning to Cowbridge and telling folk we had been under the bridge, around the bridge, seen it from various viewpoints but not actually been on it, so we did – it costs €7.90 and is worth every penny. A fine feat of engineering.

The Viaduct from Peyre

 On the viaduct

But the highlight of the week was the snake!
Malek and René spend many relaxing hours fishing in the millpond and putting their catch in a keepnet (technical term). They discovered a grassnake making a meal of their catch. The snake had already eaten one fish – they were not very large, maybe 4 – 6 inches, you can tell by the bulge around the middle of the snake, and was partway through a second helping. We all got our cameras out.

Later, when the snake had finished his repast the remaining fish and the snake were released. Malek told us later that there were several snakes in the millpond.

The following day the scenario was repeated with the addition of a quantity of crayfish. I don’t know whether the snake ate any of these which were about the same size as the fish. I went and ‘googled’ crayfish to find out more about them. It would seem that the native species is being ousted by the American variety. It was ever thus. For those interested here is what I read in Wikipedia:
'Crayfish — members of the superfamilies Astacoidea and Parastacoidea — are freshwater crustaceans resembling small lobsters, to which they are related. They breathe through feather-like gills and are found in bodies of water that do not freeze to the bottom; they are also mostly found in brooks and streams where there is fresh water running, and which have shelter against predators. Most crayfish cannot tolerate polluted water. Crayfish feed on living and dead animals and plants.'

Malek holding crayfish

They can of course be eaten but we do not plan to do this. Malek identified some of both nationalities in his catch and we told him he could eat the American ones if he wished.

Weather remains very hot and dry. Work progresses on the painting, quilting, photography and gardening fronts.

There's enough flora and fauna here for this week - more flowers and bugs next week.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Shopping and .........

Shopping in France Profund is a different experience to what we are used to in South Wales. The largest town, about an hour’s drive away, is Aurillac, capital of the Cantal department and a population of 30,500 plus. It is a town of small shops and boutiques some of them in a pedestrianised area of narrow lanes which is attractive and pleasant to stroll around. However, there are no large stores or chains which even a modest sized town in Britain might have. In this area you will find the umbrella shop. Aurillac is famous for it’s umbrellas and produces more than half the umbrellas made in France. We have one which we bought on our first visit. It also has Géant – a large, good supermarket situated a little way out of town in a small shopping mall.

Decazeville is an old industrial mining town something akin to Merthyr Tidfil. It desperately needs a ‘makeover’. The main street has very few interesting shops or cafés and many shops are closed and boarded up. We only go there because it is easy to get to and has another, smaller Géant and a Mr Bricolage (DIY store) on the outskirts. This is the Mairie probably the best thing there is there.

Figeac is a charming, beautiful town with an unspoilt medieval centre. The shops, boutiques and cafes are plentiful and interesting. There is a Saturday morning market, similar to that in Maurs, which we sometimes go to, staying on for lunch somewhere. Just out of town on the N822 is a garden centre where we have spent a fair bit of money since we have been here.

Maurs  is our closest town, (20 mins. – 15 if you drive like the French which Jim says I do) and has the usual complement of shops. We frequent the Market on Thursdays, shop in the supermarket and occasionally some of the local shops. The ‘plat du jour’ at the selection of cafes is around €7-8 and we sometimes have this at lunchtime.
We are fortunate to have an English vet here. Rufus doesn’t agree.

We have been to Brocante Foires and Grandes Foires and Les Poteries des Marchés as previously mentioned in this blog but the best shopping outing so far was Le Vide Grenier we went to last Sunday afternoon in the hospital grounds in Figeac. Vide Grenier means something like ‘empty your attic’ and is a boot fair. Lots of rubbish at cheap prices! We had a great time, purchasing jigsaw puzzles, haberdashery items and this:

Isn’t he splendid! I think it’s a Beech Marten. I gave him a good brush and now he stands on the mantelshelf in the living room. All for €2.00!

I have spent the week getting the gîte ready for the French family again. They really like the place. I have painted the hallway white, assembled and put up a food cupboard, curtain rails (Jim did some of the DIY) and given the place a good clean.
Jim has progressed with clearing a route for the ‘nature walk’ although nature is battling against this scheme especially the brambles. His labours continue in the vegetable garden and we are now eating the broadbeans.
He has also made this rather sweet little ladder for use in the subterranean part of the mill.

More flora and fauna:
 Purple Emperor showing the purple flash (taken by Jim)

Silver-Washed Fritillary

Bird's-Foot Trefoil

Devil's-Bit Scabious

Along the 'nature trail'