Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bridges and Beaches

Nice dog at Prunet
 We finally managed to do something that we should have done a while ago – get our hair cut. Jim was looking like an aged hippie and I had to scrape back my fringe to see the computer.
Jim made a note of some useful phrases like ‘short, back and sides’ and ‘no lacquer, thank you’ in passable French and we went into Maurs in search of a unisex salon where we could be shorn together.
It wasn’t the ordeal we expected and it had the added benefit of not being asked where we were going on holiday or if we had somewhere nice to go that evening. No picture of us with shorter hair so look at this instead:

Bob and Eleanor getting in their Xmas holly last week
 We have been having a palaver with French bureaucracy about getting the car insured. We discovered when our British insurance came up for renewal that, in fact, it was only valid anyway for a month after our arrival in France and that we had been driving around uninsured for weeks! Our usual insurance broker told us that they could not reinsure us for driving in France, we would have to get it insured in France. The French insurers would only give us cover if we got the car registered in France – a process we trying to avoid but it appeared we were going to have to do it so we set the wheels in motion – as it were. All kinds of documents had to be produced and we needed to go to Aurillac to get something rubber stamped.

However, when we reported this state of affairs to friends and family many people came up with suggestions. The winner was Peter S.L.B. who recommended Zurich who were prepared to cover us for 60 days, thus covering the period of the rest of our stay here and no need to have the car reregistered.
Peter and Jennifer with wrong chateau at Muret
We collected Peter and Jennifer from Rodez on 17th Sept and we crammed in a lot of activity during their stay here. On Sunday I proposed a trip to visit Chateau de la Servayrie about an hours drive to the South. The idea was good but the planning was bad. I left the guide sheet on the roof of the car as we drove off so when we came to choose the route later we mixed up the place name Mourat with Muret and went to the wrong chateau which was up a steep climb and wasn’t open to the public – only discovered after we had made the effort. Luckily, I discovered the right chateau wasn’t too far away and it was still open when we arrived. It was worth the visit. I have added it to the visitors book.

Chateau Servayrie at Mouret
 On Monday the Cowbridge hordes descended en masse. The Knapps and the Bakers arrived for two days. I put them in the gîte and the rest of us cosied up in the house. Together we had a very jolly time – the wine and whisky flowing. And into Figeac on Tuesday where we were treated to a meal – thank you. 
Pictures of this next time when Mike Baker emails his photos to me.
We saw them off on their separate ways on Wednesday and as the weather was warm and sunny we four went to the lakes. This time we tried Espinet beach and liked it. We sat reading and browning for a couple of hours.
Beach at Espinet
Thursday was a day out to Millau to the bridge again because Peter was interested to see it. The weather was fine and we arrived at Millau in time for lunch. We did the same trip as before - under, round and over the bridge, stopping in Peyre for a walk and a viewing. Excellent day and anyone else visiting can request the guided tour – no extra charge.
View of Millau Bridge from Peyre
 In between the outings, visitors, shopping and whatever, Peter found time to almost hack his way through the brambles to complete the first part of the nature walk. However nature intervened as on Friday morning the rain, which had started the night before continued in a business-like way and put an end to the work.

Garage at Peyre
 We watched two films this week. Certified Copy – only the French version. They were talking in English mostly with French subtitles but frequently broke into French or Spanish. We were mystified. On the S.L.B.’s last evening we saw White Christmas, which three of us had never seen before. We loved it – some great dancing and singing.

Peter and Jennifer have gone and the French brothers, Malek and René are here again for a few days. Then we have no visitors for four weeks until Matthew and Andre arrive. I am taking bookings now, its not too late and the nuts are ripening.
Toad on front steps

Free night in the gite if you know what this is

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bits and Bob (and Eleanor)

As the view is now
  Bob and Eleanor left yesterday morning. They had been staying in the gîte all last week. They arrived bearing gifts from the UK – several tins of baked beans and Birds Custard Powder, which we can’t get here and miss along with proper bacon. Also a bottle of Pimms which Jim very generously mixed up for us!

The weather was reasonably kind to them during their stay – the first two days were a continuation of the hot dry weather, followed by three days of heavy rain and clouded skies. One night included several hours of thunderstorms, which are often impressive here. and this occasion did not disappoint. However, no one thought to get up and take a photograph – pity. We needed the rain as the ground was very dry and watering the garden had become a daily chore.

After the storms the weather cleared up again although not as warm as before.

Barbecue in the gloaming
Bob and Eleanor cooked us a barbecue and here we are waiting for Bob to grill the kebabs. I am adjusting my camera hoping to get a picture of a Hummingbird Hawkmoth feeding off the Nicotiana. I have tried to get pictures of these before but they are so quick it impossible. I didn’t succeed this time either, so I have cheated and used someone else’s.

Hummingbird Hawk-moth
“The Hummingbird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) is a species of Sphingidae. Its long proboscis and its hovering behaviour, accompanied by an audible humming noise, make it look remarkably like a hummingbird while feeding on flowers. It flies during the day, especially in bright sunshine, but also at dusk, dawn, and even in the rain, which is unusual for even diurnal hawkmoths.”

One evening we all went out to the Hotel Beausejour at Calvinet for a meal. We shall not go there again. The food is good but we were the only people there and we had to wait over an hour to be served. It is rather expensive and I think it is pretentious – check out the website if you are curious. However, the return journey proved interesting. We saw two Coypus and an animal that Bob later identified as a Beech Martin.

“The coypu (Myocastor coypus) is a large, crepuscular, semiaquatic rodent native to South America, but now also present in Europe. The coypu, an herbivore, has been introduced from South America to every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
The animal is adapted to subtropical and mild temperate climates. The coypu somewhat resembles a very large rat in appearance. Adults are typically 10-20 lbs in weight, and 15-24 inches in body length, with a 12-18 inches tail.
The nipples of female coypu are on her back. This allows their young to feed while the female is in the water.”
There – you didn’t know that, did you?!

 “The beech marten (Martes foina) is a small, weasel-like omnivore that weighs 1 to 2.5 kg.  An adult's coarse pelt varies in colour from dark brown to a lighter shade of greyish brown, with a thick white strip running from the chin down to the chest.  Body length for the beech marten ranges from 40 to 55 cm long; the tail measures between 20 and 30 cm.
Beech martens frequently live in areas of human settlement, but can also be found in the countryside, although they avoid areas where there is no cover. They inhabit the whole of mainland Europe as well as Western and Central Asia. Beech martens sleep in cover during the day, and hunt for food in the twilight. They are omnivores and their diet includes smaller mammals, earthworms, small to medium-sized birds, eggs, and fruit.

Beech Marten
I think I have one like that bought from a vide-grenier for €2 and mentioned in a previous post. He now stands on our mantleshelf here.

Martin the Marten

Later in the week we went to our favourite restaurant at Mourjou where we were treated to an excellent meal.

Jim and Bob working
Jim and Bob spent some time playing with the tractor doing general management activities around the domaine. Here they are trimming branches from around the telephone wire using an ingenious makeshift cutting device (patent applied for).

After our visitors left we went to Trioulou to another vide-grenier where we bought a slow-cooker, a Victorian shift/nightdress, a hat block, a selection of fèves (no, not broad beans – try again) for  Galettes des Rois and a saw. Such fun. 

We have a few days on our own now until the end of the week when more visitors arrive. Perhaps I shall get the dragons finished. Also, I may use more of our surplus courgettes to make more of this:

Chocolate Courgette Cake/Bread

here is the recipe - it's delicious!:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups white sugar
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups shredded courgettes
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease two 9x5 inch loaf pans.
2.In large bowl, combine flour, cocoa, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt, mix well. In separate bowl, combine sugar and eggs, beat until well blended. Add oil and vanilla; beat until combined. Stir in zucchini. Add flour mixture; stir just until moistened. Stir in chocolate chips. Spoon evenly into loaf pans.
3.Bake in preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove bread from pans; cool completely on wire rack.

We ate one and I froze the other.

Bob also took this picture of an unwelcome visitor at the barbecue.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Happy Holidays!

The Cantal Countryside
 The family who had booked the gîte arrived from the UK on Saturday evening having done the journey in one go – a mammoth effort. They arrived tired and hungry but everything was ready for them and after sharing the meal I had prepared they retired to the gîte.

They sadly left after a few days. The parents loved it here, beautiful scenery and quiet and peaceful, just what they needed after their stressful working lives. The children (a boy of eleven and a girl fifteen) were bored with country life. They wanted entertainment, bright lights and, probably, companions of their own ages. They bickered and squabbled, forcing their parents to abandon the holiday and leave. They are a nice family I hope they found a more suitable holiday elsewhere.

So, for anyone else considering a visit to Moulin du Clout I shall spell it out. This is France Profound. Life is simple here and we mostly make our own pleasures. We have no swimming pool, no games room (although that is being considered for next year) and no television (either French or English).

What we do have is lovely scenery suitable for walking in, exploring nature (flora, fauna and rocks) or just lounging around in with a book in hand, glass of wine at your elbow. Other pursuits could include painting and sketching (Jim does this), writing (poems, stories or that novel you are always meaning to have a go at), photography, fishing (small fry), blogging (you could write your own holiday journal), studying (yes, I know it’s a holiday, but brushing up on your French verbs or Napoleonic history is never wasted) and learning Bridge (I can teach you!) Any other ideas for entertainment (polite, clean and suitable) would be welcome. We already have bareback riding and ping-pong, thank you.

Apart from the nature walk (still under construction, wasps nest gone) we have plans for a boules piste and for turning the wood-chopping barn into a games room (as previously mentioned). The wood-chopping will be relocated to the old stables. Adjacent to the barn is the bread oven so if some renovation takes place to this area pizza parties can be held under cover whatever the weather.

Jim is always happy to have help in and around the domaine, ‘playing’ with the tractor, cutting logs, hacking undergrowth and fixing fencing etc.

I never go anywhere without taking some sewing, embroidery or knitting and my Sudoku book.

There are some interesting places to visit – but not many chateau of any note, mostly small towns and villages, the volcano area and the lakes where there are beaches suitable for swimming and other water pursuits, but the rest is up to you.

My previous posts have shown how we have entertained ourselves and the rest of this one includes some pictures (many donated by Andre and Marcelle taken during their stay here) of other activities.

If the weather is inclement you need to be more resourceful and self-sufficient. I have provided some books and games in the gîte and we are able to show some films on a large screen in the house. If things get really bad we can all hunker down in the house in front of the woodburner watching ‘A Sound of Music’ and opening bottle after bottle.

Look forward to seeing you soon.
Dino, Bo and Saskia shopping in the market

Firing pottery

Fired clay tile
Dino and Bo toast marshmallows
The beach at D'Espinet

Using the tractor

Shield Bug - Coreus marginatus
Brief glimpse of a deer through car window
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