Wednesday, June 27, 2012

France Day 6 - Canal Du Midi & the French diversion

Had a bit of a lay in this morning, as it was quite a late one the night before, so by the time we’d got up at eight, then arsed around for a while, we didn’t leave the gite until around ten, which is practically unheard of, so we headed to the car, roundly chastising ourselves, little knowing it would set the tone for the day ahead.

Again, most unlike us, we didn’t really have a plan for the day, we did think of going to see some of the finest Cathar castles in the area, but by the time we’d have got there it would've been baking hot, and they are quite a climb to get to. So we decided to stay around the local area and just go for a bit of a drive.

Unfortunately as we had been doing quite a lot of driving already (we would notch up over 1000 miles before the week's end), it meant a lot of the places we ended up going we had been to before, either because we couldn’t remember we’d been there, or we recognised the name but couldn’t recall the place, so the whole thing was an exercise in voluntary déjà vu.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

France Day 5 - Carcassonne & conspiracies

Up nice and early this morning, but unfortunately the weather wasn’t on our side and was decidedly grey and misty. We decided to go to Carcassonne and scout out a suitable place to get some pictures of the old city walls that evening when they were all lit up. Parked up at La Cité and walked down to the main city to look for that viewpoint. After a bit of wandering about we found somewhere in what I think was the rough end of a hospital car park, but it looked promising and we decided to return that evening.

Walked back up feeling absolutely knackered (me), I hadn’t slept that well the night before so it really took it out of me, I looked like a cadaverous, hollow eyed spectre. We went, well I loomed, into a rather chic café and after terrifying the small madam’s nibbling on their croissants, sat down to recover with an astoundingly priced coffee and pain au chocolat. When I was feeling slightly more human again we bought ourselves a ticket for a tour on the city ramparts.

A view across town to the outer wall

Sunday, June 17, 2012

France Day 4 - Lagrasse, Narbonne & a fruit pastry

Probably the most sensational and thrilling thing that happened today, happened first thing in the morning. Fresh bread, butter and jam for breakfast. It was ambrosial, like a rapturous, fantastical encounter with a delicious memory long thought forgotten. I couldn’t have been happier, shame our coffee was crap, but there is only so much pleasure a human mind can cope with at once. I guess I should have been grateful I wasn’t spazzing out on the stone floor, after my brain was overloaded by such arresting tastes.

So after that mind blowing opener to the day, we capitulating to our unfulfilled obsession, and headed to Siassac, again, to see if we could get a decent picture of the castle, again, but of course we couldn’t, the light just wasn’t right, again. After that, it was on to Montolieu to get a picture of the village from the bridge, which was OK but, using our commanding solar and meteorological mastery, and an app I’ve got on my phone, it looked as if the light would be at its best in the evening. We would return.

Montolieu in the morning light

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

France Day 3 - A couple of moulins, then Brian's Waters

Bounded out of bed with a view to having a decent breakfast at last, so after quickly getting dressed and looking more agreeable, I gambolled across the village square to present my self at the shop for lashings of fresh bread, butter and jam.

The shop was closed.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been more disenchanted at the prospect of being fresh breadless than I was that disappointing morning. So with a heavy heart I headed back to the gite and attacked yesterdays stale, dry bread with as much enjoyment as I could muster, which was precisely none.

So after breaking bread in the least satisfactory way possible, we piled all our stuff into the tank and headed into the wooded wilds of Aude. First of all we stopped at a paper mill, in fact the only working paper mill left in the region, down from the 67 along this stretch of water in 1845. This moulin, which is located near the village of Brousses and settled along the banks of the river in the valley of La Dure., still produced hand made paper using the power of the water to drive its machines.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

France Day 2 - After hours at the Lastours Chateaux

After, not exactly an uncomfortable nights sleep, more of an awkward nights sleep, we arose about nine. When we booked the gite we noticed it boasted of its historic credentials, and it is indeed an old building, and also of its historic furnishings. The thing though about the historic people who peopled these historic places, and used these historic furnishings, is that they were historically on the short side. Why this is I do not know, it’s just a fact, enter any old dwelling and you have to stoop to do so, they just did not build things to accommodate those over 5ft 2. I assume this is where the airlines get the inspiration for their seating from.

This propensity for diminutive dimensions stretches, so to speak, to beds, which is why I spent the night sleeping diagonally across mine as it was not physically possible to lie out vertically, what with the bed being boarded on both ends. Even when I laid my head on the furthest reaches of the pillow my feet still hung off the opposite corner. Luckily I was very tired so it was not too much of a handicap to sleep.

Wolfed down a few hunks of yesterdays dry bread and a coffee for breakfast then led the beast out to Montolieu which has made a name for itself as an officially designated Historic Book Village, much like Hay-on-Wye in Wales. This 12th century village has around a dozen bookshops and a museum dedicated to all things bound. It sits at the foot of the Black Mountains on a narrow plateau between two streams, one of which we had to cross over via a high bridge on entering the village, with the views to the town being quite impressive.

A view of the village from the bridge

Friday, June 8, 2012

France Day 1 - Heading to the Black Mountains

So we decided to head to France for the week, it was a bit of a rush job, as we only booked it Thursday and flew out Sunday. As is usual though, we had been thinking about it for about 4 weeks, but couldn’t decide where to go, either France or Italy, and were undecided where in each country to visit. But, as usually happens, we got fed up thinking about it and just decided to go for the cheapest place we could find. Why we never do that to begin with is, and will probably be forever, a mystery.

Which is why, at 3am on a Sunday morning, we were struggling about in dimly lit rooms trying to get the last of our things packed and loaded so they could accompany us to the Aude department of Languedoc that region of France that sits at the bottom, near the Pyrenees and next to Provence.

Got to Gatwick in pretty good time, parked the car, got the shuttle bus to the South Terminal and then stood in a line to check in for far too long at that time in the morning. After that is was just a case of quietly dozing off into some breakfast for a while. Unfortunately an early night couldn’t be had the day before, as one of our neighbours thoughtlessly married off his daughter and then compounded his mistake by feeling the need to host the reception in his garden, replete with live band.

So needless to say, I was feeling slightly groggy as I tucked into my strange cereal, which consisted of oatmeal matter on some kind of cheesecake mixture placed on an underlay of jam type substance. It was a somewhat bizarre concoction but not entirely unpleasant. So this, along with the breakfast baguette seemed to do the job. Little did we know that baguettes would feature more heavily in our forthcoming diet than would be acceptable, even for France.