31 Dec 2010

Noël 2010

Christmas - been and gone in a flash. I made it back to France only delayed by one day, and it was so good to be back here. Not a snowflake in sight! Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. On Christmas day, it was freezing cold and there were snow flurries throughout the day – but none of it settled on the ground. So not even a bit like a white Christmas and for that I was very thankful!

We had the Christmas turkey – ordered especially from Claudine the butcher(esse?) in the village, the successor to her uncle, M.Robert. Nic’s three kids were home, Paul was here, and we had our second family Christmas in succession. Nic cooked the turkey – my remit was the trifle.

This was the second time I’d tried to recreate the trifles we always had at Cheyne Beach (not always at Christmas, either!) … but have failed. I’ve always blamed it on not being able to buy (i) Swiss rolls, (ii) whipping cream, and (iii) green jelly crystals! 

This year, I decided to try making the Swiss roll, Nic got some packets of jelly crystals last time she was in Canada, and the whipping cream – well we decided on the tinned aerated stuff. I couldn’t buy fresh (or even frozen) strawberries anywhere, so used frozen raspberries. 

Let me just say that it wasn’t a huge success.

The Swiss rolls were a first for me - the finished result not hugely successful! It looked pretty good up to the rolling-up point and I was feeling quietly confident. 

Then things went a bit downhill from there. Lots of the outside peeled off and stuck to the paper - the finished product looking more than a little ragged, and truth be told, didn’t really taste great

I've decided that my days of trying to recreate something from times gone by are over - next year it'll be something different.

Christmas crackers are something that are difficult to buy here, so I’d bought a box of them while I was in the UK. Not ordinary crackers mind you – musical crackers! Each one contained a whistle of a different note...... 

A conductor was needed, and Indigo did a good job at that. The resulting music…? Questionable, to say the least.

However, the whole day was great. Even Aston did ok – he got several little pressies, including a bone. Initially he didn’t take to it - but the following day guarded it fiercely and wouldn’t let it out of his sight, nor let anyone near it.

The kids with the treats Paul brought from Australia - Cherry Ripes and Crunchies

Late afternoon, we went for the obligatory walk – more out of guilt because of the food and drink we’d consumed than for well-being!

It was a quick walk along the river and then back to the warmth of the house, followed by games on the Wii (yes, me too), but mercifully no one recorded me on video ….

20 Dec 2010

Brrrrrrr .............

Quite a few months ago – well, back in May actually - I caught up with an old school friend, also a Debra. She and her husband Wayne had arranged a house-swap with a family in Sidmouth, Devon and suggested I join them for a couple of days. So that started the ball rolling and I went ahead and booked some cheap Ryanair flights, and made arrangements to visit various friends in different parts of the country.

Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, but really – as I’ve said to myself many times this last week or so – what on earth was I thinking!! Far too much driving on my own, and given the bad turn of the weather, some of it’s been a nightmare, to say the least.

The first night I stayed in Somerset with my brother-in-law Phil and his wife Val, before heading up to Scotland to the West Coast to spend two days with Neil and Jane. I actually didn’t take a lot of photos on this trip, and I think it’s because when I finally arrived at one of my destinations, I was usually a little shattered and in dire need of winding down.

On the west coast, we did get out on a rather cold but clear day and had a lovely walk along the beach at Irvine.

Four generations of the Richies
The family dogs - each has its own basket but they seem to prefer the 'tight fit' option
Boat harbour, Troon
On my last night, I was really lucky - Tom agreed (after a little persuasion from his Dad) to give me a recital of the bagpipes.

The next day, a trip along the M8, not long re-opened after being closed for 2 days and stranding many motorists overnight.  A couple of nights in Penicuik with friends George and Issy, and a chance to catch up after a couple of years and to see their lovely new home. (Sorry George and Issy - not ONE photo! I blame it on all that wine that kept mysteriously appearing from the cellar .....)

Next on to Gloucestershire, the Cotswolds, to stay with Camilla and David for a couple of nights. What a pretty part of the country that is – not somewhere I’d been before. Real picture postcard villages. And how nice was it to relax in such good company, be taken out to a wonderful restaurant in a nearby village, and go shopping in down-town ......... hmmmmmmmm .......... forgotten the name of the village!

The morning I Ieft to drive south, some of the minor roads were a bit frozen, and it started to snow. Camilla emailed that they had 17 inches of snow during the day! So I got out by the skin of my teeth in that instance.

I arrived in Devon later in the day and my GPS seemed to take me the ‘quick’ route but not the best route, and I ended up on narrow and steep roads when heavy snow started. Probably as frightened as I’ve ever been driving.

I was behind a breakdown truck that had a broken down car at the back and I was able to follow the tracks of his tyres through the snow – very slowly.

But more scary was going down a couple of hills – in one instance a double decker bus was coming up-hill, a metre forward and then sliding a couple of metres backwards, and also sliding towards the middle of the road. Traffic behind it was trying to slide backwards to get out of the way and I was trying to get past it and avoid being squished against a wall.

Anyway, I live to tell the tale and had a lovely day with Deb and Wayne, and their Kiwi friend Matt and his wife Kate.
Wayne and Matt - bags of salt/ grit for the driveway ....
Deb McC - taking photos of the snow

One of the highlights of this part of trip was a long-standing reservation at Rick Stein’s seafood restaurant at Padstow. It was over 100 miles away, and fortunately Matt volunteered to drive and made it look easy.

Interestingly, when we arrived at Padstow, they'd had no snow whatsoever and everything was green. They’d totally missed out on it.

The meal itself was memorable. Often when you build something like this up, it can be a little disappointing. Not in this case – it was all fantastic and as we figured it was likely to be a one-off experience, we went all-out in the food department, and also did ok with the wine, a delicious New Zealand sauvignon-blanc.

And then a wander around the very picturesque fishing village before heading back.

Back up the M5 the following day to spend my last night [or so I thought] in the UK with Phil and Val again. A bonus was that I caught up with all four of their kids who I haven’t seen for four years. Phil and Val have been down to visit a couple of times, but not the kids.
A damn fine place to chill a glass of wine while the kids toboggan in the street
To finish off the tale of ‘snow, snow, and more snow’, I’d like to say that I got away ok, ready for warmer Christmas in France. Not to be. It didn’t happen. I should be back in France now, but right now I’m sitting in a very ordinary hotel, surrounded by snow, not far from Bristol airport.

I headed to the airport very early this morning and was delighted to hand the keys of the rental car back. Snow was forecast, but it looked like I was going to beat it by the barest of margins. In fact, flights were departing from the airport right up until 9.00am. Then they stopped. My flight was scheduled for 9.10am. We’d already gone through security, etc, but by this time the snow was coming down in buckets, and the airport was closed. I’ve managed to book another flight tomorrow, flying into Toulouse, not Beziers, and am so hoping that this time it gets off the ground.

And the rest of the family is affected too. Paul is heading to France - he set out from Brisbane the other day, and got stranded at Singapore, unable to continue to London. He’s rescheduled to avoid London and go via Paris, and I’ve yet to hear if that’s underway. But Paris airport is in a bit of a shambles weather-wise too, so it’s still a wait and see situation.

And then there’s Nic’s two oldest girls – they’ve been stuck in Canada for the last couple of days – they seem now to be re-booked on a new flight to arrive in France on Wednesday. I’m sure we’ll all be laughing about this in a few days when we’re sitting down to a Christmas lunch and a few wines – but I’m not laughing just yet!!

9 Dec 2010

In the footsteps of the Visigoths

A couple of weeks ago, Caroline - a friend who lives in nearby Mailhac – suggested a ‘Visigoth’ walk that she’d recently done. It was to be a bit of a recce, as I’d suggested it to Claude as a possible group walk we could do next spring, when the walk/picnics start again. 

It’s a sign-posted walk of about 7kms, just outside the Minervois village of Villarzel-Cabardès. And what a gorgeous walk it was. 

The Visigoth connection is a burial ground dating back to the 5th or 6th century that was only uncovered in the 60s. It’s on the top of a small mound, surrounded by pines and with views over the surrounding countryside – very peaceful. And it was quite touching to see groups of graves of different sizes, some very small – possibly family groups buried together.

There were also the ruins of a church dating back to the Visigoth era – quite different with the herringbone-style stonework.

When Caroline did the walk previously, they’d parked their cars in the village and made that their starting point, and that’s what we did too. But I had to find a suitable place for parking all the cars and eating a picnic lunch, if we were going to do the group walk. 

And the only place that was suitable was through the private road of a very grand private chateau - Chateau de Villarlong. Fortunately, there was someone in the garden and we stopped to ask, and he said that’s fine.

The chateau and its grounds are amazing, even more so as there is an unusual display of blue sheep (no idea why – perhaps the owners/residents are artists?) ....

.... and a rather gorgeous life-size metal giraffe in the grounds.

And so as the weather gets colder, the Tuesday afternoon walks continue. Mind you, yesterday it was 18 degrees here in Bize, according to Meteo France. But the man who works in the post office in a nearby village (and he would know, I’m sure …) said it got to 21 degrees! Regardless, it was a beautiful balmy day – definitely t-shirt weather.

And here are a few photos of previous walks over the last few weeks.

And the photo below is looking back towards the Tour de Boussecos. The 'Tower' is the rock formation in the middle of the photo.

This post really does have a Visigoth theme - I've mentioned the Tour de Boussecos before: "...... a strategic watchtower – apparently built by the Romans, and later besieged by the Visigoths and then destroyed by the Saracens..."

Beautiful Bize is just out of the picture, to the left. I'm biased, but I reckon it's a corker of a photo - and worth clicking on!

Moving sideways

Future posts on Bize-Bytes can now be found on Facebook. Link: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bize-Bytes/895137113876897