31 May 2011

Frog be gone . . . . .

The nights of this little guy keeping me awake are over!

It’s one of the two that the kids caught in the river over two years ago and released into the pond. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but one of them survived – hibernating each winter – and has reappeared the last two summers in fine voice. 

The noise that comes out of him is something else. In the warm weather I have the upstairs doors open, but recently have had to sleep with earplugs because of his incessant loud croaking.

So last night as I came home from a late evening out, I nearly stepped on him. I saw him at the last minute on the pathway in the light from the veranda – grabbed the net that I had handy next to the pond and put it over him as he made a dash for it into the dichondra. 

I’ve had the net by the pond over the last couple of days and have had some fairly spectacular failures when trying to catch him – only managing to stir things up, disturb the fish and mangle the plants.

Anyway, his days of wine and roses in my little garden are up – and he’s now been released into the river to compete with all the rest of the wildlife there. Perhaps he’ll end up as a fine meal for one of those little river snakes?

But I’m sure he’s delighted to be there, especially after spending an uncomfortable night in a glass jar in my kitchen ……

.... and here's his big moment - back into the river ……

26 May 2011

Further afield in France

About 3 weeks ago, I had friends Alan and Nicky (from Perth) staying with me for a week. 
They’re regular visitors to France and over the last five or so years have rented the same place in the little village of Francescas in the Lot-et-Garonne (very roughly about half way between Bordeaux and Toulouse). 

So on their arrival in France, they headed straight to Bize for the first week of their break to have a look around my little patch. It was – and no surprises here – a very social and convivial time, with a bit of sight-seeing thrown in.

And why have I included a photo of the BBQ? Well because it's probably the best one I've had going since I got here. 

Before France, I'd only ever done wood-fired barbies and have had a few hits and misses with different types of fuel here -  not getting it started, not enough charcoal, etc. 

Probably the worst one was the when I fired up with compressed coal (damned difficult to get going, I might add) that I'd found in a bag in the barn - left here by previous owners. It was only when a guest turned up and asked what the strange smell was that I realised something was amiss. 

Last weekend, I headed up the motorway to spend a few days in a different part of the country - with Nicky and Alan at their gite.

And it’s quite different than this region and very pretty - the home of Armagnac. Rolling hills, more trees, many different types of crops and a few vineyards - and not surprisingly, some gorgeous villages.

Francescas is a pretty bastide village – and located in the heart of the village is the Musée de la Boite Ancienne en Fer Blanc or Museum of Old Tins

France certainly has some quirky little museums (we have our own Museum of the Hat near Bize), and they’re usually great fun to visit. Nicky said they’d never been lucky with the opening times, so have yet to visit it. 

And given it was early evening when we passed by, we only got to look through the windows. It is housed in a rather beautiful half-timbered building.

In fact, many villages in the region feature timbered buildings.
The Village of Fources

Larressingle, the smallest fortified medieval village in France

The moat around Larressingle
The church in Mezin

Sunday was market day in Nerac:
More  half-timbered houses in Nerac
The River Baïse, Nerac

And for lunch, we visited friends of Nicky and Alan (Australians, also from Perth) who bought this amazing building - dated back to the early 1600s - on the edge of the River Baise.
In this photo - it's not the whole building - just the smaller tower to the left

Brian said when they bought it 13 years ago, it was just a pile of stones and pigeon droppings. In fact the tower at the top is an old pigeonniere (dovecote) and it’s still intact. 

When I got the grand tour of the building, I didn’t take my camera …… it was a bit of a hair-raising experience going up the restored but rail-less staircases and looking down into a void, 4 storeys deep. 

There was a rope pulley hanging from the top storey which you held onto for safety, but you had to hang on to both ropes, otherwise a swift descent was a sure thing. So sadly, no photos of any of the amazing work in progress of the top three floors, nor the pigeonniere in its original state with all the nesting holes on all sides. 

They’re going to leave it as it is – but of course cleaned out of all the evidence of many years of pigeons and of being open to the elements.

I did however take a photo of the grand fireplace on the ground floor which – like all the interior stonework – has been taken back to the original. 
A grand project – 3 months of work every year for the last 10 years or so (the family still live in Perth) – and still a way to go. It’s on the edge of the river, overlooking old Nerac. What a magical place.

We’d called into a supermarket before our visit and bought a few bits and pieces for lunch. And very nice it was too, to sit outside and have a lunch of prawns and salad, with cherries and cheese provided by Brian. 

It was here I discover my now absolute favourite cheese – Cambozola.

25 May 2011

Babies in the garden

I have two nests in the garden – well actually, one is in a hole in the stone wall, the other is in a crevice above one of the beams in the garage. I know very little about birds but have it on good authority that they’re Black Redstarts. 

And they’re cute – although they have made rather a mess in the garage, and now that they’re flying, both the floor and my car are copping it. 

I’m amazed at the amount of food the babies are consuming. There were three, there now only appears to be two. The parents are constantly back and forth with insects all day long. One day, a butterfly about half the size of the bird itself was on the menu – I have no idea how they would have dealt with the wings.

The nest in the wall is not showing much activity at the moment – so either it's been abandoned or the eggs aren't yet hatched.

It was yesterday morning that the two in the garage took their maiden flight. And the timing couldn’t have been worse. 

I was packing the car up at about 8.30am getting ready for the weekly group walk/picnic when I nearly trod on this little guy on the ground at the garage door. He’d obviously only just made it thus far, and I think he was a little stunned. 

I raced back and got my camera and as can be seen in the short video clip below, his second flight was from there to the top of my car, where he stayed. 


A frantic phone call to Nic – who came to quickly close the garage doors as I departed to make sure it didn’t fly out into the street, where I think it would have been doomed.

On the car roof ....

Anyway, as I type (a day later) they’re flying around from place to place in the courtyard and looking extremely content and well-fed. I do hope they stay around for a while longer.

And the walk that followed this encounter was lovely. It’s one Caroline introduced me to over a year ago - what we now call "The Visigoth Walk". I’d finally convinced Claude that this would be a great walk for the group – three amazing things to see en route – Chateau Villarlong, the 11th century church, and the graves of the Visigoths. 

I think it's fair to say that there was a little initial reluctance – it was outwith the usual areas we normally travel to, and it was ‘unknown’ to all the local and regular walkers. So when he agreed, I was told I was ‘the chef’. No pressure then. 

Given we felt a bit under the hammer, Caroline and I decided to do a test walk the weekend before – to see if the road was passable to access the shady churchyard for the picnic lunch. The year before, I'd managed to get my car through, but it was a bit difficult. And I’d rashly promised this ‘amazing setting under the trees next to an ancient church’ for the group picnic. 

Well, things didn’t go quite to plan. I’d forgotten I was away that weekend and so Caroline and Trevor did the recce walk. Unfortunately it turned out the stretch of road was in worse condition and the cars wouldn’t have been able to get through to the church. And the rest of the walk was a little short on places where there was enough room for 10 to 15 cars, AND shade for the picnic.

So after the hectic start to the morning dealing with fledglings and trying to get away on time, we had the worry of leading a convoy of cars to parts unknown, on a walk where I’d promised an amazing picnic venue – knowing that when we arrived (very windy and 33 degrees forecast) - I would need to tell them we were reverting to Venue (b) – parking off the side of the road with limited shade.

Anyway, it was all taken with good humour – no problems – and the best thing is that everyone thought the walk and things we saw were amazing – we got compliments all along the way, AND all during lunch. So, after all, it was a resounding success.

I didn’t take more photos of the church or the Visigoth graves as I’ve posted quite a few of them here before. But here’s an interesting thing about the French. Last year, Caroline and I stood meekly outside the Chateau and took a few photos of the blue sheep and the Giraffe over the fence. Not so this lot – straight in and all around the grounds, having a good look. Love it. Hence the photos below, views of the chateau not seen last year!  - including the infinity pool at the back with the most amazing views out over the valley.

Only part of the group could be rounded up for the group picture - the rest were off exploring the grounds!
The life-size metal sculpture of the giraffe is impressive - even more so, when you see the detail.
Side view of the chapel in the grounds of the chateau
The infinity pool at the back - overlooking the valley towards the east

And the good news was that when we arrived back at the cars, the sun had moved so that there was enough shade under the trees for all of our tables and chairs.

More than enough in fact, after Jacques trimmed off a few pesky low-hanging branches with a pair of huge pruning sheers he just happened to have in the back of his car.

Thereafter, all was well - the all-important aperitifs came out and the eating commenced……

10 May 2011

Flowers and walks

I waver between saying spring is my favourite season / autumn is my favourite season. Right now when my garden’s looking good and the countryside is glorious, I’m saying spring. But come autumn …..

A short bike ride – a 6 km loop from Bize, out to the Mailhac Road, down to Cabezac and back to Bize – there’s all this:

Not only has the warm weather brought out all the flowers, it’s also bringing out the paragliders who launch themselves off the south-side of the Pech, using the thermals that come up from the flat plain towards Narbonne. And you often see them just hanging up there above the Pech for hours. The most I’ve seen at one time is 11, and in this photo there are 9. 

Just happened to be having a beer on Nic’s terrace at the time (fancy that), so managed to get a few shots….

And flowers from my courtyard, taken over the last couple of weeks:

I think my preference for purple and white flowers is coming through somewhat...

Now, if only I could get my soup-green fish pond back to its usual clear state, ‘all would be well in the garden’.

Two walks over the last few weeks at new locations – one at Mailhac, only a few kms from Bize, and the other down on the coast near Fleury and St Pierre sur Mer.

At Mailhac, it was a walk starting at the village itself and up a hill where there are remains of a late bronze-age settlement - the Lou Cayla – not yet fully excavated and currently off-limits. But further on, there is the Boun Marcou dolmen

And then there was the long walk (3 hours/new-ish walking shoes/blisters!) between Fleury and St Pierre sur Mer where the Gouffre de l'oeil doux can be found.

L'oeil doux is a deep water-filled hole in the ground – the result of a limestone collapse. 

The walk started off through lovely pines, and then later over scrubland where the wildflowers – including wild lavender – were just lovely. 

Well, why didn’t I take more photos? I think I was too busy whinging about my sore feet. But I did take some of the L'oeil doux itself.

And here are a couple of Google Earth shots – showing it close to St Pierre sur Mer (rapidly growing with new-builds) and less than one kilometre from the Mediterranean.
L'oeil doux - top left hand corner

At least it wasn’t too hot and we were close enough to the sea to get a cool breeze – and of course the walk followed by the usual very convivial picnic lunch under trees. We really felt we’d earned this one. 

There was a slight downside though – at the car park, three cars had had their windows broken and things had been stolen. Luckily, mine wasn't one of them. Unfortunately, one of the cars did belong to one of our group – so a bit of a dampener after a lovely morning. 

Though the ever-cheerful Pierre took it in his stride. Before heading home to deal with what needed to be done to sort the damage to the car, stolen wallet, mobile phone etc., there was the all-important lunch to be had first. 


Moving sideways

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