15 Apr 2008

A Week in Provence

And so at the end of a week in Bize, we packed up the two cars and headed over to the little village of Bouc-Bel-Air, a few kilometres south of Aix-en-Provence where they’d booked a lovely little villa with a pool. The weather didn’t get warm enough for swimming, and the pool water was pretty cold anyway.
The reason this area was chosen because Morgan [my oldest niece] had a one week camp at the nearby IBS School (The International Bilingual School of Provence) as she will be coming to France to start full time there later in the year. So this was a spring camp to get a feel for the place.
It’s a lovely school, located out in the fields on the outskirts of Aix, with a truly international group of students.
And Sage, the middle daughter, attended in the mornings and did maths and French. In the afternoons the Sage and Indigo, the youngest, attended a week of tennis lessons – so this week was for the kids.
Sage and Morgan - sampling tapenade......
Between picking up and dropping off duties, we did manage to get out and about on short trips – a sightseeing trip to the lovely village of Ventabren which is close to the Aqueduct de Roquefavour – the biggest of its sort in the world. The Canal de Marseille passes over it. It’s pretty amazing standing below and looking upwards – it’s enormous.

And of course we had a few wanders around beautiful Aix.
On the first evening, Indigo and Sage had a go on the trampoline bungee thing just off the main square – they certainly had fun.
On the Saturday we headed down to Marseille for lunch and a bit of sightseeing. What a huge city – we only had a bit of a wander in the old port area, but managed a fair bit of unplanned driving in a very busy ‘down town’ area.
Lunch was at a recommended restaurant in an out-of-the-way part of the old port area – the Pizzeria Jeannot. Worth the effort in finding the place – the kids had pizza – the best they said. I had what I think is probably the second best piece of steak I’ve ever had (cooked over wood).
And the round bit in the photo is a bit of a treat – I had to get Sage to help me with the French/English translation on the menu. ‘Soft bone’ she said. Bone marrow. Yikes – I didn’t eat it, but Duff gave it a go.
Nic had what she reckons is the best deep fried baby squid (and given that our dad was a fisherman – we’ve certainly eaten some squid in our time ….) and Duff had some pretty amazing pieces of bbq lamb. So a successful lunch indeed.

And then up the hill to visit the famous basilica, Notre-Dame de la Garde, which has 360 degree views of Marseille. We were nearly blown away up there – the wind had been blowing fiercely all day and it was really felt that high up.
Our last day – Sunday – we headed east to take a look at Mount Sainte-Victoire – the mountain that is depicted in many of Paul Cezanne’s paintings – he lived nearby in Aix.
All the kids are into their dance lessons in Canada – they love it. At the drop of the hat, they’re happy to do a show!
This one is Indigo – who did a bit of Highland Dancing – and did a great job with the music that was at hand!

And Sage has done a bit of ‘dance improvisation’ – and here, ironically, is using the music from Bananas in Pyjamas (an Australian kids’ TV show/book series).

Even though the kids have all lived in Australia at some stage, their accents now are totally Canadian. Sage was trying to speak with an Australian accent – but I think she’s been watching too many British movies!

And so on Monday, a trip down to Marseille Airport in the two cars – Nic and the kids back to Canada. And then I was to drop Duff at the Aix en Provence new TGV rail station. But my GPS software is a now rather out of date I guess, and I couldn’t seem to find it. So needless to say, we ended up in the backstreets of outer Marseille suburbs, asking directions.
And then I had to head home, via Montpellier Ikea for a few bits and pieces. But I missed a motorway turn, and ended up back at Marseille Airport before I could right things, and then there was a roadblock and once again I ended up in the back of beyond. So a fairly hectic start to my return trip!
Lovely break, fabulous catching up with the family – but very reassuring to feel good about coming ‘home’. So perhaps I will be here for some time…….

14 Apr 2008

The Canadian Contingent

Nic and Duff arrived from Montpellier with the hire car full of kids and a lot of luggage! But all fitted comfortably in the big house and there was never a quiet moment. Which was good. Not only did we get out and about, but also managed to get an afternoon’s work done out in the barn.
Three flat-packs of bathroom cabinets – a good few hours, finished off with the help of a couple of cold beers.
All the floor tiles are down, and the kitchen installation is underway:
A day trip into Narbonne markets, a visit to Les Halles undercover food market, and then the obligatory coffee in the main square, with a backdrop of the beautiful Bishop’s Palace and Narbonne Cathedral.
A day trip through to La Cite at Carcassonne.
Rooftops of Carcassonne:
Sage and Indigo in the sweet shop at La Cite:
We also spent time in Bize itself, and went on Tuesday’s walk with the village group. It was an incredibly windy day – the Tramontane was blowing – this area’s equivalent of the Mistral that blows in Provence. But the views and the walk itself were as usually very nice – finished off with coffee and cake back where we left the cars.
After the walk, we stopped off at the source ….. a stream that literally runs out of the Pech – but only runs from October to June each year. The water is incredibly clear and runs a short distance before joining up to the River Cesse.
Clause and Ellyette were following right behind and pulled over to give us a bit of history of the place. There are caves a little further along, and despite getting directions from Claude, we failed to find them. Another time perhaps.
Ellyette disappeared into the undergrowth and emerged with a good handful of wild asparagus – eyes of an eagle. Claude said it was also a good place for wild cresson (watercress) but that it was well known and picked out at the moment.
But he was headed over to his cousin’s farm where there was plenty. And did we want some? Well yes, indeed we did. So Claude dropped over early evening with half a bucket full – enough for all of us for two meals. And it was delicious.
Nic and I headed out the next day for a gentle walk along the river and picked wild rocket – it grows everywhere here.

Some vignerons allow it to grow wild among the vines – apparently it’s beneficial in some way for the vines, though I'm not sure what. I must find out .... And it’s very pretty when there are masses of it and it’s in flower. It’s only the very young shoots that aren’t too bitter to eat.
The same day, Duff was feeling particularly energetic and did a walk up to the top of the Pech – and came back with a handful of wild asparagus! So dinner that night was salmon and a delicious green salad – the rocket, water cress and asparagus all picked that day from around the village – and it really did taste wonderful.

We also had a day trip through to the village of Marseillan which is a beautiful spot on the edge of the Etang de Thau.
On a previous trip Nic and Duff did, they met Jean-Luis, a wine maker. And they have kept in touch and become friends, and caught up with on each visit. He and his wife Danielle are delightful people and we’ve been invited to meals at their house on several occasions. Jean-Luis took us for a trip to the outskirts of the village to see his vines and the site of their proposed new house, cellars and tasting rooms.
The vines are just starting to shoot -
And there are some parts of the vineyards have a beautiful view out over the Thau basin towards the town of Sete.
We had an interesting trip back to Marseillan – in a white van! We had problems with the hire car, but fortunately Jean-Luis’ future son-in-law lives nearby and managed to arrange for a mechanic to come out after hours.
But in the meantime, we all piled into the white van. Nic and I sat up the front with Jean-Luis -the others sat in the back, pitch black / no windows. Fortunately not too far!

A delicious meal in the evening. A local dish of Sete - Bourride Sètoise (Provence Fish Soup With Aïoli) - cooked with large pieces of monkfish (lotte) poached in a broth with finely cubed vegetables. Definitely one I'll have a crack at soon.

Moving sideways

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