28 Oct 2010

The Bulgarian Connection

Not the eastern European mafia …... it’s my old friend Sue, my last visitor for the year. We went to school together in Albany – and yes, that’s an awful lot of years ago now. 

And here she is, looking very pleased upon the discovery of yet another wonderful patisserie/boulangerie in La Belle France. And of course, there are delectable tarts in the box she's holding - we certainly tried some.

The trip has been a long time coming but finally she made it all the way from Bulgaria where she now lives. She flew into Barcelona a couple of weeks ago, and arrived during a spell of the worst weather we’d had for quite some time. 

This region, and further south beyond the Spanish border, was on orange alert due to torrential rains and very strong winds. I was meant to be dropping off a friend of Nic’s near the Spanish border on the day I was heading to Barcelona to pick up Susie, but the friend’s family phoned and said they couldn’t meet us because their village was flooded, they couldn’t get out, and advised us NOT to drive at all. Good advice it was too.

So Susie stayed overnight with her nephew in Barcelona, and I made the trip the next day. Unfortunately the weather was just as bad. Just let me say it’s not a trip in that kind of weather I want to do again any time soon. 

However, we made it and proceeded to have a very full-on and touristic (is that a word?) two weeks. We drank lots of good wine, ate lots of good food – no surprises there - and had a fantastic time doing it all.

I’m waiting to hear whether Susie’s suitcase made it back intact – full of jars of olives, pickled garlic, confit de canard, French champagne and cheeses, and many other goodies.

It was a fair bit lighter and ‘unexpanded’ when she arrived.

Come to think of it, so was I.

I’m paying the price of a couple of weeks of living the good life, that’s for sure!

There were a few sites we visited that were a first time for me – always good to see new things. And it made me realise just how much there is to see in this region – within an easy drive of Bize – and how much I have yet to see.

I tend to take visitors to the same more well-known sights (La Cite, Minerve, Narbonne markets, etc), as usually they’re not here for long. But given Susie was here for a couple of weeks, we had the opportunity to see lots.

Mind you, having mentioned La Cite/Carcassonne, here's a beaut photo taken from a rest area on the motorway, on the way back from Mirepoix. Using Susie's zoom lens, and a perfect day, the photo turned out fantastic, especially with the autumn vines in the foreground. 

One place I’d always wanted to see was the Forteresse de Salses, near Fitou. Built at the end of th 15th century by the Spanish, it guarded the then border between Spain and France. The border is now quite a bit further south, so it’s well and truly situated in French territory now. 

I’d seen it quite a few times driving south – off the main road and whizzing by at great speed - but had always been on my way to somewhere and I never thought ahead of time to plan a side-trip. 

So this time, it was organised by another friend with a group of travellers, so we joined the group and got our own guide.

(I have to say thank you to Susie for a lot of these photos. Given that her camera is a beauty  - SLR digital, with an extra long lens - she agreed she'd be the No. 1 photographer for the duration, and I'd take a bit of time out.)

We were invited one night to join Bonnie's friend's group at the Chateau d'Agel for aperatifs. How could we refuse. Agel is only 6 kms from Bize and is the village Bonnie and Terry live in. 
Some images of Chateau d'Agel

Another 'first visit' was to the small village of Lastours. We combined this with the visit to La Cite/Carcassonne as it's not far north of there. What a gem of a place - the ruins of four Cathar castles, in the most stunning landscape high on rocky ridges above the Orbiel Valley. 

I'm a little biased, but I think the photo below is just stunning - if you want to see a larger version of it (or any other photo), just click on it.

Mirepoix Apple Festival
A visit to the mediaeval town of Mirepoix for the second year. This year, the crowds weren't so large, as it was bitterly cold. Good for us, not so good for the stall holders/exhibitors, though.

This year's apple sculpture theme: all things Catalan:

The festival itself was still lots of fun, and to get out of the cold, we ended up in a typical bar/bistro on the main square, where Susie and I had steak frites, one of the nicest I've had for a long time. It was such a nice warm and cosy bar, full of people and buzzing, it almost seemed like we should have had a haze of smoke hanging around.

A day in Narbonne, visiting the outdoor markets by the side of the Canal and then the indoor markets - Les Halles - a place I never tire of. The best of everything - food-wise - all under one roof, and difficult to walk away from empty-handed. Make that impossible.

This certainly whetted our appetite, and was followed by lunch with a group of friends at a steak house Chez Jo Gonzales - run by a boxer who won a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics, Jo Gonzales. 

Jo is still to be found cooking on the open fire. And let me say, the steaks were ENORMOUS, and most had to be taken home for another meal. 

I've learned to order my steak 'medium', even though I like it rare. If I ordered rare, I would get what I call very rare or even 'blue'. Steaks, lamb (and hamburgers!), in fact most meat - is eaten very rare here. Even so, mine turned up too raw and had to go back for a few extra minutes. Given it was the size of a doorstop, I'm not surprised. There were a couple at our table who always order 'blue' and this time they really got it. It was barely warm in the middle, but they ate it and what's more, enjoyed it! eeeaawww....

St Pons de Thomieres - Chestnut Festival
A two-day festival held in St Pons, a town in the Black Mountains. A pleasant day out and an opportunity to buy more goodies to take back to Bulgaria!

A day trip to Pezenas to take in the Saturday markets:

We managed a Tuesday walk with the village walking group, this time around the Pech - the hill at the side of Bize. It was planned to be close to home because of the ongoing strikes that France is having at the moment, and so everyone is watching their petrol.

There have been a few petrol stations here run out of petrol, and I've had to queue a few times, but compared to the north we appear to have been relatively unaffected. Petrol-wise, anyway. Although I have been in Narbonne and caught up in a few of the strike marches through the town, and of course it's on the TV news all the time. Interesting times ahead, I think.

Anyway, the walk close to home was lovely, and given that it was approximately 8 kms, I reckon we walked off at least one of those little delights from the patisserie.

Below, random photos during the time we were out and about - and looking back over them now, I'm realising just how much ground we covered, and some of the great stuff we saw.

Kite surfing at Sete

Looking down from Oppidum d'Ensure at Lake Montady, drained in the 13th century to a central point. The drainage still works and is in use to this day.

Old Book Shop - Le Someil (here's a good article about the bookshop, translated (not ideally) into English with Google Translate)

 European Centre of Patchwork/Quilting Museum at Salleles d'Aude

 The Hat Museum at Le Someil

Virginia creeper, all but taking over an old barn, on the way to Lastours: 

Susie was so taken by this creeper, she's taken a few cuttings of it back to Bulgaria with her - taken from the wall of this very barn, in fact. So watch this space - in a year or two, there may be photos of her Bulgarian abode, no longer pink, but deep red.

To improve her chances of success, she decided to buy some rooting powder (hormone powder) to dip the roots in before potting them. That was a tricky translation - with plenty of room for error! However, it was all achieved with a minimum of fuss and no embarassment. While I was at a French lesson, Susie managed all on her own at the garden shop, with some 'charades' thrown in!

It was great having Susie here, and being able to show her my new home in France. I've been to Bulgaria twice and am familiar now with her lovely part of the world, so it was great to be able to catch up here, and show her my little corner of la belle France.

Unfortunately, she had to leave on the Monday. Unfortunate because she missed out on the following day's annual walk up in the hills to celebrate the first of this year's new wine and the chestnut season. So Elizabeth and I made the trip, had a very scenic walk with the group along the top of the limestone gorges. And afterwards, rewarded with freshly roasted chestnuts and red wine.

It doesn't get much better than this....

1 comment:

raels said...

Love your blog, Deb. Does Susie have a blog?

Moving sideways

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