Vacances en France – 2018 – La Calsade


On day four of our holiday in France, our stay at Maison Volière was completed by a very nice breakfast, supplemented with fresh fruit from Ian and Anthony’s own fruit trees. Packed and once again on the road, our journey south from La Souterraine was, trouble-free. Apparently, there were no other Brits on the road, leastways, none that we observed. And, after three hours or so, we arrived in Aurillac.

About Aurillac ….. from www.france-voyage.com

The former capital of Haute-Auvergne, Aurillac‘s origins date back to Gallo-Roman times and the town nestles at the foot of the Mounts of Cantal, on the banks of the Jordanne. This small Cantal river brings a very special charm to the town, especially in the Pont Rouge area, where you can enjoy a lovely view of the picturesque old houses by the water.

The thousand-year-old town of Aurillac boasts a rich architectural heritage. There is a historical circuit which you can follow to see the old town’s attractions: the Abbey Church of St. Gerald, the remains of an old Benedictine abbey, the Romanesque façade of the Abbey Hospital of St. Gerald with its arcades and small columns, the Renaissance-style Consuls’ Mansion, featuring mullioned windows and sculptures, Aurinques Chapel, built during the reign of Henry IV in the 16th century, or the famous Place du Square, an ideal place to take a stroll and unwind, can all be admired along the way.

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Aurillac – Looks like a student rag week attack on this statue.

Aurillac is the biggest town near to our gite and so it was here that we intended to have a spot of lunch, and also obtain some basic grocery supplies before heading on to the gite. After parking, in an underground car park, we strolled around the central area that is Place du Square. Eventually settling in at Le Milk, Bar / Brasserie, for a little liquid refreshment and a bite to eat.

It seems that it was the start of the college term and there seemed to be many students and their parents shuffling along the street, loaded down with books and bits of furniture. Presumably moving into their new lodgings for the duration. Hopefully a  stylish apartment and not some grotty garret.

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Aurillac – The French Capital of Umbrellas

From Wikipedia …..

Historic French capital of umbrellas with half of French production – 250,000 units in 1999 – and provides 100 jobs. After declining for several decades at the end of the 20th century, Aurillac umbrella producers decided to join their forces and created the Economic Interest Group, or GIE in 1997. They then launched their products under a single label, L’aurillac Parapluie (The Aurillac Umbrella).

We had a pleasant lunch at Le Milk and, suitably refueled, we headed out to forage for food. Locating a small eight till late style convenience store, we stocked up on the basics for the start of our three-week stay.

Supplies purchased we set of in search of Badailhac and our gite. The satnag did it’s stuff and we were soon climbing the steep serpentine roads up to Badailhac. Gerry came to consider this road, and several others, to be similar to a white knuckle ride at a theme park. Anyway the satnag directed us up, and ever upwards to and thru Badailhac, on to La Calsade.

Parking up on the driveway of our home for the next three weeks, our real adventure began.

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Gite – La Calsade, Badailhac, France

Firstly we had to locate our host. I rang her and determined that she was at the fromagerie, next door. I met her, introduced myself, and soon realised that communication was going to be a challenge. She had no English and my command of the French language is anything but conversational. I believe the correct term is “fractured and bastardised”.

Somehow we muddled along, as she showed us our new accommodations. Taking us to each room, showing us how the cooker worked, where the BBQ and sun loungers were kept and so forth. We went through the readings on the utility meter and then she was gone, and we were left to our own devices. The next hour or so was spent unpacking, finding homes for all of our gear and newly acquired groceries.

And then it was time to sit down with a nice cup of tea and relax in the sunshine and admire the near 180 degree view.

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La Calsade – The Long View

What really helped was the knowledge that we could truly relax, knowing that we didn’t have to get up in the morning and spend another day driving. Although our daily driving rate was quite light, we had covered around 900km (550 miles) over 4 days.

Gerry was a little down when we first arrived. She thought that the gite was a bit dark inside. This was in part due to the thickness of the walls and comparative small size of the windows. The interior lighting was also not brilliant. In addition we hadn’t spotted the washing machine. It did, however, put in an appearance. It was lurking in corner of  the bathroom (upstairs), not visible to us on our original tour. We should have guessed as this is not the first time we have encountered a washing machine in a bathroom.

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Still, sitting outside, relaxing, admiring the view we were treated to what was to become the daily ritual. The gite, being on a working dairy farm, was ideally placed to observe the grand parade of cattle. Walking pretty much single file, the herd of just under fifty, were followed by the farmer on his quad bike and escorted by his black dog.

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Sitting with our cup of tea, we came to the conclusion that life doesn’t get much better than this.

 

 

Vacances en France – 2018 – Wimereux


Just over a month ago we set off on holiday. And so it was that we found ourselves en-route to Badailhac in the Cantal region of France. We had rented a gite for three weeks and the intent was to spend our time exploring the countryside and sampling the local cuisine.

Although it is possible to drive down in one go, we prefer to take the leisurely route and were stopping over night at Wimereux, Chartres and La Souterraine.

Setting off, we had a trouble-free journey from home to the Eurotunnel Shuttle terminal at Folkestone. So good was our journey that we were offered a place on the 12:36 departure, almost an hour earlier than our original booking.

It was of course too good to be true. We headed towards the shuttle, arrived at the UK checkpoint and ground to a halt. The UK checkpoint was running four lanes but the French passport control were only running two.

We sat there twiddling our thumbs for some time before starting to creep up to the French booths. Then we were through, having missed the the 12:36.

Imagine what it will be like when BREXIT kicks in and us Brits are no longer considere EUropeans.

Never mind it was a nice sunny day. Nothing I like more than sitting in a queue, knowing you have thirty minutes to wait, and the twat in the car in the next lane to you is sitting there being really eco-friendly with his engine running. I don’t know, but I’m guessing that VW forgot to install an off switch in their Scirocco models. Not just that but his windows are down, just like mine, and he decides to treat everyone to some bangra dub gangsta rap crap.

Just to add to the irritation, approaching our new departure time, the passenger from the Scirocco buggers off to the toilets. Then it’s ” gentlemen start your engines” and lane after lane of cars head for the train. All except for the one next to us, which has to go before ours. They can’t move because Mr Sciroccos mate hasn’t come back.

Things had just started to look like the January sales at Harrods, with cars crossing lanes to get past the offending vehicle, when the missing passenger returns. Then they were off and, eventually, so were we.

Loading onto a shuttle always seems, to me, to be highly efficient. Before long we had been swallowed into the belly of the shuttle. It does seem like you are driving halfway to France, so long is the train. Quickly we were all loaded, engine off, hand brake on, gear stick in first and within minutes moving away from Folkestone and heading under the sea.

Just 35 minutes later our shuttle burst into the sunlight and we were in Calais, France. Once the train has stopped the efficiency continued with every vehicle regurgitated from the shuttles belly, out onto the French roads. There are no checkpoints, it’s a controlled sprint for the autoroutes, all aimed to clear you from the area as quickly as possible.

Then we really felt like our holiday had begun. Driving on the wrong side of the road, frantically trying to convert kilometre speed limits into miles per hour. (The kilometre markings on my speedo are too small for me to read whilst on the move).

The satnag did a grand job and got us to the B&B with no errors. However, we were too early to check in so we headed down to the seaside town of Wimereux.

What a pretty place …

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Wimereux – Apartments and Beach Huts

Some of the folks, outside these beach huts, obviously had a passion for the sun. Just an observation based on the deep tan they were sporting.

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Wimereux – Beautiful Seaside Town

Lots of folks were promenading or just sitting, absorbing the suns rays. I don’t know what the sea water temperature was. But given the weather this summer I am guessing that it would be quite warm. Many people were happily swimming about.

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Wimereux – French style with an Egyptian flavour

According to Wikipedia ……

The seaside development was started during the Second Empire, resulting in a remarkable architectural ensemble of houses and buildings typical of the Belle Époque, which are still very well maintained to this day.

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Wimereux – St Louis

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Wimereux – Needs some TLC

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Wimereux – Hotel L’Atlantic

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Wimereux – Beach Huts

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Wimereux – Colourful buildings

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Wimereux – Colourful and ornate

While in Wimereux we had a spot of lunch at Brasserie Les Oyats.  Situated right on the promenade, we had a substantial lunch with views along the seafront and out to sea.

After a gentle stroll along the prom, enjoying the sunshine and the fresh sea air, we decided to head back to the B&B to check in.

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The satnag got us there in no time and we introduced ourselves to our host who showed us to our accommodation. We were gobsmacked. We had been expecting a room with en-suite.

What we actually got was a small, one bedroom cottage. All that was missing was a kitchen. We had our own front door and even had our own terrace with sun loungers , accessed through the back door.

Once we were installed, we made tea and sat out on the terrace which was benefitting from the clear skies and sunshine. Across the terrace there is an orchard and from under the trees came a flock of chickens, coming to investigate the strangers.

The cockerel kept his distance, but kept a watchful eye while the hens came in search of food around our deck chairs. One, a plump white hen, even followed me when I took a stroll across the grass to take a look out over the fields.

I jokingly said I would steal her to take to our gite, a kind of chicken dinner carry-out.

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It was nice to be relaxing after our earlier drive.

 

 

Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)


A frequent visitor to the lawns, around our gite in Serandon, was the Green Woodpecker.

A beautiful looking bird, usually arriving in pairs, very alert and very quick to take flight at the slightest noise or movement.

Kite Flying


Many of you will know that Gerry and I have just spent a month in France.  The first three weeks of that time was at a gite in the Dordogne. Throughout that time we would hear the calls of various raptors. They would be soaring out over the gorges, sitting high up on the electricity pylons and occasionally we would see one stoop, plunging to the ground in a newly mown meadow. On a number of occasions I had disturbed a couple of kites sitting in a tree, so well camouflaged were they, I hadn’t even seen them until I was almost immediately below them as I walked the lanes. Throughout our stay I had attempted many photos of these fabulous birds but had pretty much only achieved interesting silhouettes.

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Three Red Kites – On the hunt

 

During our last week at the gite, after a prolonged spell of wet weather, it was time for the grass in the meadow directly in front of the gite to be cut. I grabbed my camera, crossed the garden to stand at the fence bordering the field, my eyes scanning the skies in anticipation.

The farmer drove round and round, starting at the perimeter, steadily working his way into the centre of the field. Until his circumnavigations had reduced the potential hiding places, for any small creatures, to an island of tall grass in the centre.

Then they were there.

Well one bird had arrived to investigate. But it was soon joined by several more. There was still much of the grass to be cut. The birds wheeled and swooped over the field, as if taking a preliminary scan, then all disappeared over the tree tops and away.

A few minutes later and they were back.

There were five or six birds, although it was difficult to keep track of them as switched from soaring to low-level runs across the meadow.

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Black Kite ? – Serandon, Dordogne, France

I thought that the birds, once they were hunting or had potential prey in their sights, would largely ignore me. It became obvious that they were staying away from my side of the meadow. Unfortunately there was no where for me to get under cover and my lens wouldn’t allow me to be further back,  I was already pushing its capabilities to the limits.

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Red Kite – Serandon, Dordogne, France

So I carried on , firing away. I ended up with many similar shots but not many keepers. I learnt that I need a better equipment. This time it was a spur of the moment when the opportunity presented itself. After all, I didn’t know the farmer was going to mow the meadow, but I could have been better prepared. The following photos were all over the course of an hour.

But, at a minimum, a better lens would have helped me maximise my use of this opportunity. I should state here that I accept operator error as a huge contributor. I was having problems keeping the lens focussed as I got over excited at all the action, jumping from bird to bird. I switched from auto to manual focus to try and make life simpler, so I could have more time to frame the shot. I obviously need more practice in this enviroment.

A case in point is this photo. I did actually capture the moment when one of the kites caught a rodent …..

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Lunch

…..  better preparation, better lens, would have made this a better photo. Bottom line though, this is down to the operator, me.

And, while I’m mentioning equipment, perhaps, some kind of camouflage clothing and / or a collapsible hide. After all, I had plenty of room in the car for this holiday. Mind you that would then require me to be a better planner.

Ask me who didn’t pack his tripod, monopod or even his gorillapod for this holiday.

 

Family


After two nights in Troyes, the end of our holiday was looming on the horizon. But we still had two nights left. No dramatic sight seeing planned for this part of our holiday, we were going to visit family.

Gerry’s brother, Doug, has lived in France for many years and now lives near Arras. We hadn’t managed to get together for quite a few years. He works for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  Our timing for this visit, probably could have been better. With many Somme 100 remembrance ceremonies taking place on the 1st July he was very busy at work.

As we headed north from Troyes the weather gradually deteriorated, becoming overcast and persistently dull. The traffic also grew in density as we left the agricultural heartland behind and  got nearer to the channel ports and channel tunnel. The amount of traffic was also probably influenced by our proximity to Paris, the centre of the French spiders web road system. Still, we made better time than anticipated and, as a result, there was nobody home when we arrived. They had all headed to Lille to collect Lynn’s dad from the bus station. He had travelled down from Merseyside, by bus, leaving around midnight the night before. Now that is a trip I would not like to make. My days of long distance coach travel are long gone.

As an aside, nearly 30 years ago, Gerry and I did a coach based holiday picked out of our local paper. We travelled from Havant to Trento in Italy. The coach drivers took us on a torturous route through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Switzerland. They seemed intent on avoiding all motorways and the journey took nearly 24 hours. I recall that, at the time, I had a theory that the drivers were pocketing the toll money hence no real motorway driving. Although the coach had seats that reclined they were not all that comfortable and, for someone who is over six feet tall, not much leg room. So I do have some experience of coach travel, and it’s not something I want to repeat.

So, back to France. We  visited the nearby supermarket to pick up some alcoholic supplies to lubricate the imminent reunion. We hadn’t been back at Doug’s for very long when Andrew, Doug’s son, arrived and ushered us inside where we were soon drinking tea and coffee.

Later, Doug and co. arrived and there was much fat chewing and chin wagging. Lots to catch up on. As we all sat around the table for dinner the alcohol we had purchased was put to good use and it’s lubricity investigated.

The following day Doug had to work, returning home at lunchtime to pick up Brian, the father-in-law, for an orientation briefing related to the Somme 100 activities. Both Brian and Doug were going to be guides on the bus’ bringing guests into the remembrance sites.

Note: The above photos are from a previous visit in 2009. The weather was much nicer back then. Access during last week was severely restricted due to the Somme 100 activities.

The weather outside was awful, ranging from mizzle to full pelt rainstorms. We took the opportunity to relax, happy to not be moving for a while. Apart from a short walk, to the local school, to pick up  Doug’s grand-daughter, Maddie.

Another super evening meal (thanks Lynn), with more wine, beer and lots of conversation. Then it was heads down to sleep.

Doug and Brian had a very early start the next morning. Up at four and picked up at five to begin their “guiding”. We had a much more leisurely start and while Gerry and Lynn took Maddie to school I loaded the car ready for our journey to the tunnel.

These pictures give you some idea of the drismal nature of our departure day. It matched the sad feelings we were feeling to be leaving family. It had been nice to catch up and of course we have all promised to not leave it so long until our next gathering. After all we are all just a couple of hours from the tunnel, on either side of the channel. No excuses.

So Gerry and I bid farewell to Lynn, having said our farewells to Andrew earlier in the morning, and to Doug and Brian the night before.

Au Revoir !!

 

 

Sainte-Eulalie-de-Cernon


Sunday morning and we have to bid farewell to Millau. I hope we make it back here some day. We were set to travel to Lyon, but first we headed out in the wrong direction with the satnag pointed at Sainte-Eulalie-de-Cernon. Our route immediately started us on a climb up to he Larzac plateau. Which in turn provided us with spectacular views over the countryside.

Sainte-Eulalie-de-Cernon is a village in the Aveyron department in southern France. Here is a little background courtesy of the official tourism website of Aveyron.

The Knights Templar took possession of the Larzac plateau in the 12th century thanks to the gifting of land to the order and from which the revenue served to maintain the Knights in the Holly Land. In order to ensure the security of the local inhabitants, they created the commandry of Sainte-Eulalie de Cernon, La Cavalerie, La Couvertoirade and Le Viala du Pas de Jaux; these villages which the Hospitaller Knights inherited during the suppression of the Order of the Knights Templar by the Pope in 1312 were fortified in the 15th century. The Hospitaller Knights ensured their management for five centuries.

It didn’t take us very long to get to the village and we weren’t disappointed by our diversion.

After all this history, and with an eye to the fact that we needed to get on our way to Lyon, we decided to have a spot of lunch. Luckily there was a handy eatery, Auberge la Cardabelle.

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Auberge la Cardabelle – Sainte-Eulalie-de-Cernon, France

Don’t worry, no musical link this time.

 

We had a good meal although Gerry felt she had to rush her meal. She felt she was in a race with the flies to see who got to eat first. In this instance France would give Australia a run for their money in the fly department.

Once we had settled up we headed back to the car and set of for Lyon with just a couple of parting shots before the village disappeared over the horizon….

 

Leaving


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Last night there was a humongous storm. Possibly the wildest storm I have experienced. Very strong winds, continuous lightning and torrential rain.

This morning was calm but dull and damp. The picture shows the view from the gite towards the gorges. This was our last view of the Dordogne, at least for this vacation.

At the time of writing we have arrived in Millau, in the Aveyron department of the French Midi-Pyrenees region in southern France.

We are here, for just one night, to see le Viaduc de Millau, the tallest bridge in the world. Tomorrow, we head to Lyon as we meander our way back north and, ultimately, home.