(sorry francophiles that I don’t know how to insert accents in WordPress!)
After a little tour of Liz’s top floor balcony flat, a few cups of tea sitting out in the sun – yes the sun had come out – we headed for some retail therapy. I have a skirt for Stephie’s wedding but no top so the search started, unfortunately despite trying on countless tops none of them was quite right and I finally ran out of adrenalin so we headed back. In the evening we went to see Kat’s final review at Central – a modern day story woven around the music of Madness. Absolutely brilliant and great fun too!
My journey continued with a train ride to Canterbury on Saturday to visit Michelle – apart from the fact that we are 25 years older and wiser (?!) not much has changed – well okay, lots has changed but we had a wonderful time catching up on each other’s lives, reminiscing about the past and just generally refreshing our friendship. It’s no point regretting that we didn’t see each other more often over the years since it is too late now. Time goes by so fast, we were at opposite ends of the country, both busy with children and careers, we managed weddings, Christmas cards and Birthday cards but it was lovely to find that we still have lots in common and were really comfortable with each other.
Sunday night back in London and then south to Carcassonne for a very relaxing spot of serious pampering from Vo-Vo and Dédé. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the Tramontaine is blowing and all is well with the world (apart from a sore throat and a cough). It was a lovely feeling when I looked up as I came through the airport doors to see Vovo waving excitedly at me, a huge grin on her face. It was like coming home as I was wrapped in a big bear hug and then whisked off to the restaurant for lunch.
First stop – Beziers for shopping – back to the hunt for a top! Poor old Dédé followed Vovo and I carrying our bags as we perused all the boutiques. We eventually persuaded him to sit in a cafe and have a drink while we carried on. Mission accomplished we headed home. Next day we went to L’Abbaye de Fontfroide – a Cistercian abbey tucked away in a very peaceful valley, surrounded by pine woods. Well worth a visit if you are ever in the area. I’m not religious but have great respect for the architectural vision of ecclesiastics. But even more respect for the poor souls who actually put in the hard graft to build these beautiful places – in times where there were no machines to help it is quite unbelievable what they achieved. It always amazes me that the Church (capital letters because I use Church as a symbol for a whole range of religious groups) possesses such wealth when its followers are often so poor.
On Thursday Dédé and I went for a walk up through the woods to the ”éoliens” – (wind turbines) . The valley where they live is surrounded on all sides by hills – not big ones, but because the Tramontaine blows through the valley they are excellent sites for wind turbines and they can be seen from afar atop the hills. There were eleven where we walked and they are planning another ten or so on the hill in the neighbouring valley. I don’t know about you but I find them strangely beautiful. They are a bit like huge swans sitting up there on the horizon, ok they do stand out and the nature lover side of me says that the spoil the wildness and purity of the scenery. And I know that they can only ever provide a very small percentage of the energy we need, but it is surely better to have a row of elegant windmills on our horizon than smelly, dirty, power stations or nuclear power stations that produce dangerous waste materials that we are never going to be able to get rid of safely…… In the days of the advent of steam engines, when Telford and co started building viaducts across the countryside there was an outcry that the countryside was being spoilt – they are all now listed structures and we are spending money to protect them. That’s progress! (I’ll get off my hobby horse now!)
In the afternoon we went for a little walk along the Canal du Midi and visited a book store which houses thousands of second hand books, many of them collector’s items and very rare. What an amazing place – it was fascinating flicking through the pages of books and magazines covering a huge range of topics. You could spend hours in there just sitting reading. Anyway I found the perfect gift for Nigel (which I will have to help him read as it is in French) but I can’t say what it is yet as he might read this blog before he gets his present! We finished off the afternoon by doing a tour of the area, ending up at Minerve which is an amazing village – a Cathare stronghold and scene of a siege which finished up with the Cathars being ousted. I really must read up on the history because the architecture is beautiful and the stories are fascinating. It has a sign outside the village proclaiming that it is “Un des plus beaux villages de France” . I’ve included this picture of the vineyards because I love the way they are planted in such neat rows all oriented slightly differently to catch the sun . Sadly though, many of the “vignerons” are pulling up the vines because with the competition from the New World wines many of the smaller French wine producers simply can’t afford to keep going. So as we drove along we witnessed the sad sight of empty vineyards, the dried up vines dug up and abandoned in piles waiting for another crop to go in. In an attempt to help the French government is giving the owners compensation for digging them up to re-plant with something else.
All too soon it was time to head to Carcassonne and get the plane home – nearly didn’t get my case through as it was too heavy but luckily the scanner man was a very nice man who fell for my winning smile!!