Classic cars and countryside

Last Saturday we drove about an hour south-east to the lovely city of Angoulême (capital city of the Charente department).  They were celebrating their Circuit Des Remparts, an annual race around the city walls with classic and vintage cars taking centre stage. Rich was in his element. I was very excited about going to a bigger city and maybe finding that elusive flat white coffee I’ve been after…

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Our first pit stop therefore was a cute little coffee shop on a tiny square dedicated to Porsche cars. Every single car parked in the surrounding streets and in the square itself was a Porsche of some description (I felt oddly comforted by this as it reminded me a bit of Hong Kong where every other car is a Tesla or a Lexus). I ordered my coffee and was encouraged to see what arrived but alas, the taste was not up to standard (I think they use long life milk here and it’s just not hitting the spot – the search continues). By the way, those ‘coffee beans’ on the side turned out to be medicinally flavoured jelly beans. Hmmm.

We wandered the city streets taking in the atmosphere and even spotted a couple who had featured on one of our favourite British TV shows “A New Life in the Sun”. No I didn’t run over for an autograph or a selfie, you’ll be glad to hear. The rain clouds were looming so we took a few photos then ducked into a brasserie for a very pleasant lunch.

We explored a bit more after lunch but then the rain really came and we both got soaked so we decided to call it a day and headed back home.

This week the weather has perked up considerably and we have been weeding in the garden to the extent that we both got sunburnt. Rich decided we needed to explore the countryside a bit more so he researched some hiking routes (or randonnées) and off we went. I found it all a bit like a treasure hunt as we were spotting strange symbols and markings on trees and posts to help us decide which way to go.

We saw some beautiful countryside, chanced upon hidden châteaux and gorgeous meadows. We’ve racked up quite a few steps this week so that can’t be bad.

It’s officially autumn now and we have been here just over a month. I’ll leave you with these shots that Rich took from our hike:

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À bientôt, bisous.

Downward Dog and downright gorgeous

During our strolls around the village and our visits to la Mairie, we chanced upon signs for a local yoga class. I took down the details, emailed the organisers and pitched up on Wednesday morning with my yoga mat and an open mind. NB: Justine, you’ll be pleased to know there was actually no Downward Dog included in the class! In fact it was a very different yoga class to what I’m used to. The ‘animatrice’, Danielle, was very knowledgeable about anatomy and my French vocab of body parts certainly improved. I now know where my ‘nuque’, ‘aine’ and ‘chevilles’ are!*

The emphasis was on correct alignment and using the body’s natural bone structure to aid with posture and weight bearing. With a few tweaks to my posture, Danielle had me crouching in the Chair Pose (one of my least favourites) for much longer than I have ever held it before! In fact an actual chair was used for much of the class and the movements concentrated on slow and careful manipulation of different joints. The end of the class culminated in a lovely massage with a tennis ball between my neck and the wall at the back of the hall. I came out feeling as if I’d learnt a lot of new vocabulary and experienced a different kind of yoga.

On Monday we ventured out to a local landmark about 40 minutes away called Château de la Roche Courbon. It was absolutely stunning as Rich’s photos will attest:

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As you can see, we had the place pretty much to ourselves as it was a sunny and showery day on a Monday in September!

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The flowers were in bloom and the lawns were immaculate. Just look at the topiary on the shrubs and trees!

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We signed up for a tour of the main house (in French) and were pleasantly surprised that we managed to understand so much of it.

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There were some really cool old games in the basement that kept us busy trying to outdo each other on Ye Olde Worlde Air Hockey (think wooden puck and highly polished surface) and Roll the Ball into the Hole in the Wooden Surface (I’m sure it was called something more catchy).

We wandered down to the prehistoric caves that have been mocked up to look like Neanderthal encampments. It was very peaceful to walk by the river and listen to the birds.

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The weather has started to cool down and the leaves are gradually changing colour. I have been collecting handfuls of conkers from the garden and I tried to make an arty display of them in the kitchen. I’ll leave you with this arty shot by Rich from our day trip:

IMG-20170911-WA0006À bientôt, bisous.

*Nuque = nape of the neck

*Aine = groin

*Chevilles = ankles

Curry, quiz and catch up

What a sociable week this has been! For my “HK family” we caught up with Jon (who I taught with and have known for the past 17 years). He’s now retired to France and, as soon as I knew we were heading off on this French adventure, I started planning to meet up with him. Well, this week the plans came to fruition as we drove down to his part of France (out of Charente Maritime, through Charente and into the Dordogne region) for the day. We had a great day exploring his town and having a lovely lunch in the square before taking him to his little “country house” out in the sticks to survey his estate! He’s toying with the idea of spending some time over the Winter months just being at one with nature at his cabin in the woods. Well it certainly is idyllic, but it needs a bit of TLC to be properly habitable. Maybe next time we see him he’ll have gone all “man of the woods” (just like you, Ho Mei)!

The other social highlight of our week has been a Quiz and Curry night. Now for those of you who know me, I love a good quiz and I was rather missing our regular pub quiz back in HK. Luckily our very kind and helpful electrician, Rob, has been giving us hints and tips about life in France and he brought round a magazine in English which detailed all the events in the area. Lo and behold, there is a monthly quiz in a town not too far away called Chef-Boutonne so we booked a table (rather sadly, just for 2 people this time) and off we ventured.

We decided to take our time and to wend our way through some of the villages en route.  I’m glad we did because we happened upon some gorgeous places which we will surely revisit some time in the future to get some better photos.

We got to Chef-Boutonne and were slowly cruising round in the car when Rich noticed another car following us. He slowed to let it pass and who should draw up alongside but… Rob! It turns out he lives not five minutes from there and had spotted our car (easy to spot with British number plates yet a left-hand drive…) and wondered if we were lost. We stopped and chatted to him for a few minutes while he gave us the low-down on all that Chef-Boutonne had to offer then off we went to the quiz venue (or so we thought)…

On turning up to the place, we thought it looked a bit quiet with just one other couple but nevertheless we sat down and waited until the guy came over.

“We’re here for the quiz,” said Rich tentatively.

“Well then you’re in the wrong place! We do have a quiz night but it’s not tonight. You want the château back down the road.” replied the guy with a chuckle.

We didn’t feel so clever after that! But we hopped in the car and just down the road is a lovely château on the outskirts of Chef-Boutonne called Château de Javarzay (which Rich has renamed Château Jalfrezi due to the curry element)! There’s a Salle des Fêtes (or community hall) next to the château and, judging by the full car park and the throngs of people streaming in, we were more confident that this was indeed the right place!

So this was clearly where all the British expats of the region hung out! There was a hall full of tables of up to 6 people, a cash bar, a raffle, greeting cards on sale, a screen showing all the team names & scores and there was also a curry dinner halfway through the quiz.

I’d love to tell you we won but I’d be lying!

We didn’t come last, we didn’t win anything in the raffle but we did get vouchers to come back next time and have a bottle of wine on the house (so that’s a win in my book)!

We’ll definitely be back, and maybe rope in some more people to swell our team numbers next time!

On the drive back, Rich spotted a fox and a genet (think grey cat with a long stripy tail) skulking at the side of the road which have both added to our wildlife tally and, back at the château, Rich got a good evening photo of the nearly full moon.

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À bientôt, bisous.

Bats and bricolage

Week 2 at the château has seen us getting on with the cleaning and gardening as we gradually try to make an already beautiful château seem even more beautiful!

While cleaning the windows on the first floor I opened the shutters and BAM! down came a small black thing with a thud. I nearly lost the plot and screamed (prompting Rich to think I’d finally fallen off the ladder). Apparently I had dislodged a sleeping bat who was now looking a bit winded on the windowsill…

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Concerned that I might have hurt him, I kept an eye on him while Rich came up to see what all the fuss was about. Yeah, the bat was cute until he started coming round, baring his fangs and flapping his wings, clearly not impressed with his rude awakening. Luckily he decided that he’d be better off elsewhere and flew off so I could carry on cleaning the window. I opened all the rest of the shutters much more gingerly after that.

We’ve been trying to do a bit in the garden (not that we are experts by any stretch of the imagination) just to try to tidy things up. We couldn’t find many gardening tools so off we went to Bricomarché for DIY stuff (NB Nadia: bricolage can mean odd jobs, home improvements or just pottering about). We tried the big Bricomarché in Cognac (about a 40 minute drive away) and then found that there is one in St Jean D’Angély (about 15 minutes away). Wow! DIY heaven (I never thought I’d hear myself say that)! We bought some tools and headed back to the château with renewed enthusiasm for weed clearing now that we had the necessary tools. It turns out that I can do about an hour’s weed clearing before my back hurts and I need a break (such a lightweight). I’m sure I’ll get stronger…

We had a couple of sunny/rainy days this week culminating in a glorious evening with the most amazing double rainbow. We chased around the village in the car trying to find the best angles for photos but they really don’t do it justice.

Here are the latest photos from this week:

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À bientôt, bisous!