Pet sitting pooches and pussycats

 

After welcoming Stuart and Lisa back to their château we spent a few days catching up then left them to their family Christmas. We headed south to Carcassonne for a few days. What an amazing city! The medieval walled city sits on a hill overlooking the rest of the city which is pretty impressive in its own right. We had a cute little Airbnb nestled right under the ramparts and it was toasty warm despite the chilly weather outside.

For Christmas we decided to break with tradition and I had my first Christmas without turkey! We even decided to forego a lunchtime meal and opted for a Michelin starred chef’s brasserie in the evening (a bit like France’s answer to Jame Oliver or Gordon Ramsay having their own named restaurants). I went for the duck breast and Rich tried the local speciality of cassoulet (a white bean stew with duck and pork). Rich had the blueberry tart but, again in another break with tradition, I eschewed dessert for…. a cheese course! I’ve decided that Christmas really is a time to celebrate cheeses! All of it was washed down by some very nice red wine and my new prosecco alternative: Crémant de Limoux. Yes, it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue but boy does it slip down the throat easily!

 

On Boxing Day we pitched up at our new pet sitting gig and met the lovely family whose pets we’re currently taking care of. There are 2 dogs, 3 cats, 2 guinea pigs and a tank full of fish. The family are really lovely and we took the dogs out together to see where they were allowed to go and what their routines were. Despite some travel setbacks with flights being cancelled and a bit of emergency baby sitting having to be done while they sorted things out, after a couple of days they were off and we were left in charge!

The village we are in is a lovely place and we wandered around a bit so we could get our bearings (and so that I could take my obligatory mairie photo)!

 

The first time Rich took the dogs for their walk, the kitten decided to follow them all the way round the vineyards. Luckily she made it back in one piece and we’re now wise to her antics so we try to leave her in the sitting room while we take the dogs.

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We have sneaked in a couple of mornings out and explored the local towns and villages. Amongst the gorgeous vineyards and chateaux, we have also ventured to Narbonne and Gruissan on the Mediterranean coast.

 

I’ve been really taken with all the trees against the blue skies so here are a few shots I took:

 

I’ll leave you with a sunrise over the vineyards photo and all the best wishes for 2018. Happy New Year!

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À bientôt, bisous.

 

Ornaments and ‘oodunnits

We’ve had a great time decorating the château ready for the arrival of Lisa, Stuart and family for their Christmas holiday. I’ve been creative with sprigs and boughs of greenery and the tinsel has found a home on the stairs. There are candles everywhere and the place looks magical at night with the fairy lights twinkling and the smell of gingerbread from the scented candle I got in the local garden centre!

Last week I found out that “Murder on the Orient Express” was showing at Niort so we headed over to their big multi-screen cinema in the town centre for a lunchtime showing in ‘version originale’ with French subtitles. The last film we saw was “Blade Runner 2049” and we bravely opted to go for ‘version française’.  Yeah, that was a mistake! Rich said “Don’t worry, it’s all about the atmosphere and the action, there won’t be much dialogue.” How wrong can you be? I did still enjoy it but we might need to go and watch it again in the original version just so we know what actually happened in the story!

This time, for the Orient Express movie, we got to the cinema about half an hour before the movie was due to start so we found our way down (it’s underground) to the ticket booths which were all automated. Not a soul was to be seen so it felt a bit like a ghost town. We popped out to get a coffee and a filled baguette to munch on for lunch and went back down to find the right screen. There were a few more people about by now but no-one took our ticket so we just made our own way into the right screen. We sat down and then were treated to about half an hour of ‘publicité’ or adverts. At least it gave us time to enjoy our baguettes. A few more people came in during the adverts so there were about 7 of us in total (one guy obviously found the movie a bit boring as he snored his way through most of it)!

I loved the film with all the 1930s costumes and the lavish setting of the Orient Express. Despite seeing the 1974 version several times, I couldn’t remember “whodunnit” or, more accurately, “whydunnit” so it was still entertaining. Coincidentally I’d been reading another Agatha Christie whodunnit in French “Le Train Bleu” which is similarly set on a train. Agatha Christie is a good author to read in French as the chapters are short and the language is fairly easy to understand (just as long as you can get around the use of the historic past tense…).

We haven’t been outside as much as usual due to the cold weather, it’s more the weather to stay tucked up inside, reading and watching TV. However, on the couple of walks we have taken, we have enjoyed the wildlife.

So now we’re going to leave Lisa and family to enjoy their château for Christmas and head south to Carcassonne for Christmas and New Year. The next news will wend its way from that direction…

Here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

À bientôt, bisous.

Novel Noel…

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…” here in Charente Maritime and we have been soaking up the atmosphere since December began with mince pies, poinsettias, Christmas trees and marchés de Noël (Christmas Markets).

 

Since late November, we have been on the hunt for a couple of BIG Christmas trees for inside the château (when the ceilings are 5 metres high, a normal-sized tree just looks tiny so we were on the lookout for a 3 metre and a 4 metre tree for the lounge and hallway respectively). The local garden centre (Gamm Vert) had big trees but the guy said we had to wait another week to make sure all the communities had enough before they could let the general public buy what was left… That made me a bit nervous that they would run out before we’d even had a chance so we happened to drive past another Gamm Vert which had two enormous trees on display just outside the entrance.

In my best French, I enquired as to whether they had any more like the ones on display and the lovely lady told us that those were the last two she had but they were ours if we wanted them… we eagerly took her up on the offer before really checking out if they would deliver and how we would stand the trees up (they were planted in the ground while on display but we wanted them for indoors)… She happily sold us a couple of big black pots and advised us to put sand in them (Rich was not convinced that this would be strong enough to stop them toppling over). She also said her car was a bit small to deliver them but her colleague offered to put them on his trailer and deliver them in a couple of days (all at no extra charge). Back at the château we scoured the rubble the builders had left for suitable weights to secure the enormous trees. A couple of days later the trees duly arrived and the kind man brought them inside and then left us to it.

We had to saw off several low branches so that the trees could get into the pots and, with lots of heaving and grunting, we managed to hoist the biggest tree into its pot. But it was leaning! Despite our meticulous planning, sawing the bottom off the trunk to make it flat and careful positioning of the rubble in the pot, the tree just wasn’t standing up straight. We pushed it, wiggled it, wobbled it but no, it was still leaning. Satisfied that it wouldn’t fall over in the night, we went off in search of fish ‘n’ chips and mulled wine to mull over what to do next…

The next morning dawned and it dawned on us that if we tried to rotate it in the pot, maybe it would shift and right itself. Ta da! Success! We now had a vertical tree ready to decorate. But first we had to put the second tree into its pot. Confident that we had learnt from our mistakes, the second one went up like a dream and we set about testing the fairy lights to decorate both the trees.

I untangled the lights and Rich tested them and eventually we had 4 sets of lights ready to go. All very well when you can reach the top of the tree but we had to get a ladder to reach the top. Next came baubles and more ladder climbing to reach the upper branches.

Eventually we were all baubled out and the first tree was decorated. We still have the second tree to finish decorating but that’s a job for this afternoon with a bit of Christmas music playing and a gingerbread-spiced candle burning to get us into the Christmas spirit!

In the meantime, here are the photos of the bigger tree before and after:

 

I’ve also been baking with a Christmas twist, my Christmas tree chicken and mushroom puff looked so much better on Pinterest but Rich said it tasted good so what the heck?! My cinnamon-spiced marzipan biscuits also hit the spot so I’ll leave you with pictures of those Christmassy delicacies!

 

I do hope your Christmas preparations are going to plan and you are gearing up for a peaceful and joyous holiday.

À bientôt, bisous.