Tag Archives: French

Spring is here

1 Mar

It does seem as though spring has arrived here in the south west of France. The garden is springing into life and the birds are very active.

It is always good to welcome spring. The days start getting longer than night (from 21 March) and the electricity bills rocket downwards. Hooray!

Here the French government has limited the rise in electricity prices to 5% for the rest of the year. Our highest monthly bill was 450€ so you can imagine how welcome that is.

Also this year, because we are pensioners, we received 340€ as an energy cheque which is given to the electricity provider and is offset against the bill. We also received an exceptional payment of 100€ via a tax refund to cover inflation plus a further 100€ bonus from our French pension provider to help defray extra costs. All very helpful!

Each morning we take the dogs out for a walk. We usually go round the sports field opposite the pharmacy in Leuc. Sometimes we cross the railway line that runs alongside the road near we live and walk past the vineyards. Another popular place is the green space alongside the river behind the chateau. Very healthy!

My right knee is now quite worn due to the rheumatoid arthritis So to avoid having a replacement, I’ve been having twice weekly visits to the physio, to strengthen the joint. It’s quite fun; first he applies a TENS machine to the joint for 10 minutes. Then it’s 10 minutes pushing down with my foot on a big inflatable ball; then it’s 60 repetitions on a machine where my legs push against a weight.

Today I walked over 6,000 steps and 2.5 kms, so the exercise is working!

Day out in Béziers

5 Jan

Today we went to Béziers for the day, to explore more of this beautiful area.

Béziers is a sub-prefecture of the Hérault department in the Occitanie region of Southern France. Béziers hosts the famous Feria de Béziers, centred on bullfighting, every August. A million visitors are attracted to the five-day event.

The town is located on a small bluff above the river Orb, about 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) from the Mediterranean coast and 75 kilometres (47 miles) southwest of Montpellier. At Béziers, the Canal du Midi spans the river Orb as an aqueduct called the Pont-canal de l’Orb, claimed to be the first of its kind.

Béziers is one of the oldest cities in France. Research published in March 2013 shows that Béziers dates from 575 BC, making it older than Agde (Greek Agathe Tyche, founded in 525 BC) and a bit younger than Marseille (Greek Massalia, founded in 600 BC).

The 9 écluses de Fonseranes

https://goo.gl/maps/k4tXvwsPJxxBejb96

Fonseranes Locks (Frenchécluses de Fonseranesles neuf écluses) are a flight of staircase locks on the Canal du Midi near Béziers.

They consist of eight oval-shaped lock chambers, characteristic of the Canal du Midi, and nine gates, which allow boats to be raised a height of 21.5 metres (71 ft) over a distance of 300 metres (980 ft). The flight was originally built as an eight-rise, which together with the ninth lock (the écluse de Notre-Dame, 710 metres (0.44 mi) to the northeast) allowed boats to cross the Orb river on a level and re-enter the canal further downstream. The “nine locks” name dates from this time.

Visiting in January does not give any indication of how busy these lock are during the high season! We were able to park right alongside. We had a mooch around but we didn’t walk up the hill to the top lock. After 30 minutes we left and drove to Ceres for lunch.

Lunch

The Bistrot Cersois is a favorite of ours; we have now lunched there four times and each time the food was excellent and the welcome warm. The last time we went was before Covid and we wondered what changes we would find. The waiter had left just after the first confinement started in France and the owner/chef’s wife took over front of house. It turns out she is English from Kenilworth! So for once we could order in English!

After a very nice lunch of pork and pasta & beef and chips, topped up by a sweet of Tiramisu (and a glass of Pastis for Trish and a Muscat for Richard), we paid the bill of 45€ and left to drive to a DIY shed nearby called Leyroy Merlin. Here Trish purchased a wooden frame of a map of the Languedoc Roussillon wine region that I had bought at Christmas.

The port of Béziers

We then drive to the coast on the Mediterranean, to the port of Sérignan. This is a small leisure port where the river l’Orb flows into the sea.

The town of Béziers

The town is in two parts, seemingly. The lower, adjacent to the river and the canal, and the upper, which is dominated by the cathedral.

We toured around the upper town but once again failed to find our way to the cathedral entrance. We weren’t worried as we’ve seen lots of churches in our region already, and after a while they all look the same – cold, gloomy and old!

So we decided to look at the other temple – the shopping area! it’s very upmarket with bijou shops. Then we found a tea shop – Le Monde du Macaron!

Le Monde du Macaron

All in all, an interesting day. We then drove home on the motorway, arriving one hour later, to find one of the hens had escaped from the enclosure, yet again! Ah well, there is always something to do here!

Rodents in the loft!

17 Dec

We came home one Sunday evening recently, to find water was dripping from the ceiling in the corridor. We got out the stepladder and opened up the hatch to the loft to have a look.

We found the insulation was quite wet but we couldn’t find the source of the leak without getting into the loft, which was impossible for us as the ladders were too short and the hatch opening quite small.

I shut off the water at the mains tap and the dripping stopped, eventually. What to do now? We needed a plumber but that would be expensive on a Sunday night. I know! I’ll call the company who collects our rent and manages the property! Only they are only open 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday and no emergency number is provided.

So I knocked on the door of our neighbour across the street. “Do you know if there is a plumber living in our village?”. “Yes, I’m a retired plumber!”. Result!

He came over and quickly diagnosed the problem. He want back to his home a couple of times to get tools. He cut out the bit of pipe that was leaking, and joined up the two ends. Perfect.

The damaged pipe

Now we have put a humane rat trap into the loft. Let’s hope it works!

The damaged ceiling

Our new home

18 Nov

We have been in our new home three weeks now. It seems we have been here for ever! We live in a small village called Leuc (pronounced lurk).

Our new house

The house is a bungalow with three bedrooms, kitchen, lounge diner, bathroom and separate WC. We share a boundary with one neighbour but on the other three sides it is clear. We are located on a small estate of similar but not identical houses.

It’s very quiet and the neighbours are friendly. We have introduced ourselves to most of the near neighbours, by offering them a small box of eggs. They had no idea that we had three hens living down the side of our garage. Shows how quiet they are!

Armistice day

Last Thursday 11 November we attended the ceremony at the war memorial to celebrate the end of World War 1.

After the ceremony at the War Memorial, we all gathered in a large room in the Town Hall for drinks and nibbles. We introduced ourselves to the mayor and one of the deputy mayors, and we chatted to a soldier in uniform who is one our neighbours.

After talking about an Old Age Pensioners club which we belonged to in Montolieu, we were asked if we’d like to set one up here in Leuc as the last one disintegrated after the president of it died. However there aren’t as many pensioners in Leuc as in Montolieu!

Neighbourhood

All our close neighbours are very nice and have welcomed us.

Public transport

There is public transport to and from our village. A single carriage rail service runs from Carcassonne (below the Black Mountain) to Limoux (below the Pyrenees) six days a week. The line passes just the other side of the road. There is an unmanned railway crossing so the train drivers give a little hoot on the train horn as they approach. There are 13 train journeys a day, all of which stop at the halt in the next village (Couffoulens).

There is also a bus service that turns into Carcassonne but we have not explored that yet. It’s a bit difficult to know when to catch it, as there are roadworks in the centre of Leuc and the bus seems to terminate at the end of our road.

Our village

We have a small shop which is also a wine merchant and has regular wine tastings. Our boulangerie has lovely cakes as well as a choice of breads. The health centre covers quite a large number of villages and therefore we have 4 doctors, a nurse, 2 midwives, a physio, an osteopath and a chiropodist. The pharmacy next door is quite large and stocks more medications than our previous one in Montolieu. They also do the flu and Covid immunisations without appointments during the week. In front of the health centre is a large recreation are with outdoor exercise machines as well as a football pitch and a disused pétanque boulodrome. There is also a primary school here, not that we’re really interested in this facility but it is noticeable that many of the small villages of France have managed so far to maintain their local primary schools. Like the post offices which are slowly being closed down in the villages but some are being retained and serviced by the Town hall in order to keep the facility open.

Richard has already tested the osteopath and the barber and I’ll be checking out the chiropodist soon. I’m still looking for the hairdresser and beautician though.

Floods

Like a lot of villages close to water in the Aude, Leuc was badly affected by the floods of October 2018. The photographs below show the heights of the various floods over the years.

Walks

There are plenty of places to walk around us. Along the railway line, alongside the river, in fields and vineyards. The dogs can be let off their leads and often we do not meet another soul.

Posh Hotel

Just 5 kms from our house is a locally famous hotel and restaurant – the Chateau de Cavanac. Those of you that have eaten at Les Anges au Plafond in Montolieu, will know Bernard, the chef/owner, who now works at the Chateau de Cavanac following the closure of his restaurant.

Chateau de Cavanac

We have yet to eat there! Just waiting for a big celebration!

Coming to the village

The usual route to our village is from Carcassonne on the road to Saint-Hilaire. This is the view coming down past the village of Couffoulens.

You can see the Pyrenees from here

There is much, much more for us to explore. We do hope you will come and visit us next year.

Marseille in April

7 Apr

I’m not sure how I imagined Marseille was going to be like. Many French people told us of all the different places to visit so we went off in the car with a long list of interesting places to see. We picked up a young man as a BlaBlaCar passenger in Narbonne and he travelled to Marseille with Richard, myself and Nettles. I discovered he moved to France from the UK when he was 15 months old. He now works as a scientist on research into immunity. After dropping him off near a Metro we drove to our holiday apartment. Once we found somewhere to park, we settled into a comfortable apartment on the ground floor with a double-bed, shower room and open plan kitchen, dining room and lounge. It had all the amenities we needed for a short stay. It was located in a residential area but unfortunately we weren’t able to walk to any attractions as it appears that Marseille is built on hillsides. Many of the streets in that area are very narrow one-way with cars parked in every available space including the footpaths. I found a boulangerie, a boucherie and a small corner shop just down the road. There were roadworks everywhere as well as graffiti and dog poo, except the tourist area in central Marseille. Due to our physical disabilities we were not able to walk far and Nettles was reluctant to go to the toilet as she couldn’t find any grass!

Tuesday evening. We drove to the harbour and walked around the pedestrian area which was very extensive and clean. Many people were using electric scooters which they could pick up anywhere they found one and pay online for its use and leave it wherever they wished. Apparently at the end of the day trucks would go around picking up them up and returning them to their pick up points. On returning to our apartment Richard managed to find a place to park not too far away. That evening we walked to a little Italian restaurant. But we decided to take a Uber taxi back because we found it a little bit too far to walk back as well.

Wednesday. We decided to take a tour on an open top bus (yes a London bus) with Nettles. We stopped off for lunch and a large square full of restaurants. Nettles not only is invited into the restaurants but she’s also offered a bowl of water. After lunch we walked back to the bus stop to wait for the next tour bus to complete the tour. Unfortunately before the bus arrived the thunder and rain started so with Nettles shaking like a leaf with fear we got onto the bus and sat at the front downstairs. After a while the rain came down very heavily and I realised Nettles were sitting in a pool of water. When we looked around we saw the rain coming down the stairs like a waterfall so we moved to the back of the bus where it was dryer. After leaving the bus we rushed over to the café to get warm and it was filled with men smoking hookahs. A few ladies came in later and started smoking too. It was time to get a Uber taxi to take us back to the apartment. The first Uber taxi we took from the Italian restaurant was very nice and allowed Nettles to travel in the back seat with us. The second one we used to take us to the city centre accepted Nettles reluctantly if she travelled in the boot. Naturally she was as good as gold on both journeys. However the third Uber taxi driver refused to take Nettles at all which meant Richard had to go in the taxi to go and collect our car and come back into the city centre for me and Nettles who were getting and wetter and colder by the minute. It would have taken almost an hour for the return trip so I took Nettles into another café and ordered a hot chocolate. But before the chocolate came, I had a call from Richard saying he had persuaded the taxi driver to take us as well! We decided we didn’t want to go out again and Richard didn’t want to cook so we ordered an Indian takeaway to be delivered by Uber food. It arrived on time and was delicious.

Thursday. We’d been told that Aix en Provence is very beautiful and that it was only a half hour drive from Marseille so we decided to go there for the day. It is a beautiful city and it was a sunny day but with a cold wind. Again we decided to take a tour on a little six seater electric bus. The people were very friendly and helpful too so again we stopped off for lunch with Nettles and a super little restaurant with excellent food and service. With the electric minibuses there were three routes to choose from so we chose a second route after lunch and the third later. Each one only cost €1.60 for the three of us! That evening we ate in with a pre-prepared meal Richard had made and brought with us. Then we watched a film on TV.

Friday. After packing up we drove to the port again and found another little restaurant where we had swordfish to eat, before setting off to pick up our return BlaBlaCar passenger in Marseille to go to Narbonne. I should state that Richard did all the driving around Marseille as I didn’t feel confident in his car in so much traffic so many roadworks and so many parked cars everywhere.

My first impressions of Marseille. It’s a big city! It has a multinational community. It has a lot of history, good restaurants and many tourist attractions. Apart from the tourist area it is dirty and overcrowded with traffic and roadworks. There was too much graffiti and dog poo for my liking. The people in the restaurants and shops were friendly but like in any big city people did not speak to you in the streets, unlike the small villages like Montolieu and in Aix en Provence.

A New Venture

6 Oct

Since we moved to France we have learnt new skills, a new language and a different way of life. Probably one of the biggest and most difficult transitions being learning to be retired. Fortunately we moved to a place which requires a lot of labour, creativity and interpersonal skills while living and working in an international, frequently changing community. Besides learning French (Richard has had a shorter journey than me with this), we’ve also learnt about Nonviolent Communication (NVC). I prefer to call it compassionate communication as this better describes what it is about. This is also a long journey and a transition because it questions our habits and thought processes. I’m not about to go into describing this in any detail as this is not the purpose of this blog but necessary to understand why we are doing what we are doing.

During this journey Richard continued to improve his French by having weekly Skype calls with his teacher Pam Bel. As I started from a much lower level, I used the internet and a program called Memrise. I’m also teaching English to the French in Montolieu and in Carcassonne.  We’ve both attended several workshops in NVC. Recently Pam decided to retire after having written several short books on France and the French and asked Richard if he would like to sell off her stock of books at much reduced prices.

Meanwhile during this year’s European Intensive Course (EIC) in NVC, one of the trainers Liv Larsson brought several of her NVC books with her to sell during the course. These books are written in English and she asked me if I would like to help her to sell them during the 10 day course. I sold most of her stock. The course is in English due to the wide variety of nationalities present and uses interpreters to translate into French.

As many of the NVC trainers have written books it was decided to begin promoting NVC books in French on the NVC Peace Factory website. So we were also given a stock of NVC books in French, quite a few of which we sold during the course.  We live in the village of Montolieu, which is known as the village of books, so can you guess what our new venture might be?

Yes, we are going to sell books through the internet!!  At present we have stocks of very useful English books about living in or visiting France and books in French about NVC. We also have books in German which are currently being translated into English and French.

As this blog is written in English we are promoting the books on France and the French first. We think they will appeal to people who have homes in France or travel to France frequently for holidays or work or for students learning French or even the teachers who teach French to English speakers.

We have read many of them and will finish reading them all during our stay in the UK and have found them to be very readable and interesting even though we live in France and have done so now for five and a half years.

Here is a link to the synopsis of each book.

Whilst the cat’s away, the mice do play!

24 May

So, taking the opportunity whilst Trish is in Nigeria, Richard decided to pop down to the true south of France – Provence! Here is his little story.

I booked a tiny self-contained flat through Airbnb in Sanary-sur-Mer which is just west of Toulon. I wanted to visit the historic port of Toulon, to find out why the French Admirals had based their fleet there during the Napoleonic wars. I now know why – it’s vast and well sheltered. Prevailing winds made it easy for the French to come out and pretty hard for the English to get in. Which is why Nelson had the port blockaded. And quite successful it was too until a storm blew up, scattering the blockading fleet and allowing the French out. It’s a long story but eventually they joined up with the Spanish fleet and got beaten at the Battle of Trafalgar, by Nelson.

Sanary-sur-Mer is a lovely seaside town with pretty streets, neat houses and a gorgeous seafront. It’s expensive, mind you. I chose not to eat out here, preferring a neighbouring town which is slightly downmarket.

Today was a lovely sunny day, with temperatures of 27 deg C, which is only five degrees less than in Abuja, Nigeria! And the sea sparkled, as only the Mediterranean can in summer. The holiday season is a long way off getting into full swing but everything was open and freshly painted. So I got the full version without the crowds. Bet it’s not like this in August!

The journey from Montolieu to Toulon takes about four-and-a-half hours. I posted the journey on BlaBlaCar and immediately received six bookings going. Of course, it was a railway strike day. Thank you SNCF – I made €69 instead of you! Tomorrow, for the return journey, I’ve got three bookings, as far as Nimes, then I’m on my own but it does give me the chance to meander a bit and not to worry about meeting strangers in strange places at fixed times!

Bachelor life

17 May

I’m a temporary bachelor as Trish has gone to Nigeria to spend time with our friends Irene and Michael, who live there. Trish left on Monday – she was so excited and it was my pleasure to support her in getting all her papers and travel plans in order.

The day after she left I thought I’d struggle to find things to do. I’m pleased to say I’ve been busy ever since. When living as a couple, one has to compromise and share, naturally. Living on one’s own means I can pretty much do what I want when I want. So my present life has more of a natural rhythm to it and it’s a more efficient way of living – only for a short time, though!

One thing I have noticed is that despite saying to myself each night “I’ll have a lie in tomorrow” when the morning comes I’m up and rating to go at 7:30 am!

Another thing – I seem to be eating less food than I do when there are two of us. Perhaps it’s easier to cater for just one. I know I eat smaller quantities anyway after my gastric bypass, however, I do normally eat five times a day and my calorie intake is about 1,800 a day. These last few days I’ve gone down to three meals a day! My normal weight is now 110 kgs or 17 stone 4 lbs and over the winter this crept up a tad. So hopefully by the time Trish returns to Montolieu (28 May), I will be below my goal weight.

Today I am going to work this morning in the garden with Mareva and Nicolas (who live here). No doubt we will be ’assisted’ by Nettles as we weed the vegetable patch! Nettles in the gardenThen we will plant vegetable seeds and the potatoes. After lunch, I plan to continue the work removing the old window panes on the veranda of Irmtraud’s loft. It’s a noisy and tough job, as the windows are three storeys up and I can only work from the inside. Replacing windowsAlso, the putty is over 50 years old and is pretty much like concrete! I’m about to deploy the electric concrete chiseller! Later this evening I plan to pop into the village and eat a crepe cooked by our friends Veronique and José from their mobile creperie called Speedycrepe.

Tomorrow Louise and I plan to go to the seaside at Gruissan, to get some sun. So possibly a day off! Yippee!Gruissan harbour

Packing now started

4 Dec

20121204-140158.jpgWell the packing has now started and reality hits us. We are on our way!