Sunday, 23 November 2014

France, part one

After a gap of over two years, it was time to visit Brenda & Mannes, our friends in France. I had first met them when my brother & I were exploring the Basque region of South West France. It's a long story, but the four of us spent a VERY enjoyable evening in a ski lodge (out of season) at Chalet Iraty. They were doing the ENTIRE GR10, at over 800KM, no mean feat in your youth, but this wiry couple were doing it at around 60 years old - with two DOGS in tow!!! Anyway, they invited us to stay with them if we returned to France. We did, and a firm friendship was forged.
With us unable to get a flight to Perpignan airport (which is only 1/2 an hour from where Brenda lives), we had to fly to Carcassonne. That meant a 2 hour drive each way for Brenda and Mannes, our friends in France, but they were more than happy to do this. Instead of whizzing back home, they dropped Sue & I in Carcassonne and left us there for a couple of hours to explore - something I've wanted to do ever since the first time I saw the walled city a few years ago,
So - we were dropped outside the impressive gates, and off we set to explore.
A few pictures of the outer walls, before we paid our dues, and set off up onto the ramparts. It's very like York, in a way, but a lot more impressive. All these high walls didn't stop Carcassonne being besieged and surrendered many times. It got its name, because after it was relieved once, the bells rang out and the people all shouted 'carca-sonne' (the bells are ringing).
The close proximity of the houses and narrow streets would be a nightmare if there was a fire.

VERY 'touristy'.

This is what we came to do and see, the battlements and towers.

In the central courtyard, some very fancy herringbone brickwork.

The central courtyard.

The outer walls, from the battlements.

The view across the city - that sky doesn't look too promising, does it?

There were some really nice houses inside the walls.

....with some lovely gardens.

Sue, enjoying a stroll around the walls.

Inside, there were several displays and demonstrations.
Some of the stone artefacts were superb.

There were also many shops - this one selling every flavour of biscuit you could think of.
I wondered, how do they rotate their stock????

We found it a bit expensive to eat out - not that we did in Carcassonne.

An ingenious table around a tree trunk.

After that, we were picked up and taken to Brenda's house in Nyer.
Here's a map of just how remote it is.
The road to the village goes ONLY to the village - then it's the Pyrenees.
(Click on picture for a larger version, or type 'Nyer, France' into Google earth).

Anyway, we parked at Brenda's house, and set off up the other side of the valley to a deserted village called En - more of which later. Here's Mannes and Brenda walking through the remains of the village.

And there is the old chapel. What a position, eh?
Me, Brenda & Mannes.
The new bell, again, more about this in a later email.

I was given the key to unlock the substantial chapel door.
Before long, we made our way back, with the sunset now done, moonrise came next.
The camera can't capture just how beautiful this was. The light from the moon was quite bright.
We got home just in time for dinner.

Brenda is a vegetarian, but she always makes sure we get our meat. Her house is FULL of those gadgets that usually only get used once, then put under the cupboard to gather dust. Not at 'Les Samoyedes' (the name of the house). Eating is fun and a pleasure, and she uses her full 'artillery' of cooking gadgets to feed her guests.
Tonight, it was bangers and chops on a tabletop hotplate, with a stir fry accompaniment in a tabletop wok, and meat on a grill.
Dinner often goes on for hours. It's not unusual to sit down to eat at 6:30, and not leave the table until 11:00PM. Lots of chat, food and drink, plus humour makes the hours fly by.
Mannes shows just how to pour the perfect beer.

Cheers Mannes. (We were on the 'wine course' by now).

There are always several courses at a French meal.
This one ended with some lovely local cheeses, plus some English 'after eight' mints.

And that was day one, done. We'd really enjoyed it, and tomorrow we'd got two walks planned. One above the house and around the plateau, the other just Sue and I up the Nyer gorge, hoping to see bats - not in the belfry, but in some tunnels further up the gorge.