La rentrée

September has always been a significant month for me. I think this is because my career has been based in education. I see September, and the start of the new academic year, as an opportunity for a fresh start. I used to look forward to a new timetable, new classes and new stationery! As a pupil, a student and a teacher, I always loved getting new pens, folders and pencil cases. I still enjoy going into Paperchase now!

This September has meant a return to Castelnaudary after two months in the UK, catching up with friends and family. Our French house hasn’t been empty, our eldest son and seven friends spent a week there, before travelling on to Barcelona. It was an international gathering as there were four English guys and four Brazilian girls!

Then our youngest son and five friends were the next to have a holiday here. As they are all students, it was great for them to be able to have a break in the sun without breaking the bank! They were able to relax and enjoy the pool and, by the look of our cellar, have the odd bottle of wine … or six!

As a result, we have also ‘inherited’ a rather nice barbecue and an interesting selection of inflatables, plus a variety of footballs, basketballs and rugby balls!

When we returned to Castelnaudary, we found our garden had morphed – yet again – into a field! Truly, I’m not complaining, although it might sound like it. It’s just one of those things that happens when you are lucky enough to have a second home. When we left our home in the UK, our garden was looking so tidy and well cared for. We were even complimented by our neighbours! Yet, we know, by the time we get back, it will be back to square one. Still, gardening is a brilliant form of exercise…

We’ve had some gorgeous weather since we returned. Look at those blue skies!

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You can just catch a glimpse of the pool. The water temperature is a very pleasant 25 degrees! The shrubs in the foreground are oleanders. I was delighted that they survived being hacked pruned by Mr FF.

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One of the first things I like to do, on our return, is check the Canal du Midi is still at the end of our garden and then visit the port. This rather moody looking shot, was taken while eating breakfast outside a new boulangerie that has recently opened. The colour is really quite odd and, yet, I like it!
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Of course, la rentrée is really all about the return after the long, summer holidays. This could be a return to school, university or even work. In my case, I was delighted to return to teaching my English conversation classes. These take place in the rather grand (from the outside) Palais de Justice.

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I often think that September is the perfect time for me to make some blogging resolutions. I’ve been meaning to update my blog for some time. I need to update my profile and photo. However, my main aim is to change to a self-hosted blog and I think it’s time I changed the appearance of my blog, too. Watch this space!

 

 

 

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La fête du cassoulet

Last weekend was the annual ‘fête du cassoulet’, in Castelnaudary. This year, we weren’t able to go as we were back in the UK, avoiding the heat – haha! Epic fail…

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Castelnaudary is known as the capital of cassoulet and credited with inventing this dish. However, Toulouse and Carcassonne may well dispute this fact! I’ve written previously about this French style ‘sausage and beans’

https://fancyingfrance.wordpress.com/2015/11/03/cassoulet-or-sausage-and-beans-french-style/

The cassoulet festival takes place during the last weekend of August. Not the ideal time for eating a hearty casserole containing duck, goose, sausage and beans, in my opinion! I do love a cassoulet, and cook them myself, I just prefer eating this dish when it’s cold and I need comfort food.

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We have attended the fête du cassoulet before and it was great fun! The sleepy, little town of Castelnaudary really comes alive. Of course, it’s full on holiday season and the Canal du Midi is awash with tourists.

The festival is organised by the ‘Grand Confrérie du Cassoulet de Castelnaudary’. Confrérie translates as ‘Brotherhood’ but probably equates more with a guild. The Castelnaudary Cassoulet Brotherhood was founded in 1970 to protect the quality and standard of cassoulet.  I hasten to add that there are also women in this Brotherhood! They all wear special robes and a hat which is shaped like a ‘cassole’, the dish in which Cassoulet is cooked and served. They even have a hymn to praise cassoulet which is sung in the local Occitan language.

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This is a screenshot of their website. Do go and have a look if you want to find out more and even listen to the Cassoulet hymn!

Although we didn’t make it to the ‘fête’ this year, we were able to glimpse the essence of the celebrations through this video:

Have you ever eaten Cassoulet?

If you do happen to be anywhere near Castelnaudary, next summer, I recommend that you go along to celebrate the twentieth Fête du Cassoulet!

 

4 recent reads

How do you prefer to read?

I still love the feel of an actual book, although when travelling I tend to use my Kindle for practical reasons.

Perhaps you are part of a book club. I don’t belong to one but I do swap books with family and friends.

In our village, we have an Oxfam bookshop which I frequent both to buy and donate. We’re lucky enough to have a library which I also use on a regular basis.

The first book I’m going to talk about is written by Joanna Cannon and is her second novel ‘Three Things About Elsie’.

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I loved her first novel ‘The Trouble with Goats and Sheep’, so I was very interested to see if I would enjoy this second book as much.

The book features Florence who is eighty four years old and lives in a flat in Cherry Tree Home for the elderly. When the story begins, Florence has fallen and is lying on the floor waiting to be rescued. One of the things troubling Florence is the arrival of a new resident who looks exactly like a man she used to know. The problem is that he died sixty years ago and Florence is extremely worried this could lead to the disclosure of a terrible secret from her past.

Florence tells us “There are three things you should know about Elsie. The first thing is that she’s my best friend. The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better. And the third thing … might take a little bit more explaining.”

I loved this book, party because I enjoy the author’s writing style but also because it’s quirky, funny, poignant and original.

The next two books, I bought at the airport, on my way back to France, which is unusual for me. It might have been because I was travelling on my own and had more time to browse.

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This book was highly recommended by my sister in law who is an avid reader and has made some excellent suggestions in the past.

This novel is set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, which is a ‘perfect’ suburban community. The plot focuses on the Richardsons who are the personification of the ‘ideal’ family. They have four teenage children. Mia Warren, a struggling artist, arrives in this community, with her teenage daughter and a very different set of values. The sparks begin to fly.

The story actually begins with a raging house fire but travels back in time to follow the chain of events leading to this catastrophe. There is the element of a thriller. Who lit the fire and why?

Central to the plot is a custody battle over the adoption of a Chinese-American baby which raises questions over race and motherhood.

I must admit that it took me a while to get into this book but I’m so glad I persevered.

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This was the second book I bought at the airport, as part of a buy one-get one free offer. It’s basically a love story but with a twist. We are introduced to Robbie and Emily who have been together for years. They met in the sixties and share a deep bond. However, there is a secret they’ve been keeping… One ordinary morning Robbie wakes up, gets dressed, writes Emily a letter and leaves for good.

The book is beautifully written and goes back and forth over the decades, until we discover the whole story. A perfect holiday read!

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This book is very different to many of my choices. It was passed on to me by a friend and I’m so glad I read it.

The main character is Tom Hazard who has a dangerous secret. He may look like a 41-year-old, but he has a rare condition and he’s actually been alive for centuries. We travel, with Tom, from  Elizabethan England to Jazz-Age Paris and from New York to the South Seas, encountering Shakespeare and Captain Cook on the way, amongst others.

There are two main problems that make life very difficult for Tom. He has to hide his condition from ‘normal’ people and he must not fall in love.

We meet Tom in the present where he has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. He can teach the kids about witches, plagues and wars as if he had seen them!

I loved this book and I didn’t want it to end!

Have you read any of these books or do you have any recommendations based on your recent reading? I’d love to know!

I do like to be beside the seaside

 

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Dorset is such a beautiful county. I’ve always loved it since the first time I went there. Recently we had to go down to Bournemouth for business and I took the opportunity to have a mini break. In fact, it was more of a micro break.

I had lots of interesting comments when I wrote about staycations  Many people are a fan of a mini break and equally of the opportunity to spend time in our beautiful country, especially with the weather that we are enjoying at the moment.

As Mr FancyingFrance couldn’t come down until a day later, I decided to take the train down to Bournemouth and catch up with a very longstanding friend who is also godfather to my eldest son.

He met me at Branksome Station and whisked me back to his place in Westbourne for a quick lunch before catching the open top, yellow bus that was going to be the first leg of our journey.

If you are a regular reader you will know of my love for open top, hop-on hop-off buses when visiting a new city. If not you might want to look at my posts about Glasgow and Barcelona

However, this bus wasn’t a tourist bus. It was a ‘normal’ bus! The first part of our journey took us to Studland Bay via the Sandbanks chain ferry. I’ve been on the ferry before, both as a foot passenger and in a car but never sitting on the top deck of an open top bus!

We arrived in Swanage and had to change buses as our next stop was Durlston Country Park.

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This is a stunning National Nature Reserve covering 320 acres. I had been here previously with the family and our dogs but on this occasion it was mainly to enjoy the views and a pot of tea!

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This Great Globe stands in the country park and is made of local Portland stone. It weighs about 40 tonnes and is 3 metres in diameter. It was actually constructed in Greenwich in 1887 and transported to Swanage by sea.

EF571562-0AFD-4372-BF71-13708420426DThis is another engraved stone that we passed in the park. A very interesting question, I think. Answers on a postcard?!

We decided to walk back to Swanage and were treated to some superb views. I love the different colours of the sea in this photo.

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Back in Swanage, it was time for another bus! This one took us inland, to Poole, via Corfe Castle. I was so busy taking in the scenery, I forgot to take any photos!

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Photo by Steve Austin. Free images.com

Poole was the last leg of our journey, as from here we caught our final bus back to Westbourne, Bournemouth,  where we visited the excellent fish and chip restaurant: Chez Fred. If you ever find yourself in this area, it’s worth a visit as their fish and chips are second to none!

By the time we got back to my friend’s flat, I had that lovely tired feeling that comes from experiencing fresh air and sea breezes. It might have been a very brief break but it was well worth it!

Leading a double life

This might sound more interesting than it actually is in reality. I’m not a secret spy, nor do I have a second Mr FancyingFrance tucked away somewhere!

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I am a Gemini so that might have something to do with any duality I may have, if I was totally convinced by signs of the zodiac.

On the other hand, I am lucky enough to have two homes and divide my time between S.E. England and S.W. France. I do consider our French house to be a second home rather than purely a holiday house but there are distinct positives and  challenges to maintaining and travelling between properties.

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Our French house

I’m also mindful of the fact that there are people who don’t have a home at all and that I was fortunate to have inheritances which financed the French property. Although it is never truly fortunate when a family member or friend is no longer with us.

What’s it like to lead a double life?

  • It means travelling quite a lot. Sometimes by car, sometimes by plane. If we fly it’s between  Toulouse and Gatwick. I’ve become a truly light flier as I don’t have to transport any toiletries or clothes as I have some in each place. If we drive, we allow two days and have a found the ideal hotel, for a one night stop over, outside Tours.
  • It involves adapting to a different pace of life, according to where I am.  In France, I feel more as if I’m on holiday. I don’t rush around as much as I do in the UK as I don’t have the same extensive network of family and friends.
  • It necessitates switching between languages. I believe this is very good for my aging brain! There was a time when my French was fluent. I even used to dream in French! This isn’t the case anymore but I’m working on it.
  • It entails adapting to cultural differences in terms of food, shopping, etiquette and more besides. We eat out more frequently in France and always buy food from the local market.
  • It results in us modifying our behaviour. In France, I am even more polite. I do have a bee in my bonnet about saying please, thank you, holding doors open for people and so forth. I have been told that I am too polite. How is that even possible?! When I meet people in France, we always shake hands or kiss on the cheek, depending on how well I know them. When I go into a shop, I always say ‘Bonjour Monsieur, Madame,’ etc. This is the norm. I wrote about the ‘kissing dilemma’ here: https://fancyingfrance.wordpress.com/2015/07/08/faire-la-bise-to-kiss-or-not-to-kiss/

These are just some of the aspects of my double life. I’ve read somewhere that everyone leads a double life to some extent, that we all have a public and personal persona. This was certainly the case when I was a teacher!

Do you lead any kind of a double life? I’d love to know!

 

‘Staycations’

Are you familiar with this term? I’ve only recently come across the expression and that was when I was preparing for the English conversation lessons that I take in France. I love delivering these classes because I do them voluntarily. It’s great to be able to make this small contribution to the local community. I love teaching and it’s an excellent way to meet people.

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I digress (ramble!). I was researching for my next lesson and stumbled on the term ‘staycation’. I think I was vaguely aware of the concept but that was all. The definition is:

“a holiday spent in one’s home country rather than abroad, or one spent at home and involving day trips to local attractions.”

I’m guessing that the term originated from the States as it is a combination of the words stay and vacation. In the UK we talk about holidays.

Have you ever had a ‘staycation’? We’ve certainly had many holidays in the UK, particularly when our sons were small and we didn’t have the finances to travel abroad. In fact, some of our best breaks have been in Bournemouth, Cornwall and Devon. Another one of my favourite places is the Gower in South Wales.

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Rhossilli Bay

Of course the weather will always come into play in the UK. At the moment we are enjoying a heatwave but this is not the norm for a British summer! It is not really surprising that so many Brits go in search of – generally – sunnier climes for their holidays. The opportunity to experience other cultures, cuisines and lifestyles may also entice people to travel abroad.

Why take a staycation? I’ve mentioned finance but for many people a staycation can be less stressful. Fewer concerns about travel, security and health risks can encourage people to holiday at home or nearer to home.

I have already written about my first trip to Scotland, specifically Glasgow and Edinburgh, last year. It was the most amazing trip and made me wonder why I hadn’t done it sooner. I opted to let the train take the strain and I found it a very relaxing way to sit back and enjoy the scenery.

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https://fancyingfrance.wordpress.com/2017/08/31/fancying-france-the-fringe/

There is also the question of ethical tourism. Cheap flights and massive cruise ships have their drawbacks, particularly with the impact they have on the environment. Concerns about their carbon footprint may be another reason why people choose to stay either closer to home or at home.

I’d love to know what you think about staycations! Do you think they’re a great idea? Have you had a staycation? Would you recommend this kind of holiday? Do share!

 

 

Encore…Barcelona

Our trip to Barcelona was relatively short; five days, four nights. Could we have stayed longer? Definitely. Would we go back? Of course!

We researched quite carefully in which area of the city we wanted to stay. We booked last minute so our choices were limited. Initially, we had wanted to stay in an AirBnB but, as it turned out, we ended up in a hotel. The location was important to us and so we decided to choose Gracia.

Until the 1800s Gracia was actually a separate town until it was subsumed by Barcelona and it definitely has the atmosphere of a village. There are plenty of local people, of all types and ages, and we loved wandering through the narrow streets and leafy squares.

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Vila de Gràcia

It feels safe and there are a wide range of cafés and restaurants to try. There are lots of interesting, individual shops and I would be more than happy to stay there again.

As well as Gaudí, another famous son of Barcelona is the artist Joan Miró. We decided to visit his foundation which is located in Montjuïc Park. We took the funicular which is the fast way up! What struck me most, as we wandered around the exhibits, was the variety. There were paintings, collages, tapestries, ceramics and more. I was so intrigued by Joan Miró’s work, I didn’t take any photos.

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Exterior of the Foundation


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On the roof terrace


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With stunning views across to Barcelona

We very briefly visited the beach when we hopped off the sightseeing bus but it was mainly so get a snack! We only managed to catch a glimpse of Port Vell  and the yachts that were moored there. It looked as if it would be worth further investigation when we return to Barcelona.

The one thing I haven’t mentioned is food and drink in Barcelona. We did have tapas, of course, and my particular favourites: patas bravas, tortilla, bombas.

Pan con tomate is a ‘must-have’, Catalan speciality, el pa amb tomàquet!” (bread rubbed with tomato). It is exactly what it says; toasted bread rubbed with garlic, tomato and a drizzle of oil. Tasty!

I can also recommend white sangria! This was another new experience for me and I found it delicious. There are many variations and ‘recipes’ that can be found on the internet. I had intended to take a photo of our jug of white sangria but I was so busy enjoying the flavour that I got distracted!

One final and very random thought after my visit; how people love their dogs in Barcelona! The two most popular breeds appeared to be greyhounds and golden retrievers. But the greatest surprise was the lack of dog poop on the streets. In fact, I didn’t see any. A vast difference to France.

After my first post on Barcelona, many readers commented on their own visits to this exciting city. Others have Barcelona on their bucket list. Either way, I’d love to read your thoughts!