6 delights to experience in Castres

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Castres is a large town in the Tarn department which is part of Occitanie. It is about 48 kilometres from Castelnaudary where we have our house.

We are fortunate that there are so many interesting and attractive towns and villages in the vicinity. The only problem is finding the time to see them all!

Castres is not as well known as some other places and is probably not on the main tourist route. We knew that it would take under an hour to drive there and after wasting time on the internet some research decided that it would be worth a visit.

You can see from the first photo that we had amazing weather. Look at the colour of the sky! It was the last Friday in September but the temperature was at least 30 degrees.

When we came out of the underground car park, our first view was of the River Agout which flows through the centre of Castres.

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I was delighted to spot one of the Miredames boats that will take you on a 45 minute trip (1)  down the Agout, as I had set my heart on experiencing a ‘voyage’ in one of these. These boats were traditionally used to transport people and goods. They were built to be able to cope with the very shallow waters.

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Imagine my disappointment when I came across this note; there were to be no boats trips at all. A tree was blocking the river… Best laid plans and all that.

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Instead we strolled around Castres and admired these stunning houses (2). They originally belonged to the textile dyers who needed the water for their trade.

Our arrival in Castres coincided with the end of the market – unintentionally! This is held in the town square ‘Place Jean-Jaures’ (3) and takes place on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Apparently, an excellent Christmas market is also held here.

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As it was such a hot day, we took the opportunity to sit a while and enjoy a cold Belgian beer! This was a new beer to me but the name of the brewery – ‘Sudden Death’ was as appealing as the taste!

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We continued our wanderings beneath these pink umbrellas which were there to mark Breast Cancer Awareness month.

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Heading for the Goya Museum (4) our walk took us through Le jardin de l’Evêché (5). This was designed by André Le Nôtre who was the principal landscape gardener of Louis X1Vth and who designed the gardens at Versailles. We lingered a while by the fountain, in the garden. Can you spot the rainbow? The Goya Museum is in the background. You can probably spot the theatre, too.

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The rest of our time was spent wandering around the old town and through the medieval streets. We  visited the Church of Saint-Benoit (6) which was built in the 17th century and was originally a cathedral. The Church interior is undoubtedly Baroque with soaring marble columns and high windows. It was built on the site of a Benedictine abbey-church founded in the ninth century. I forgot to take any photos of the church but here’s a selection I took while strolling through the narrow streets of the old town.

I do hope you enjoyed the mini-tour of Castres! Have you ever visited this small town? Do you have recommendations for other places we should visit in the local area? I’d love to read your comments.

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Les parapluies de Carcassonne

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Our visitors mainly fly into Toulouse for a variety of reasons. One or two opt for Carcassonne. Last week, a friend came to stay for a return visit. Previously, we’d taken him to the walled Cité, so this time we planned to visit the lower town or Bastide. We had just enough time, after lunch in a local restaurant, before he had to be at the airport. Perfect!

I was particularly pleased that we would be playing tourist, as I would finally get the chance to see ‘Les parapluies de Carcassonne’; rather late to the party on this one!

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There are about 3,000 umbrellas which stretch for roughly half a mile, along the length of the pedestrianised streets. They are part of the Umbrella Sky Project which was began in Águeda, Portugal, in 2012.  The concept and design came from Patricia Cunha, the Portuguese artist who was born and lives in Agueda.

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I have read that the idea behind the project was to make people smile. Well, it certainly worked for me. I didn’t imagine that walking under coloured umbrellas could make me feel so happy!

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There have been many Umbrella Sky installations in other French cities and world wide. Have you ever come across one and, if so, what did you think of it? I’d love to know!

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!

 

 

 

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!