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!

 

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‘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!

Barcelona

What a city!

I’ve just got back from a short trip to Barcelona with Mr.FancyingFrance. We let the train take the strain and set off from Carcassonne, arriving in Barcelona in under two and a half hours. It was a double-decker train; the first time I had been on one. We were on the upper deck and it was ideal for admiring some of the beautiful scenery as we headed south.

This was my first visit to Barcelona and I hope it won’t be my last. From the minute we stepped out of the station, I was hit by the heat, vibrant atmosphere and excitement of the city.

We decided to start with a hop-on hop-off bus tour. I’m a huge fan of these open top bus trips. They are a great introduction to a city if you want an overview of the main areas. We used this tour as a starting point to plan our visits over the next few days which was just as well as there is so much to see.

One of the things that struck me about Barcelona, apart from Gaudí’s influence, was the sheer beauty and surprises around every corner: statues, squares, parks, fountains and trees.

Antonio Gaudí spent most of his life in Barcelona and the style and impact of his architecture cannot be underestimated. Out of the ten most visited attractions, in Barcelona, four of them are Gaudí buildings.

We managed to see the Sagrada Familia , only from the outside, on this occasion.

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This stunning building was begun in 1882 and is still under construction to this day. The anticipated date for completion is 2026. Gaudí worked on this project until his death in 1926, knowing that he would die before its completion.

We also walked up to Parc Güell, a park designed by Gaudí. From here there are stunning views over Barcelona.

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This rose coloured building is now the Gaudi Museum and was Gaudi’s  home from 1906 until 1926. It was designed by another architect, surprisingly. There is a fee to get into the museum, but no charge to enter the park. There is so much to see within the park but we decided just to wander through and bookmark it for a return visit!

However, we did make an in-depth visit to Casa Batlló and it was definitely worth it! I’m not sure my photos do the building justice. There are virtually no straight lines within the house and the use of stained glass, oak and mosaics is fascinating. As you climb to the top of the house, the glazed tiles change from light blue to dark until you reach the incredible roof terrace.

I think I could have taken many more photos but I was so overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and originality of the building that I was more focused on what I was seeing at that moment than actually recording anything.

Unusually, for us, we did succumb to having this photo taken. Even more surprisingly, it turned out to be relatively reasonable of both of us!

tourCasaBatllo_69486929497107As this has turned out to be quite a long post, I will continue with a part two….

Lurking in my cupboard…

I’m talking about one of the cupboards, in our kitchen, in France.

I was surprised to find this:

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Possibly not the most glamorous piece of kitchen equipment I have ever seen. A Moulinex and not modern by any stretch of the imagination. But do you know what it is?

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I think in modern terminology this is called a citrus juicer but, as you can see from the photo, this piece of equipment is far from modern!

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It does produce excellent fresh orange juice and it very easy to clean. Always a bonus, I reckon.

My family tease me about my love for a gadget. This is true. In the past, I have had a juicer and, more recently, I bought one of these all singing, all dancing ‘nutrient extractors’. I made smoothies and juices and a lot of mess. Some were lovely, some made me feel like vomiting. Apologies if you are of a sensitive nature. I know I should worship at the altar of kale but it just doesn’t do it for me.

My nutrient extractor is languishing in the UK. I’m sure I’ll pass it on to a family member or friend as soon as I can find someone who would like it.

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I also found these bits and pieces…  My research – via EBay – tells me that I might have the remains of a Charlotte 3 or 4.

Are you a fan of gadgets? Do you have a favourite? I’d be interested to know!

Wind…

Our French house is in the Aude. Aude is one of the windiest regions in France. Some say the windiest. We didn’t know this at the time we bought our house. Maybe all the windmills should have given us a clue! If we had known about the winds would we have changed our minds? I don’t think so.

Depending on what you read, you will be told that the Aude has about 300 days of wind a year. This is because the region is affected by an amazing variety of winds from all points of the compass.

Winds, in France, are given names. The most famous one is the Mistral. This particular wind doesn’t affect us, it is more prevalent in Provence.

However, the wind that dominates the most, in our area, is called the Tramontane. It blows from the north-west and is a powerful, cold wind. It channels through the narrow corridor between the Pyrenees and the Massif Central. It is created when high pressure from the Atlantic meets the low pressure of the Mediterranean. (I knew my geography ‘O’ level  would come in useful one day!)

The Marin is another prevailing wind which blows from the south-east  and the Mediterranean. The clue is in the name. It brings damp and wet conditions.

My research has led me to discover another wind called the Cers. It is dry and cold in the winter but hot and dry in the summer. It is created by the cool, damp air of the Atlantic being forced down from Toulouse as it heads for the sea. I could be wrong but having typed this, it’s sounding remarkably like the Tramontane… Maybe someone will enlighten me!

The Sirocco – the wind, not the car – blows from the south and brings hot, dry and dusty air from Africa. This wind can leave a fine layer of sand in its wake. This has been carried from the Sahara.

The impact of the winds is evident in our local town. Castelnaudary once had numerous windmills. In the seventeenth century there were 32 windmills in the town. After the Canal du Midi was constructed there was a growth in the number of flour mills. Castelnaudary, being the main port between Toulouse and Sete, exported wheat and flour. One can still see evidence of this as one walks around the town. The most ‘famous’ windmill is ‘Le moulin du Caugerel which has been fully restored.

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You can see others that have fallen into disrepair.

 

 

Or have been converted into homes.

 

 

Aude is now an important centre for wind produced energy using wind turbines.

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I’ve got used to the wind – mostly. It’s useful when you want to dry clothes quickly and can help to fan the air when it’s blistering hot.

Rumour has it that the wind can affect people and animals in many strange ways, similar to the impact of the moon.  This may or may not be the case but as a former teacher, I do remember our pupils would always be very excitable, noisy and jumpy  on a windy day! A bit like horses, really.

Elegance…

I really have to thank another blogger for the inspiration behind this post. I’m talking about Eloise who writes the lovely ‘thisissixty.blog’

It was Eloise who drew my attention to this book.

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I must admit I had never come across this book before. I was intrigued.

Before I started reading this ‘Guide to Elegance’, I wanted to delve into the whole concept of elegance. What does elegance mean? Who is perceived as being elegant?

I started with a definition: ‘Elegance is the quality of being graceful and stylish in appearance or manner’, according to one dictionary. Interesting. This suggests to me that elegance involves more than just how a person looks. But then we have that recurrent theme ‘stylish’.

My most popular blog post has been about French style and the whole notion of being ‘chic’.
https://fancyingfrance.wordpress.com/2017/09/26/cest-chic

If you haven’t read it yet, you may want to take a look. It provoked some interesting comments.

But back to the book! It was orinally published in 1964 by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux. She was interested in design and fashion from a very young age and became the directrice of Nina Ricci. The book was republished in 2003 and although the author’s views may come across as old fashioned, in the context of today, they still have a certain charm.

The contents are are arranged alphabetically with everything you need to know about elegance from A to Z; Accessories to Zoology.

The topics that have interested me the most, so far, are Age, Chic and Perfume. To be honest, I haven’t read the whole book – yet – but I am enjoying dipping into the different sections as they take my fancy!

With this mind, I have selected a few of my favourite quotes to share with you.
There is a short section entitled ‘Comfort’. Ms Dariaux (!) states:
“If women continue to seek comfort above all twenty-four hours a day, twelve months a year, they may eventually find that they have allowed themselves to become slaves to the trainer, Lycra from head to toe, ready meals, organised travel….When comfort becomes an end to itself it is Public Enemy Number One of Elegance.

Oops! I must admit I have a friend who has banned me from looking for anything practical when we go shopping! Does that equate with comfort?

From the section on ‘Chic’.

The essence of casual refinement, Chic is a little less studied than elegance and a little more intellectual. It is an inborn quality of certain individuals, who are sometimes unaware that they possess it… if you are aware of your lack of chic, the battle is already half won, because the only really hopeless case is the woman who hasn’t the faintest idea of what is chic and what is not.

I do hope I haven’t dismayed you with these quotes because it really is a charming book, even though I (obviously) don’t agree with everything that has been written. It is very much a reflection of its time but you can still find some gems of information within its pages.

A final thought from Audrey Hepburn ‘ Elegance is the only beauty that never fades’.

I’d be very interested to know your thoughts on elegance. Who do you find elegant? What is elegance? Is the whole concept of elegance outmoded?  I can’t wait to read your comments!