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….

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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!

The Rolling Stones

This may appear to be a rather random post but I am still overly excited having seen the Rolling Stones last week!

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The back of my t shirt, purchased on the night

We were on a flying visit to the UK to catch up with all manner of things but also to celebrate my birthday. It was a very different celebration compared to the one last year when I spent most of the day travelling back to Toulouse. Although my husband did surprise me, when he met me at the airport, by taking me for dinner to a vegetarian, Indian restaurant!

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This year we were actually more organised and as soon as we realised that the Stones were playing an extra date, in Southampton, we bought tickets. After all, the Stones aren’t getting any younger…

As a school girl, I was always more of a Beatles fan but as a student many a Saturday night was spent rocking to the Stones in the student bar!

We decided to catch a train to Southampton and then walked to St Mary’s Stadium. There were 30,000 fans at the venue, all ages, styles, types – brilliant!

Fun facts:

The last time the Rolling Stones performed in Southampton was in 1966, over 50 years ag0!

The combined ages of the members of the Rolling Stones is 294 years. Charlie Watts is 76, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are both 74 and, the baby of the group, Ronnie Wood, is 70. Who would have thought they would still be going strong?

Their energy on stage was incredible, especially Mick! They played for two hours with an amazing set list, including some of my favourites – Brown Sugar, Tumbling Dice and Gimme Shelter! A friend asked me if I sang. Did I? And I knew all the words.

Without a doubt, one of the best (possibly, THE best live gig) I have seen over the years and there have been a lot. What is the best band you have ever seen? I’d be so 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!

Red squirrels and Hoopoes

There are many things I love about our garden in France. I like the informality, the trees, the light, the birds and the wildlife.

I particularly love the red squirrels. I still get overly excited every time I see one. I have seen red squirrels before, both in France and on Brownsea Island, in the UK. However, this just doesn’t compare with having them in your own garden. They are delightful. It’s  so entertaining watching them chase each either round the tree trunks or stood stock still holding a nut in their paws.

My attempts at capturing them in a photo have failed, so far. This one is from pixabay.com

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In the UK we have many grey squirrels, or ‘tree rats’ as one friend likes to call them. She is not a fan! They seem like giants compared to the ones I see here in France which are so much more delicate. Luckily, the red squirrel is protected in France, although there is a fear that the greys may head this way, via Switzerland. They were brought to Italy  in the sixties from the States, as a novelty. Let’s hope they don’t!

We are in Aude but in nearby Hérault, two squirrel bridges have been constructed from rope. These are known as ‘ecuroducs’ and enable red squirrels to cross two major roads in safety.

As a child, I can remember reading ‘Squirrel Nutkin’ by Beatrix Potter. Later I read it to my siblings and later still to my sons. I wonder if that has anything to do with my affection for red squirrels…

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I am equally thrilled when I see a Hoopoe bird (huppe in French). The hoopoe is a very striking bird to look at.  It has a beautiful and unusual crest on its head. It makes me think of it as the punk of the bird world! It is about the size of a Thrush, with a long, pointed bill.

Again, I have attempted several photos but none of them do justice to this gorgeous bird . Here is another one via pixabay.com:

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Previously, I have seen hoopoes in other parts of France and also in Gran Canaria. However, nothing compares with seeing them foraging around our garden. One extremely stormy day, we even had a thoroughly soaked Hoopoe chick sheltering on our kitchen window sill. We were delighted when its parent continued to feed it until the storm had abated and the chick had dried out and was able to fly away.

In the UK, I get a thrill from other wildlife and birds that appear in our garden; woodpeckers, a buzzard, bats and goldfinches, for example. Wherever you live, what do enjoy seeing most in your garden?

 

 

Ghost signs

Are you familiar with ghost signs? I only recently became aware of this  phenomenon when a friend posted some photos of local ghost signs, on Facebook. From then on, I was hooked.

What is a ghost sign? I searched for a definition and I concluded that it is basically the remains – usually faded – of a painted advertising sign on a building.

If you want to find out everything there is to know about ghost signs, I would recommend the brilliant website:

www.ghostsigns.co.uk

Mr Ghostsigns (blogger Sam Roberts) also has a presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You might be wondering where is the French link?

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Well, I’m now on the hunt for ghost signs in France. Here is one in Castelnaudary.

I have seen others but they’ve either been when I’m driving or when I would have to stand in the middle of a busy road to get a decent shot. I’m now a woman on a mission, so watch this space!

In the meantime, here is an interesting sign I spotted in Toulouse. As it is not painted, I’m not sure if it counts as a ghost sign but I like it anyway.

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Here’s a similar one which is on the wall of a former flour mill.

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I’m still not one hundred percent sure how to translate ‘ghost signs’ into French. Are they ‘les murs peints publicitaires’ or ‘les publicités peintes’? I’m hoping someone out there might be able to enlighten me.

My hunt for ghost signs will continue. Does anyone else find them fascinating? I’d love to know!