Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Not Long Now

Today is our last day in the Dales. Soon we will be back in the land of computers and I can post some of my photos from our invigorating, albeit often wet, adventures. We have hiked miles and miles but all this exercise is offset by lazy afternoons sitting in pubs reading the papers, doing the sudoku and drinking the local brews.

Tomorrow we are off to visit friends in Kent for a couple of days. We finish up our trip with a weekend in London before winging our way back to Oz just in time for all the happenings of the Sydney Quilt Show. Travelling is often fun but coming home always has a good ring.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Areas of Brightness

The eskimos may have umpteen different words for snow but the British would surely rival them with different ways of referring to rain. What is "rain clearing to showers, followed by thunderstorms and then light drizzle" other than extremely wet?! May is traditionally the
driest month here in England but THIS May is apparently set to break a 200 year rainfall record. Still, we have been fortunate to experience some "areas of brightness" and have seized the opportunity to ramble over hill and dale as we explore our Yorkshire surrounds.

We are gradually familiarising ourselves with the nomenclature of the English countryside - lorries crossing, becks, copses, crofts, styles, field gates and so on. It's all so delightfully English - I feel like I am living one of those Famous Five books that I devoured as a child.

My supposedly waterproof Rockport boots have proven no match for the sodden paddocks and I realise now that we should have invested in one of those plastic map envelopes but "musn't grumble" is an English byword and I'm game to follow along.

Found a month-old patchwork store (Pennypot Patchwork) outside Harrogate earlier in the week and bought some lovely Batiks. Otherwise, little to report on the quilting front. Can't wait to get back in my studio! Cheerio!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Rain, rain go away

I know that it is pedestrian to talk about the weather but I have to say that it has been rather ordinary since we arrived in the Yorkshire Dales two days ago. Ever the intrepid hikers, we set off on a walk this morning but have gotten absolutely drenched. Fortunately, we are able to take refuge in a lovely quiet pub which gives David his favourite beer and provides FREE internet access. No photos I'm afraid but picture a particular shade of grey offset by rolling green countryside and bouncing spring lambs...See for more details.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Au Revoir Axat - Hello Airton

Today (Tuesday) is our last day in Axat, France. We fly to Edinburgh via London tomorrow and travel on to the Yorkshire Dales on Friday. Our apartment in Airton (near Skipton) in the Dales is in a converted mill:

It has all the creature comforts EXCEPT a telephone or computer. This means this will be my last post for a while. But you can be sure that we will be having fun hiking and sampling those wonderful English ales. A quilt shop or two may even be discovered.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Lazy Sunday Afternoon

My birthday dinner at Hostellerie du Grand Duc on Friday night was very agreeable. The restaurant (and inn) is located just over the hill as the crow flies but several kilometres along a narrow valley by road. Amy, Paul and I were grateful that David was driving. We started off with Blanquette de Limoux, some of the local bubbly, and meandered our way through a multi-course menu but la piece de resistance was la gourmandise chocolat – a chocolate extravanganza featuring a mini chocolate ice cream sandwich; a sinful ganache of chocolate and grand marnier; a chocolate mocha slice and another ganache of sorts with berries. Yum yum. Then David negotiated the car back down the narrow valley without incident and we all slept very soundly. You can read more, including a very bad picture of the birthday girl, on Amy and Paul's blog.

Saturday was overcast with the promise of rain, which was duly delivered sometime after we had strolled around the fortified La Cite in Carcassonne but before we had found our lunchtime restaurant in the lower town. Fortunately the restaurant was warm and dry (and non-smoking) and there was room for our table of four, once we had squeezed our way past the enormous dog sitting beside one of the customer’s tables. While Paul and I stuck to more conventional fare (linguini and melon & jambon respectively), David and Amy ordered cassoulet which is a regional speciality and pronounced it to be very tasty. The sun had returned by the time we had finished lunch and we were able to indulge in some window shopping before dropping Amy and Paul off at the airport.

Of course, with house guests duly dispatched, today (Sunday) is a stunner. To account for some of la gourmadise chocolat, David and I took a hike along “La sentier panoramique de la Pierre-Lys” which affords modest (but not especially panoramic) views of the gorge between Axat and nearby Quillan:

We carried a pack for 10-12 kilometre walk but ended up eating our pique nique back home in the sun on the deck overlooking the River Aude. Something about the combination of food, wine and sun made me very sleepy so I took a snooze on the sofa. A lovely lazy Sunday afternoon. (PS: Happy Mother's Day Mum!)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Mon Bon Anniversaire

While this post may be dated 13 May (it's on Aussie time), it is actually 12 May here in France and it is my 40th birthday. My sister Amy, and her husband Paul, have joined us from London to help celebrate the occasion and to see a little of the Pyrenees. We undertook a mini-chateau tour in the morning and a little wine tasting in the afternoon and passed this field of poppies along the way:

Now it is time for bit of a siesta before we go out for dinner. Our first meal out since we arrived in France at the beginning of the month.

Friday, May 12, 2006

A little quilting content - at last!?

After doing a little (Christmas!) shopping in the quaint laneways of the old town in the French Catalonian capital of Perpignan, we headed northward to Salleles d’Aude:

This is a pleasant village, gracefully enhanced by the tree canopy over its canal, but the main attraction for me was the European Patchwork Centre. The owners have converted the stone wine vats into mini-galleries featuring different different quilting styles and techniques. Then you go upstairs to a splendid exhibition space where quilts from Dijanne Cevaal and Annette Claxton are currently on display. In fact, Dijanne was on site teaching yesterday and she kindly allowed me to come by and introduce myself. From the outset of my quiltmaking activities, Dijanne’s work has been an inspiration to me so it was a delight to meet her at last and to see so many of her quilts in one location. These photos do not do her work justice:

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Country Walk

After our Andorra adventure yesterday, we decided to stay closer to home today with a hike along another path way. At first it all seemed quite familiar with grassy meadows, colourful wildflowers and flittering butterflies:

Then, as we passed through the sleepy hamlets of Laprade and Cailla, things took a distinctly rustic and agricultural turn. We saw farm dogs, pigs, horses and donkeys but it was these girls that blocked our path:

Several kilometres hiking later and we passed through Laprade again. This time the farmer called out to us and invited us to view his cheese room and to taste his organic farm products. How enterprising and utterly charming! Needless to say, we returned home with an enormous chunk of farm fromage. Just as well Amy (one of my sisters) and Paul arrive tomorrow to help us eat it all.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

After the rain...

Monday, it rained. There seemed no good reason to try to defy the elements and instead we slothed at home. I finished my only novel in English (David’s and my reading preferences rarely intersect) but fortunately I am staying in the home of a quilter so I was able to meander my way through various back issues of French and Danish quilting magazines. Judging from her home décor, Ida enjoys wildlife and little critters and favours nature/pictorial quilts. These cheeky characters reside on the design wall in her sewing room:

And like any good kookaburras, they would have laughed uproariously after the rain. For our part, when the new day dawned clear, we decided to go to Andorra for lunch. It seemed like a good idea but, after nearly three hours of driving through the mountains, the first place we wanted to visit in Andorra was a restroom. We searched high and low. We inquired plaintively/ desperately to people who spoke neither French nor Spanish. And finally we found blessed relief at McDonalds. Hallejah!

We strolled the ritzy streets; basked briefly in the sun; gazed into expensive shop windows; both stepped in dog poo and resolved to return to France ASAP. As compensation, we stopped for a bread and cheese pique nique lunch on the mountain pass:

Monday, May 08, 2006

Correction: Le Bon Dimanche

Saturday in summary: Croissants: ½ ; Cheeses: 2 ; Chocolates: 2; Castles:0; Churches: 0; Rain: ½ (but fortunately not until after our hike); Patchwork Stores: 0; Kilometres walked:10+; Translation Faux Pas: 0; Strawberries: beaucoup

Sunday in summary: Croissants: 1 ; Cheeses: 2 ; Chocolates: 0; Castles:1; Churches: 1; Rain:0 (but threatening); Patchwork Stores: 0; Kilometres walked: un peu; Translation Faux Pas: 0

It turns out that this is a long weekend in France as Monday is VE day. So the plan was to have a quiet day at home and leave the scenic attractions to the holiday makers. The only problem was that every DIY monsieur and his favourite power tool also seemed to want to make the most of the day. Activate Plan B: a hike up the road to the small village of Artigues and a stroll around 4-5 kilometre forest trail. Springtime is beautiful in the Pyrenees – there is an abundance of wildflowers (I can sense a springtime quilt coming on) and the trill of songbirds, and the occasional cuckoo, fills the air. Such a contrast to the cacophony of parrots at Copacabana.

We managed to make it home before the weather closed in for the afternoon, and spent the rest of the day reading books with a bottle of wine and another punnet of the best strawberries ever. This is the beauty of a home exchange for an extended period- we’re both enjoying having room to spread out, to relax and the absence of urgency to fill every moment with some activity. There is none of that forced bonhommie that many B&B’s specialise in and we’re revelling in being able to self-cater from local providores.

This morning we ventured off to the Sunday market at Esperaza. There were vendors offering all kinds of produce. We declined the donkey sausages but came home with a collection of cheeses, salami, fresh vegetables, olives and bread. David is up to Letter “F” in Larousse Gastronomique (one of the few books in English in the house) so he is in charge of dinner but ‘foie’ (liver) will not feature in any form.

We took a quick jaunt up to
Rennes le Chateau (presbytery to Sauniere – the namesake of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code character) and admired the wooden carvings in the nearby chapel including an altar bearing two sculpture of Jesus (the twins?!) and a particularly fiendish-looking diablo character.

We realised that we had run out of wine (gasp!) and decided to drive on to Limoux where there are large wine co-ops. Of course they were not open but we wandered around town nevertheless and were able to replenish the cellar.

En route home again, we stopped by the small Roman thermal village of Alet les Bains. Being siesta time, the quaint laneways were eerily quiet:

but there were several groups pique-nique-ing down by the river and we decided to follow suit. Wishing you un bon dimanche aussi.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

What a difference an F makes...

Today in summary: Croissants:0; Cheeses: 1 (chevre); Chocolates: 2; Castles:2; Churches: 0; Rain:0; Patchwork Stores: 0; Kilometres walked:5+ (but mostly uphill – why didn’t they build castles on the flat?); Translation Faux Pas: 0 (but still recovering from yesterday)

When we visited la boucherie yesterday, I thought we were buying goose sausages (‘oie’ in French) but alas they were ‘foie’ (liver). What a difference an ‘f’ makes! We cooked them on the BBQ and smothered them in Dijon mustard. They could have been worse but we won’t make that mistake again…

Our primary destinations today were Chateau Queribus:

and the expansive Chateau Peyrepertuse :

Both one-time Cathar strongholds and both a very long way UP from the carparks. Neither castle had many visitors so we were free to poke around at our leisure in the glorious sunshine. We weren't the only ones enjoying the sun. Look at what we saw basking on the castle path:

We returned home via Gorge Calamus – a rugged, narrow 3 kilometre stretch of road. A hair raising experience not to be repeated.

Here I am at Queribus. In a fine family tradition, I have not 1, not 2 but THREE cameras:

Friday, May 05, 2006

My Grand Faux Pas

Today in summary: Croissants:1; Cheeses: 2 (chevre & vache), Castles:1; Churches: 0; Rain:0; Patchwork Stores: 0 (must be losing my touch); Kilometres walked:15+; Translation Faux Pas: 1 (but a big one)

Well, I have officially failed translation duty. One trip to la boucherie this morning to buy some cold cuts for our pique-nique and we managed to come home with liver sausages. What was I thinking?! And this is after all of David’s admonitions to brush up on my French so that we could avoid eating offal and they were even clearly labelled “foie”. But they looked so good! Who knows, they might even taste OK yet – I’ll let you know. More successfully, we picked up some luscious strawberries from the general store and the fragrance has permeated the house. Yummy!

Today our excursion was to Chateau Puilaurens which is perched on top of peak only a few kilometres away. Our Copacabana training on the stair master proved useful as we zig zagged our way up to the gate. I am discovering a whole new vocabulary associated with castles: parapets, ramparts, barbican, corbels, machilocation (latrines), crenels, merlons and so on. Inside Dame Blanche’s tower, there was even a medieval “conduit voix” – a groove in the brick work that apparently worked as a speaking duct to allow communication between various floors in the tower.

After our self-guided castle tour, we took a circuit hike through some adjoining forest trails where I was able to take this photo from an elevated viewpoint;

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A castle (or two?) a day...

Our excursion yesterday to the Quillan market was a little disappointing although we did locate a laundromat (there's no dryer at the house and David, the laundry king, is not partial to clotheslines) and I stumbled across my second patchwork store in as many days.

Since we were already on the northern side of the gorge (a very narrow road) we decided to check out Chateau d'Arques - a small but perfectly formed castle:

In the afternoon, we hiked a 7 km circuit track through the forest on the slopes above Axat. Hiking with David, a veritable Eagle Scout, is always exhausting - there are only so many rest stops you can take under the pretext of taking photos - but, unlike our last hike, there were NO mosquitoes.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


We arrived in France on May Day and, within 24 hours, I had already found my first patchwork store. I wasn't even looking for it - honestly! After dropping our house exchange hosts off at the train station in Carcassonne, David and I made an expedition to to a large supermarket in a quest for David's breakfast staple - bananas & Pepsi (the secret apparently to his youthful complexion). And there, immediately opposite the checkout counters was a small craft and needlework store. I didn't venture inside but I know where to find it for next time!

While in Carcassonne, we took the opportunity to explore La Cite - an imposing, slightly Disneyfied, fortification punctuated by 52 stone towers:

Within the ramparts, there is a 12th century castle that we bypassed for the Basilique St-Nazaire which featured these wonderful Munchenesque (the Scream) gargoyles:

Back "home" (the yellow house next to the Aude River below) in the village of Axat, and we have already made two visits to the boulangerie/patisserie and are looking forward to our first market day in a nearby village tomorrow.

For our pre-dinner stroll, we went and inspected this railway bridge:

and enjoyed a little spring colour (and perfume!) of lilacs in bloom:

We have access to a computer and broadband here so I should be able to make more blog posts of our sojourn in the Pyrenees.