Thursday, April 30, 2009

Uzès and Lussan: Saturday 25th April 2009

The Saturday market at Uzès is described as one of the region, so we left home at 8am to make sure we were there early. It was a good move as parking would not have been as simple just half an hour later. It was an extensive market with stalls being established in the Place aux Herbes and every street leading off it. Andrew stood patiently in line at one of the popular butchers for over 10 minutes and was pleased with himself to have procured Lamb, beef filet, terrine and sausages.

The old town itself was lovely, it is described as “vacuumed packed when it’s wealthy Protestant merchants of cloth and silk packed their bags after the revocation of the ‘Edict of Nantes’ ” (recognition of protestant authority).

The Duché, the palace of the dukes of Montmorency, the Cathédrale St Théodorit with it’s unusual tower & the only church organ in France to retain it’s original painted shutters… It was a lovely morning wandering around.

From here we headed slightly north to the hill top village (village perché) of Lussan. The town is full of character and well preserved. The wisteria is in full bloom at the moment.

We had an excellent lunch at the Petite Auberge restaurant in the middle of the town. Succulent lamb shanks with local honey made for an excellent meal.

A walk after lunch was needed before a brief visit to the Lussan pottery which is known for their ceramics with a bird theme – the birds providing pleasing lines for the potter.

I have quite an extensive collection of photos of Andrew in this position - always wants to know what is over the wall!

St-Hilaire-D’orzilhan: Friday 24th April 2009

It was an around the village day. The wind dropped overnight and we headed off on the bikes out of town. The way we chose climbed a bit and once out of the vineyard areas was quite scrubby. It did show us how close we were to the motorway, which we had no fully comprehended as we can’t see or hear it from the village. Riding back down the hill we had to keep our mouths closed or we would have been eating a number of the flying bug population – there were so many of them.

We came back to the apartment just on Midday and there were crowds of parents waiting to pick up their children for the lunch-break. They return to school at 1:30pm.

Later in the afternoon when the heat of the day was abating we went for a walk up behind the village to where we could see the remains of a fortified castle. On getting up there it was really a task for the archaeologist rather than a restoration job, and the views back over the valley were excellent.

We also found the local lavoir (washing house) which was unusual due to it having two perfect circular pools plus the rectangular pool. Also visible were the old washing lines along the outer wall

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Châteuneuf-du-Pape: Thursday 23rd April 2009

We headed to Châteauneuf-du-Pape (35 km away) via the smaller roads and came across the town of St-Laurent-des-Arbes, which is in the middle of the Lirac vineyard area. The man in the information office was the most helpful person we have come across all trip. He gave us maps and suggestions, both for the town and the larger area and you just couldn’t fault him.

The town itself was medieval and had towers and a fortified church. The streets were still occupied and had a positive feel.

We stopped at the local bakery for a coffee and Andrew’s Pain au Chocolat was the best he has had all trip. Fresh, flaky and with chocolate (appropriate amount - AJ).

We headed on to our destination of Châteauneuf-du-Pape where we dropped the car and wandered. We walked up to the ruined castle which gave good views of the vineyards below – but the wind was incessant driving us back down into the shelter of the town.

A few wines were tasted and a few more bottles purchased, including a delightful half bottle of *white* Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We had this with our baguette picnic lunch by the banks of the River Rhône.

The vineyards that produce the wonderful rich red wines are alluvial and rocks and pebbles retain the heat in the soil. The Mistral wind which we were complaining about clears the clouds away and allows the sun to the hit the grapes. The area is one of the most prosperous in France and the vines are immaculate and every square permitted inch of land is covered.

This evening the deep red wine was a perfect accompaniment for the divine Duck sausages and Toulouse sausages we procured for our dinner. The sun is still beating down at 7pm and we hope the Mistral, which is supposed to blow in groups of three days, will be gone tomorrow.

Pont du Gard: Wednesday 22nd April 2009

This morning we visited Pont du Gard. This is apparently the 2nd most visited attraction in France outside Paris (the 1st being Mont-St-Michel which we also visited when we were in Normandy) and gets over 2 million visitors a year. They don’t charge admission but do charge 5 euro for the car park

The Aquaduct was constructed by the Romans from AD 38 to AD 52. It carried water 48km from Uzès to Nîmes. The precise engineering means it dropped 0.07cm every metre. It is almost completely intact after 2,000 years and it was built slightly curved to withstand flooding of the river Gardon. Extraordinary engineering.

It is about 4 km from our apartment and we can see it in the mornings from the bedroom window. It is not so easy to see later in the day due to the way the sun hits it.

View from our bedroom

Later in the afternoon we visited our local wine co-operative and purchased a few bottles of the local red.

Friday, April 24, 2009

St Hilaire d’Ozilhan: Tuesday 21st April 2009

We got our bread for breakfast from the local bakery, but to be honest it was only OK, so we think we will try outside the village tomorrow. St Hilaire has a population of 600 and the population is either supporting local vineyards or commuters to the larger towns nearby. In distance it is just off the motorway, but is so quiet and peaceful. There is one bar, a church and the school is across the road from the apartment.

We headed into Avignon this morning, not to sightsee: we will do that properly later – rather to do some administrative tasks – banks, getting maps etc. There was a police cordon with streets blocked off when we came out of the old town, but we haven’t worked out what it related to. We drove through a small village on our way to a hyper-market that had streets so narrow we had to fold the mirrors in.

In the afternoon we used the mountain bikes that belong to the English owners of the apartment. We cycled to a nearby village Castillon-du-gard through acres and acres of vines. The village was on a hill top so a good work out for us starting back out on bikes!

The wind has been blowing today, but the sun has been shining and temperatures are definitely in the 20s.

Grenoble and St Hilaire Sunday monaday 19th April 2009

Grenoble: Sunday 19th April 2009

We drove 12km south of Grenoble to catch an old mountain train “Chemin de fer de La Mure” which travels 30 km from Saint Georges de Commiers, to La Mure at 880m which was a climb of 570 meters. The train was full with a tour group of Swiss arriving off a bus to do the journey.

The line was established in 1886 with 18 tunnels (the longest is 1km). Until 1988 it was simply a coal line but when the mines closed it became a tourist train.

It was the first railway to in France with a high voltage (2400V) direct current circuit in 1903. The engineering of the line is impressive. The carriages were made of hard wooden seats about the early 1900’s.

On the journey we crossed the 45th parallel and thought of it’s north Otago counter part.

The views were rural, passing 2 hydro dams, however the destination town, La Mure, was rather non descript. We had 2.5 hours in La Mure before the return trip. We walked around the key areas of the town and then given the coolness of the day sought out a restaurant for lunch (it was too cold to sit outside with our baguette). Sunday is a popular day for rural French to lunch out. We were fortunate to get a seat; we ate well and returned to the station for an uneventful return trip.

Grenoble to St Hilaire d’Ozilhan: Monday 20th April 2009

We drove the 1st half of the 200km down to Languedoc on non-motorway roads and it was interesting seeing the nut trees of the region. At one place we saw a barn with trellising that we could only assume was either an oversized birdcage or an air drying space for nuts.

The second half of the journey was on the autoroute soleil – a three lane motorway that was crammed with cars and trucks heading to the sun in the south. It was not particularly relaxing

We headed off into the countryside about half an hour from our village St-Hilaire-d’Ozilhan, home for the next 3 weeks. Needing a baguette for lunch we stopped at a busy bakery. The rate that baguettes were leaving the shop was amazing. Some people had bags of 10 or 12. They were still warm from the oven. We had a picnic in the little village of Laudon – a producer of Cotes-du-Rhone.

The town was deserted as all the locals had disappeared indoors for lunch-hour (or in reality 90 min or 2 hours as is the custom). We had the memorial gardens to ourselves and it was delightful eating fresh bread, ham and cheese and a glass of wine.

Our apartment is great, all the conveniences we could want. In celebration of being able to cook for ourselves again Andrew procured a leg of lamb for dinner and it was superb.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Grenoble: Saturday 18th April 2009

After checking out the market (really good fresh meat and produce) we headed off on the self-guided walking tour provided by the tourist office.

After seeing interesting streets, parks and churches we headed up to the Bastille. The Bastille is a fortress overlooking the town that is accessed via a gondola. Four pods go up every six minutes and each pod holds six people.

From here we could see the size of the city – which was far larger than we had anticipated. Grenoble is on the valley floor and is surrounded by mountains of a variety of different geological compositions.

We visited the Musee de Grenoble. This is a new purpose built art gallery that is a great asset to the city. They had an excellent collection of Italian, Dutch and French paintings. They also had a large collection of modern art, but we speed-viewed through this selection

Grenoble is a nice city that has a relaxed atmosphere.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Leysin/Grenoble: Thurs-Fri 16th & 17th April 2009

Leysin: Thursday 16th April 2009

The girls, Simon and Austin and Hayden all left on the train at noon. The girls off to Rome and the Banks back to London.

After wonderful weather yesterday it cooled considerably in the morning and early afternoon there were snow showers, hail and rain. It was about 3 degrees and when we explored the heights of the village in the car the temperature clock got down to 1 degrees

We joined Hilly, Annie and Will at Davindra lounge and had a lovely meal

Leysin to Grenoble: Friday 17th April 2009

A travelling day today. There was no snow in the village, but the surrounding mountains were definitely a shade whiter. As we descended from Leysin to the valley floor the weather improved and we were in sun.

It was an hour’s drive to Chamonix-Mont Blanc where we stopped for a break and a brief look at the village. The mountain was partially obscured by cloud, but remained an impressive sight. We had lunch at a reserve on the outskirts of the town.

Here, as well as the magnificent mountains, there were a number of people practicing their rock-climbing. It was interesting to watch 2 parents initiating their 2 children to the sport. The children would have been 7 – 9 and they were climbing heights that looked challenging.

We drove through a surprising amount of population density, in areas we thought would have been more sparsely populated. But it is interesting the amount of ski related industry there is out there.

Grenoble hosted the Winter Olympics in 1968

Friday, April 17, 2009

Montreux: Tuesday 14th April 2009 (Out of date order - posted Wedding day 1st - so 15th appears below)

It was an afternoon trip down the hill and on to Montreux. From here we went to visit Chateau Chillon. Apparently this is one of Switzerland’s most visited attractions. It was a 45 minute walk from the station around the shores of Lake Geneva. The walk is along the “Flower Path” of Montreux and it was lovely. Spring flowers, Magnolias, everything was bathed in sunlight.

On top of the lovely gardens there was a slightly bizzare series of garden scuptures

The weather was again excellent and the temperature well into the twenties. The shade of the trees provided welcome relief at times. Ice-creams were required along the way.

The castle itself was well preserved and well presented. There were numerous large halls, turrets, latrine room and a prison underneath.

The Chateau also owns 12,500m2 of vineyards and the wine from which is sold and the proceeds go to maintaining the castle.

We walked back to Montreux and found a place for a beer while Annie went to pick up William from the train station

Dinner was at a lakeside restaurant where we enjoyed a pleasant meal and watched the sun set behind the mountains. We caught the train back and were back in Leysin about 10pm.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wedding - Aigle - Switzerland April 15th 2009

We woke to a clear and sunny day. About 10:45 in wandered a couple of surprise guests - Austin and Hayden Banks...carefully orchestrated by Chazzy, they were a real treat.

In preparation for some drinks on our return Andrew carefully placed 6 bottles of French Champagne into some the remaining snow to chill.

We had a relaxed lunch at Annie, Hilly & Will's apartment. And then following some dressing up in wedding finery there was a leisurely walk down to the train station to catch the 3:04 train from Leysin to Aigle. We did stand out from the locals and tourists.

We waited in front of the Maison de la Dime until the celebrant, Madeline Burnier, came to collect us all. She was a charming lady who mixed the formality with a level of informality. The ceremony took 15 minutes and at it's conclusion we were presented with a bunch of flowers and a card from the community of Aigle. It was also lovely to receive well-wishes from people as we travelled.

A few photos in the courtyard and then we headed back up the mountain on the little train.

The champagne was beautifully chilled and was enjoyed with cheese and strawberries. Toasts were made to absent family and friends - we have appreciated all their messages of support.

We headed down to the restaurant Le Leysin where the 12 of us had a lovely meal which concluded with the dessert being presented on a large silver board and sparklers were lit - providing entertainment for the entire restaurant.

It was a great day that went off without a hitch. We are both very happy to have shared it with the assembled friends and family.

So the photos...some can be viewed via the album below. Click on it and you will be taken to a new tab where you can view the pictures