Monday, April 02, 2007

FRANCE

We've been away!

Sunday evening we packed a suitcase, filled a cool box with perishables, and stuffed cats into travel boxes, loaded a giant IKEA bag with cat food, litter, toys and flea treatment, and shipped the lot off to my Mum's house.

The cats, their kit, and the cool box of food was to stay at mums. Other wise we'd come back to a kitchen full of mould and severely pissed off cats! Muppet never forgave us for taking off and leaving her in the care Barbara next door a few years back. Fizgig has never been left, and would much rather spend a few days playing with his litter mate than loiter around at home waiting for the next feed. The food in the cool box... better to let mum use it than us chuck it out.

Meanwhile, me, Yorkie and our one suitcase would be off to France to see my dad on Monday morning.

John drove us to Liverpool Airport on Monday morning... and seemed to be a wee bit nervous... as he almost crashed a couple of times and kept missing turnings. And he's usually such a careful driver! I was glad to have my feet on solid ground for a little while before boarding the plane!

The flight was pretty uneventful. The airport was quiet, the EasyJet flight was on time, suffered all of one and a half minutes of light turbulence, arrived in Geneva 5 minutes early, and our bag was the third one off the belt! Cracking!

Dad was waiting at arrivals with Fay and practically crushed me with the hug, as though it had been 2 years since he last saw me, not 2 months. It was only supposed to an hour and a half drive from Geneva, back into France and to Dad and Fays house... but it didn't.

Dad wanted to take us up Mont Blanc on the train. I think it was this one, but I couldn't swear to it as we never made it. We were still some distance away, as Dad decided to drive ROUND Switzerland instead of driving though, which added some considerable time to our journey. At about 5pm he told Fay to call the Train people and ask what time the next train was. The answer? 3pm.

DOH!

And then we got lost. Very very lost.... although dad, as usual, refuses to accept it.

It was about 7ish by the time we found our selves in a valley that dad and Fay knew, and by then I was dying for the toilet, and we were all wanted to be fed. The Mac Donald's we had just after driving into France wasn't exactly nutritious filling food and had filled the gap in our bellies for all of 20 minutes. We'd tried to stop at a couple of places for the last hour or so, but none were open. Dad was determined to sit and wait for a Chinese to open at 7pm, refusing to acknowledge me telling him it would be closed at it was Monday (Chinese take aways and restaurants are almost all always shut on a Monday. I've been told that it's sort of like Christians taken Sundays off) . I eventually spotted a sign for a restaurant along this valley and it was open! So we called in.

It started off looking like nothing of a place. Dark, rustic, no other customers... but they had a toilet and a set menu so we went in. And it was REALLY REALLY nice food! And LOADS of it! The usual French stuff: starter, main meal (which included pasta, fires and potatoes to share), cheese, desert and coffee. Me and Fay had the sliced veg for starters, Yorkie and dad had the sliced meats and pate. For the main we ladies had coq au vin (which was so nicely cooked the chicken fell off the bone and melted in your mouth) and the lads had beef. Dad also polished off a carafe of wine (and later attempted to drive, much to my shock and horror!). Yorkie was 'forced' to eat every last scrap of food on the table by the lady who seemed to own the place. She seemed to think that my lovely feller needed fattening up (although he seems to think it was more along the lines of 'lets see how much we can make the fat English man eat'). To his credit he scoffed it all - with some effort - and then farted for the rest of the week!

We made it to the house late on, and dad insisted on giving us a guided tour, when all we wanted to do was chill out for a bit. We'd been travelling since 8am English time and it was not around 10pm French time (9pm at home) and we were knackered. But... he loves his new house and wanted to show off, so what can you do?

Tuesday was a funny day. We didn't really do much. In the morning I sorted out the official email (attached to dads B&B web site) on his computer and showed him how to send and receive from it, and how to access the information people send him on forms via his web site. The we sat out on the balcony for a bit enjoying the view across the Alps and the warm sun. Yorkie even got the faintest hint of a tan!

We were given the house tour again (...) and shown round the garden before being dragged up the hill to meet some of the neighbours. Dad wanted to drive up in the RAV4... drive... it's a2 minute walk if that... Still. It was nice. We meet the couple from next door, a Belgian chap and his French wife (and cat), and another English couple from higher up the street which was nice as neither of us can speak French.

We were given rose wine (a bit rough, but drinkable for free) and the cat (Mamoon, a lovely main coon type kitty) made friends with Yorkie (Or not, as when he stood up his bum was covered in her fur... he was sat in 'her chair' hee hee hee). We were also given a taste of Walnut oil. Sound strange? Not really, they all have walnut trees, and they get their own nuts and oil from them. It it is really REALLY nice!

The afternoon was largely taken up with Yorkie and Dad trying to dig up and open a manhole in his garden which lead down to the underwater store (used for gardening I think). They got no where with it, but it was funny to watch for a while. The we went for a tour of the island where the house is (It's on a patch of land between the Rhone proper and a canalised section). We went in the RAV4 (heaven forbid we ever walk anywhere) and I got some nice snaps of a local church.

Wednesday was a bit drive up from Dad and Fays house to Dienville, and Danielle and Joel's B&B and Campsite: Le Colombier. We didn't set off until nearly mid day (thanks to Dads faffing about) and arrived at Colombier just in time to have a look round and start thinking about going out for dinner. Danielle and Joel were there in the yard working away when we arrived. They are making massive progress with the new renovations too, taking great pride in showing us the section they are doing up for more bedrooms. Another 6 I think they said. They look like they are going to be nice too!

Danielle told us about a new English man who had bought some land and a fishing lake in the next village Unieville, and drove us all up there to meet him and have a look at the lake. Jeff, as he is called, showed us round and had a good chat with Yorkie and Dad (me and Fay took a few steps back and had a bitch about dad, and his accusations of Fay having an - or at least planning an - affair with the Belgian chap next door). The property is a good size, and the lake contains all the perch and pike etc you would expect, plus 180 carp Jeff and co had added (100 of them over 10lb). You could see them hanging in the water out in the middle! Huge things they were.

Dad couldn't resist a gossip though, and in his best conspiratorial whisper (read: bellow) explained to Jeff that the reason Danielle and Joel fall out so much was because their youngest son had killed himself and they never got over it. Good one Dad, she can understand English... and could hear you! I made my way over to him as quickly as I could to ask him to 'turn the volume down' *sigh*

Thursday. It was the day of the Champagne shop! The whole reason we'd come to France in the first place: Choosing the wine for our wedding! AGAIN we had to wait for dad to finish faffing about. He's great one for waisting other peoples time, but if you dare to be even a second late for something he wants to do you never hear the end of it! But we eventually got off on our way.

We drove round the champagne trail for a while looking for the first house on a list we'd been given from Danielle's tourist section. We couldn't find it, and the ones we did pull up at were all closed. This did not bode well and we were already approaching lunch time (which in France lasts 2 hours and everything closes, with the exception of cafes and the emergency services). Eventually we thought we'd found the place and pulled up by a chap in waders holding a hose pipe. Who tuned out to be the owner! He and his wife invited us in, sat us down and opened a bottle of their Reserve...

It was like heaven in a glass! Which is saying a lot for someone who is agnostic (or, at least, humanist). What says even more is that Yorkie liked it!

Now, I know I love to tell stories about Yorkie and his ale, but that's what it is. Beer and cider, occasionally spirits. Never wine. He doesn't like wine, and really doesn't like champagne. So when he said he liked it too, in fact that he though it was very very nice indeed I was shocked!

Still, it would be foolish to come all this way, spend a week with my dad, and then buy the first and only wine we tried. So I insisted we did what we had agreed and tried a few more. Making a clear note that THIS wine had got a 4 1/2 stars out of 5, if not actually 5!

But of cause by the time Dad got into the car and set up, France had closed for lunch. So we drove round and round and round until we found a village with a centre and shops and cafes. About half an hour left of lunch time by now. We found a crepe house and made our way in. And had the most wonderful lunch! They did a variety of savory crepes with various combinations of ham, bacon, egg and cheese and we each ordered the one of our choice. They were so nice that we ended up ordering sweet ones afterwards too! YUM! Sorry diet....

Eventually we got back on the road, but we didn't have much time left. The place we'd already been too needed to know quickly as they had another appointment that afternoon and would not be able to serve us, if we were too late (probably a gimmick, but lets not take the chance).

Dad kept trying to influence my dessition on what to do about it, but I'm not sure in which way, as in one breath he was saying 'we MUST go to as many places as possible' and then 'We can only go to one or two places and then we MUST go back to the first one' and then, and the same conversation, back to 'I'm right about going to lots of houses'. As we were pretty sure we'd have that first house's champagne, I really though it was wrong to just jump in without at least TRYING some others. So in the end we went to ONE other house... but I MADE SURE we tried more than one type of Champagne while were were there.

So we tried the dry (brut), medium (demi-sec) and sweet (sec) so that we had a wide range of tastes. The dry was a single grape, which was nice, but a bit too dry for the wedding. Too many people would have found it too dry. Yorkie hated it. The demi was lovely.... but not as nice as the first place we'd been to. The Sec was too sweet. Ideal for a summer party with raspberries in it, but not right for us.

In the end we went back to the first house and finished off the bottle they had opened for us... and bout 24 bottles of the stuff! One of which I brought home for Mum to try.

Then we had to pack up our bags again and head further up north to find a B&B near Paris ready for our flight home. We were booked into a Formula 1, which brings back many memories of holidays to France with Dad as a kid, usually with a friend in tow like Angie or Bee (and no, they haven't changed a bit!).

We went out for dinner again, getting utterly lost in the process again, but eventually finding a sea food place which was wonderful! It also meant that I got to have my escargots and my moules. It wouldn't be France without them!

6am Friday and we're up and off to Paris for our flight home. Just in time too, as my phone battery was dead, my books both read, and my DS on only just enough juice to get half way across the channel. Yorkie had to strip off half his clothing again at security ( hee hee hee ), and again the fight was early to board and early to land. We got a bit worried when Mum wasn't at Liverpool waiting, but she's had hassles in the car park and had actually been AT the airport on time, but unable to get to us!

Back at Mums, and to our cars. Muppet had spent the whole week hiding under mum's bed away from the kittens. She was only turfed out of her room at night (she was given our room to sleep in, but she likes company) but pulled up all the carpets in an attempt to get to people. To the point where she got herself jammed into a room by blocking the door with the rucked up carpet! She was thrilled to see us and covered us in cat kisses (snot) and purrs for about an hour! Fizgig seemed not to have noticed we were gone, but once he got sleepy again he was crawling all over me and nuzzling me with as much love as Muppet had showed Yorkie.

John arrived for tea and we cracked open the bottle of champers for them to try, and they agreed that yes, we had chosen very well indeed.

And on Saturday we came home. Within minutes it felt like we'd never been away.

*sigh*
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