All at sea

Sep. 17th, 2015 10:33 am
shewhomust: (bibendum)
A year ago, I wrote up the last post of my previous trip to the US on the way to Edinburgh to fly the Atlantic again. A year on, I'm doing much the same: on the ferry (on the ferry and online, living in the future) sailing out of Poole towards Cherbourg, writing one final post about the last time we spent any time in France, returning home from Italy.

There's not much to say. From Champlitte, it was two days driving, north to the Channel ports. Other than lunch and overnight stops, the only interruption to our northbound progress was a pause to follow signs to the source of the Marne: a couple of years earlier we had holidayed along the course of the Meuse, and learned that it and the Marne rise quite close together, so to shun the source of the Marne would have felt like failing to visit a friend. It was, anyway, only a short diversion, a brief stroll in sun-dappled woodlands to observe a rock from which dampness emerged, a gated culvert and an information board which told us "La Marne est la plus longue rivière de la France." Wait, what? Surely the Loire is the longest river in France? The board explained, and I learned, what I had not previously known, the dirrerence between a 'fleuve' and a 'rivière': a 'fleuve' flows into the sea, a 'rivière' flows into another river.

We spent the night, according to my notes, "somewhere in the Aisne" actually, at Le Clos Chéret:

Le Clos Cheret


I forget how we found it: we were quite disgruntled to spot the sign proclaiming it an Alistair Sawday recommendation, but it was not, in fact, overflowing with English people (it wasn't overflowing with anyone, as far as I recall). The room with the double bed has a nautical theme.

Next day, we took our lunch break in Arras, in the place des Héros, which is a fine and striking space despite the cars parked on every inch of ground not actively being ripped out for and roadworks. La cuisine des ch'tis was much in evidence: my dessert was a layered confection of cake and cream called 'ch'tiramisu'.

One last night, in Loon Plage - presumably at the Campanile hotel there, as it's a handy just over the Channel standy. But why did we not eat at the hotel? There must have been a reason. Instead we did the best we could in the town, which meant the pizzeria: pizza here in the north comes in two varieties, à la tomate and creme fraiche (but if I can decipher this schema, both have olives and oregano. Did I eat, or merely marvel at, the antillaise, cream with chorizo and curry?

The following day's ferry crossing seems to have deposited us in London on the day of one of the Bears' summer singarounds - no notes, but photographic evidence. Ending a holiday with friends and music, what could be better?

Now it's time for the next adventure.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
A month ago, I wrote about the last time we were in France, expecting to return to the topic within days, and to tidy away the end of the story not long after. But that was a month ago (to the day). Ah, well.

My notes for the next stage of the joutney say only two things. Firstly, without explanation: Haute-Saône celebrates 20 years twinning with Mexico. This disconcerted me so much that I initially attributed it to the previous post, but on reflection it belongs here, with the record of a night in the department of Haute-Saône (and a quick search doesn't explain how this area came to be twinned with Mexico, but at least confirms that I hadn't imagined it).

We had come to Champlitte without knowing anything about the town, having picked up a list of Logis de France hotels at the tourist office after lunch, and decided that there was only one on our route north and within an afternoon's drive: I think it was this one, which seems to have the right location opposite the town's little château (now museum). This website explains (in French) how historic the place is, and how diminished from its days of glory: click on its postage stamp images to see photos of its most picturesque sites on a sunny day. Which is fortunate: I have the happiest memories of our explorations before dinner that evening, following whichever street looked most tempting, peering into courtyards and taking many, many photos. But when I look through those photos now, the ones I am happiest with show neither the castle nor the river, and the sun isn't shining in any of them. In fact, this is not atypical:

Danger


And there's more where that came from. )

We didn't ask, but returned instead to our hotel, and dined there. With a bottle of organic rosé Pascal HENRIOT VdP Champlitte, although I don't remember anything about the wine, but it's the second thing in my notes. Presumably this winemaker, and we would have chosen it as being the most local option, and I must have liked it, or I wouldn't have made a note of it.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
The Guardian travel supplement last Saturday offers a guide to Sardinia, ostensibly about the beaches, but with alluring descriptions of the nearby villages, because you've got to eat, haven't you? Naturally I want to go there - it's an island; I want to go to all the islands - but not this year.

Because this year I want to go to France. We are almost - but somehow, mysteriously, not quite - at the point of booking the ferry. It's too long since we have been to France. If you don't count a brief foray into the Pyrenees, during our Spanish holiday (and I don't see why I should count it, we spoke to no-one, we didn't even have a cup of coffee while we were there), then it's five years since we were in France, on our way home from the Villa Saraceno. We paused for a couple of days on the way home to do some walking in the vineyards of the Rhône valley - but in Switzerland - which I don't seem to have written anything about. Perhaps I will, one day, or perhaps not, but in any case, not now.

We left Switzerland at Le Locle, which proclaims itself "Cité de la Précision" That is, it's a clock town, industrial and slightly grubby, but with some quirky, interesting buildings, altogether more appealing than the smugness of ski towns like La Chaux de Fonds, which we had just passed through. The road took us through a cleft in the rock, and then forked, following the valley edge, with a statue of a cockerel in the V of the fork. Then left through a rock arch held together by metal bolts, wire mesh and something I can't now decipher -

- and we were in France, land of the elaborate horticultural sculpture on roundabouts:

Chamois


This was in Villers le Lac (Doubs), where we lunched at Le Caméleon. My tarte à l'oignon was a thin, crispy pastry base, covered with cream and scattered with bacon and onions, served very hot - a kind of Alsatian pizza. For dessert I had the 'tourbillon des sapins', a whirlwind of pine trees - expressed by pine bud flavoured ice cream ('bourgeons de sapin') with a shot of sapin liqueur: it was ice cream rather than sorbet, freshly minty and faintly medicinal. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Edited (for once) to remove: a final paragraph which belongs in the next instalment.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
We dined in style on Thursday with Helen Savage, whose series of "wine dinners" (dinners with wine or tastings with dinner?) had reached The Best of the New in the Southern Rhône Valley. We like Rhône and drink a fair amount of it, so this topic stood out for us among Helen's autumn season. As it turns out, although the wines had been selected to showcase the newer appellations, they all came from the Wine Society (for which the evening was an axcellent advertisement), so many of them were familiar to us. I learned two things, one of which was that the Lirac which we had particularly enjoyed in a mixed case from the Wine Society also comes in a white (and these two were my favourite wines of the evening); the other confirms what I rather suspected, that if someone praises the elegance of a wine, it is likely to be wasted on me.

(And yes, this may go some way to explain why I chose that Vacqueyras to open last night).

Perhaps it's time to post some tasting notes I made a couple of years ago. We were spending a few days in Switzerland on our way back from Italy (where we had been celebrating D.'s significant birthday). We stayed at the Colline de Daval, in a converted water tower among the vines it had been built to irrigate, each bedroom named for a different grape variety. From our balcony, we looked over the vines, back up the Rhône Valley:

The view from the balcony


And one evening our hostess gave us a tasting of the wines of the property. This is what I wrote immediately after:
Petite Arvine:
reminiscent of the bottle of Fendant we drank last night, but with higher acidity - made my mouth water when we arrived, thirsty, for the tasting - and a cleaner finish. Concentrated, characterful flavour. The traditional description is 'rhubarb' and I see why.

Chardonnay:
lighter (this was the wrong order for the tasting) and less distinctive. No oak. Monique said 'blue flowers' but I got the familiar chardonnay butter / butterscotch, combined with a typically Swiss (Valaisien? or maybe the house style) acidity.

Charmont:
a chardonnay / chasselas cross-pollination. I liked it, found it well integrated, fresh acid but apricot fruits, clean and refreshing. Monique's charmont vines are comparatively old, as she studied with the professor who developed the cross, and planted as a study before the variety was homologué (registered).

Paien de Sierre:
made from savagnin, the grape of vin de paille, which ripens readily - too readily - even at high altitudes. Here as elsewhere, they block the malo. OK, but not as memorable as some of the others.

Pinot noir:
this was another surprise, like most of the wines we tasted a 2009, light and purplish in colour but with the true 'vegetable' pinot noir aroma. Velvet smooth, very little tannin, fruity - with a touch of black pepper on the finish.

Cornalin:
now I see why our room is furnished in such rich purple tones. Very fragrant. Perfectly pleasant, reminded me of plenty of French country wines - a touch of garrigue.

Gamaret:
gamay / reichensteiner cross. Again, less interesting to me than the preceding reds.

Malvoisie fletrie:
late-harvest pinot gris. Lovely pure raisin nose and flavour.

Pinot noir fletrie:
of course I wanted to be bowled over by this. And it's a beautiful colour, golden desert wine with the faintest blush of pink (is this strawberry blonde?). But I found it sweeter than the malvoisie, and ofering little other than sweetness - perhaps a suggestion of strawberry, perhaps not. Monique says it's young, and will open out.

Verdict: the problem with Swiss wines is the price.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Thankyou to everyone who left comments on my previous post; I don't know what to say, except "Thankyou" and "I appreciate it."

Birthdays never come singly, and today is D's. A year ago we were at the Villa Saraceno, a dozen or so of us for once managing for once to occupy the whole length of the dining table to enjoy a birthday dinner cooked for us by the concierge of the property. But I've written about that before...

[livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler and I had booked ourselves a few days in Switzerland on our way home. We had orginally planned to cover the distance in a single day, and this would have been perfectly possible, if we had stuck to the motorways - perfectly possible, but not much fun! When we discovered that the accommodation we wanted wasn't available for our first night, we took the hint, and planned a more scenic route. But we may have overdone this.

Villa ContariniWe left the Villa at ten in the morning, and drove north on local roads, winding slowly through the vines, skirting the Euganean hills. As we'd discovered before, every town had something to stop and admire: and the one we couldn't resist was Piazzole sul Brenta, where the main road delivered us into a great arcaded square with a magnificent villa standing back from one side of it across a narrow waterway. We felt as if we'd been driving for ever, and deserved a break and a stroll; looking at the map now, I can't believe how little way we had come from Vicenza.

Onward, through one beautiful town after another: Cittadella, where nose to tail traffic gave us plenty of time to realise that the whole place was indeed a medieval citadel; Bassano del Grappa, the centre of (yes) grappa production, and up into the Trentino. There were more vines here, though I never managed to photograph the distinctive way they were trained, tall trailing vines, with supporting arms raised high to support the heavy canopy which shaded the bunches of black grapes hanging low underneath - the first time today we had actually been able to make out the grapes!

We found ourselves an overnight stop at a pleasant little town called Male in the Trentino, in the mountains not far from the Swiss border, and realised that despite a day's hard driving (and despite resisting temptations to stray even further into the mountains (the Asiago plateau looked good...), we were no closer to our destination now than we had been when we set off. Still, if we hadn't taken the back way round Padua, we wouldn't have seen Piazzola, which would have been a pity; and we still had all of tomorrow...

'Tomorrow' turned out to be even worse. We set off from Male before ten, and we reached Sierre, our destination, at nine that evening, after stopping for lunch, but not for dinner. Some of this was sheer bad luck, some was self-inflicted, if only through the cutting things fine which lays you open to bad luck - not to mention seriously overestimating the adequacy of Italian roads.

The low points were: getting stuck behind two coaches through Aprica; the shambles which is the road round Lake Lugano, in which two-way traffic including lorries and caravans fights its way through village streets barely wide enough for a single vehicle; and a ten kilometre tailback from the San Gotthard pass.

The high points were: finally rounding the end of I don't even remember which of the Italian lakes, and pulling in to a little café where we sat on the balcony overlooking the blue water and ate the first pizza of this Italian holiday; finally giving up on the San Gotthard pass on the basis that the minor road couldn't be worse, and discovering that the minor road was in fact delightful, and took us up through green valleys to a pass from which we saw snow covered peaks and unfamiliar alpine flowers; driving down the upper Rhône valley (promising ourselves that one day, but not today, we would return to visit the source of the Rhône) past villages on wooden chalets out of the picture books (only rougher and more real); and finally - finally! - arriving in the warm twilight at our accommodation among the vines.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
I'm sure Venice is wonderful - here are Roger Doherty's photos, and here is Valerie Laws' poem about it - but when D. told us that from the Villa Saraceno we could get to Venice in an hour or so, I wasn't for a moment tempted. [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler and I have both been to Venice, at very different times, and perhaps one day we will visit together, and spend a little time there and saunter around and enjoy ourselves... Meanwhile, I envisaged a long drive, a fuss to find parking, a struggle in to the city and the whole thing in reverse at the end of the day: I'd end up hating the place, which isn't the plan.

But one of our party needed to get to the airport (Venice airport is called Marco Polo; I wouldn't choose him as a rôle model myself), and the guidebook made the Po delta sound rather entrancing (canals! birdlife!) so we agreed that we would take J. to the airport and then cut south to the delta - and maybe we'd just pause, find some lunch in Chioggia, the little fishing port at the south of the lagoon.

Composed


I expect everyone can see where this is going? We spent most of the day in Chioggia. There was a park and ride bus service, which jolted us through narrow crowded streets and over canal bridges and dropped us by a rack of yellow bicycles. We were too late for the fish market, where a group of men were folding up their nets, but there were brightly painted houses, and shady arcades, and extensive building works, and shops selling tourist tat and unexpected sights hidden away down alleys and under arches, and I photographed all of them. We criss-crossed the town until we reached the lagoon, then turned and wandered back until we came back to the lagoon in the other direction, and followed the cycle path along its edge back to our car.

We should probably have left it at that, but instead we carried on into the Polésine, and found ourselves in a maze of roads winding between high green banks. Occasionally there'd be a place to park and scramble up the bank, and a view of the waterway, but as long as we were driving there was no real view, and if there were walking routes, we didn't find them. At one point we had a spectacular view of a storm on the far side of the water, complete with thunder and lightning but leaving us dry, which was fun. I didn't think "never again!", but I did think "not without a decent map, and maybe a preliminary call at the visitor centre" (which we passed in the neighbouring town on our way home).

As a result we were almost late back to dinner. It was our last day at the Villa, and several people had had the same inspiration, and gone out and bought ice-cream.

Warmer days

Dec. 9th, 2010 10:31 pm
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Last night was bitterly cold (it was -3°C, which is nothing by the standards of places with serious winters, but quite cold enough for me); today is milder, there's a constant sound of dripping and the occasional rush as snow falls off a roof. It may not be the start of a real thaw, and even if it is, it could take a long time. But I've finished sorting another batch of photographs from our summer holiday, which is an excuse to think about summer sun, and the day we spent in Vicenza.

Vicenza was the home (though not the birthplace) of Andrea Palladio; it is rich in Palladian architecture and the nearest city to the Villa Saraceno. If we were going to do any city sightseeing at all, Vicenza was the place to do it, in one day of intensive city-exploring, architecture-admiring, sun-defying tourism. It may have been a tactical error to begin with the best thing:

On stage


The Teatro Olimpico was designed by Palladio but not completed until after his death. The trompe l'oeuil scenery was constructed for the first performance in 1585: [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler and I kept repeating to each other "1585!" Before the Globe Theatre was built, with all its strange archaic features, Vicenza had this modern- (well, maybe Victorian-) looking theatre. Of course, they used it to stage classical drama, while the Globe was performing completely new plays which would change the theatre forever, but even so...

Our ticket for the Theatre included entry to the art gallery, but this was much less impressive. The picture of which they seemed proudest in the first gallery as you came in: you looked up and there on the ceiling above your head was a very revealing view of Phaeton losing control of his father's chariot, surrounded by the signs of the zodiac. We should have opted out there and then, but we persevered through the saints and the still lifes, and emerged ready for lunch, and a sit down somewhere shady while we ate it. It was pleasant simply to wander the streets, to admire the Palladian architecture and the medieval survivals, the shuttered windows and the brightly painted walls, to consider whether we wanted to eat at this wine bar or that pizzeria (pizza alla Vicentina, apparently, is topped with cod) but eventually we stumbled, almost at random, into a little café:

Lunch in the back room


where we lunched in the back room behind the counter: I had vitello tonnato, which I had previously read about in the writing of Elizabeth David but never eaten.

This refreshed us enough to explore some more sunstruck squares and shady arcades, and we found the Tourist Office where I bought a book about wine tourism in the region which would have been very useful earlier in the week. We retrieved the car, planning to visit the Villa Rotunda (another Palladian villa), but by the time we had found our way out of the city (twice round a one way system, and then the long way round a circuit of the city walls - hey, it's a walled city and we never noticed!) and done some very awkward manoeuvres in a narrow lane, trying to park, we lost our tempers. When we did eventually find a parking place, we walked straight past the entrance to the Villa and up the hill, past the Villa Valmarana (known as 'ai Nani', the dwarfs, because of the figures which top its walls and up to the basilica at the top of the hill, where there is a spectacular view over Vicenza and to the mountains beyond, and a café which serves cold beer in tall glasses, which restored our tempers admirably, and left us feeling that we'd made the right decision.

All the pictures of Vicenza

Meanwhile

Oct. 20th, 2010 10:06 pm
shewhomust: (bibendum)



(Click through to see it larger, it's worth it!)

Contrariwise )

Environs

Oct. 6th, 2010 10:24 pm
shewhomust: (bibendum)
As I said before, D. warned us that the most interesting thing about staying at the Villa Saraceno would be the villa itself; the surrounding countryside was flat and uninteresting. We'd probably want to visit Vicenza, and maybe make the longer journey to Venice, but other than that, bring plenty to read.

I don't need to be told to bring plenty to read - but I didn't get through half of it: there was just so much to see!

On the plain


For one thing, although the villa is on the plain, the flatlands are framed to the east and west by hills. For another, the plain lush and green, criss-crossed by drainage ditches that are more like miniature canals. And for a third, there was always something to see. I took the picture above when I walked out after the heavy rain of D's birthday, just for a breath of air before the rigours of a genuine Italian birthday dinner and to have a look at the "other" Villa Saraceno (the two brothers had each built a new house, but 'ours' had commissioned something in the modern taste from Palladio, while his brother, just down the road, had built in the traditional style). A little further on the road veered right along the canal, while an unmetalled lane went straight ahead over a bridge. I could happily have followed either of them, but it was time to go home.

Touring by car a little further afield, it was the same thing. Setting out on Monday to explore the hills to the north and west of us, the Colli Berici, we paused to do a little shopping in Noventa Vicentina, just because it was the nearest town - and discovered in the centre a majestic square, complete with war memrial, shady arcades and at one end a massive villa which is now the town hall (and when we peered in through the window to admire the frescoes, the staff came bustling out to show us round. [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler and I were very glad we had the party's official Italian speaker with us). The road into the hills crossed a wine route (which runs around the lower slopes, where the vineyards are - later, in Vicenza, I bought a book about wine tourism in the area which would have been helpful, and on another occasion, I suppose, still might be) but we carried on uphill, through woodland to hilltops dotted with little villages and dramatic new churches in unlikely colours.

The following day we headed east, into the Euganean hills, to visit the little town of Arquà Petrarca. But first we had to stop, barely a mile from home, at the unexpected sight of a castle (which turned out to be the Castle of Valbona, a genuine medieval castle but also a pizzeria - though we never did go back there for a pizza). Then on to Arquà Petrarca and the house from which it takes its name, in which the poet Petrarch lived at the end of his life (and I was well-behaved and obeyed the injunction not to take photographs - well, just one, of the view of the hills, so I can't show you the chair in which Petrarch may have sat to write, nor yet the mummified cat which may once have been his cat). On the way home, we stopped to shop for dinner - and I'm always interested in foreign supermarkets: look! red chicory! - and to check that I hadn't imagined the tomato-soup orange villa i was sure I'd seen on the way out.

But for every place we stopped there was somewhere we would have liked to explore but didn't - an interesting church or a walled town or a signpost declaring that this municipality was a producer of olive oil. Not dull at all, in fact.
shewhomust: (Default)
Other people are unfathomable, even our nearest and dearest; and that goes double for their finances. The things we regard as extravagances, the things we regard as essential purchases, or as bargains not to be missed, no two people's lists ever quite match The friend who exclaimed wistfully that she'd love to be able to afford a meal out, or an excursion, but who buys new dresses for no particular reason could no doubt give you matching examples of my own perverse habits - I could give you a few myself...

[livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler has a mental scale of what things ought to cost. This isn't related to what we can afford, or whether it's available elsewhere for less, it's an absolute. It pains him to pay more than a certain sum for a hotel room or a bottle of wine or a shirt. Much of the time this is useful, because it helps us to make decisions. Every now and then, though, I want something which he regards as Too Expensive.

For example, we set off on holiday without a detailed map of the region where we were going to be staying, but confident that as we got closer to our destination, we'd find something. I've been caught out this way before, and at each motorway stop, I'd check through the maps on sale. I didn't see anything ideal, irresistible, the Veneto at the perfect scale; there were maps that covered a large part of northern Italy, but they were big and unwieldy without being all that detailed - and our destination was so near the edge of the map that a few miles further south would take us into uncharted territory. On the other hand, there was a road atlas of the whole of Italy at much the same scale and costing only a little more. I decided that this was what I wanted, but [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler was outraged: it was almost 20 euros. We could buy a road atlas at a fraction of that price in the remainder bookshops at home - not, admittedly, a road atlas of Italy, but nonetheless this established a fair price, and 20 euros was well above it. He was so fiercely discouraging about this extravagant purchase that I was talked out of it - though fortunately only until the next rest stop, where I found another copy of the same atlas, slightly cheaper, and bought it.

There was something that made me want to post about this, but I'd forgotten what it was: the story as it stood came out as "Isn't [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler silly, and wasn't I right?" and that wasn't at all what I wanted to say. There was something that had made me see his reasoning not as silly or mean but as rich and mysterious, and I couldn't remember what it was. Then I found this photograph:

Ta - DAAH! )
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Sometimes writing about things for these posts makes me see them in a new light. Moving from recent Fair Isle posts to plan this one made me realise what a complete contrast there was between my accommodation on these two successive holidays: from a lighthouse on the windy tip of a remote island to a Palladian villa in the flatlands of the Veneto. When D. first outlined his plans for his birthday celebrations, he told us "You won't find much of interest in the area, it's just agricultural land in the plains, nothing to see, but the villa will be a pleasant place to be and socialise or read..." He was wrong about the first half of that, but right about the second.

Floodlit


I'd met the expression 'Palladian' and had a vague idea of the sort of neoclassical architecture it described; a week at the Villa Saraceno was a crash course in what those words mean (it also gave me the same sensation of being out of my depth that you get when you've rather liked a book or a piece of music, and find yourself among true fans of its creator). Saraceno isn't large, as Palladian villas go, and only the central block was completed within Palladio's lifetime (the colonnaded barchessa to the right is nineteenth century, and in the original plan was mirrored by another to the left of the central block); the medieval farmhouse which it was to replace survives, fading into the darkness in the photo. But it's in the guidebooks, and collectors of Palladian vllas come and gaze through the gates (and visit on Wednesday afternoons, when parts of it are open to the public); it is a World Heritage site (or part of one). And we got to stay there - and to switch on the floodlighting, if we felt like it.

More of this - with pictures )
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Mosaic


So, as I was saying, we spent a night in the little town of Charmes, in Lorraine, north-eastern France. Wikipedia says "It was extensively destroyed both in the First and Second World Wars. A pleasant stop for mobile home owners and canal boats", which is odd, but true enough. Lorraine lies between France and Germany, and the town is dotted with war memorials - as well as other decorations, like this mosaic from the wall of the school.

More pictures of Charmes.

We stayed at the Hotel Restaurant le Carpinien, and were very comfortable there. Our room was simple but well arranged: the space was well used, as if someone had actually thought about what you might want to do there.

We ate in the restaurant, and both chose the cheapest of the set menus, because that was what we fancied, the 'Menu Lorrain' - but first, an aperitif: the 'apéritif maison' was a kir-type mixture of white wine and mirabelle liqueur. Mirabelles, little yellow plums, are a big thing in Lorraine, and when I commented to our hostess how much I like them, she told us that in that case we were just a little too early: the mirabelle season starts on August 15th. I'm sure there must be a use for that piece of information somewhere.

First course was a salade vosgienne, a green salad enlivened with bacon, boiled eggs and sour cream.

Main course: pork chops with mushrooms, chips and a salad garnish.

Cheese course: a small slice of fresh, creamy cheese, served on a small plate with a little heap chopped herbs - so you could combine the two in your preferred proportions - and a taste of sweet sauce (mirabelle, probably).

And finally the dessert, a mirabelle sorbet, pleasant and refreshing but a touch bland. We both declined the offer of whipped cream with it, and I for one was glad that I had - but I would have welcomed a shot of the mirabelle liqueur in its place. Never mind, plenty of time for alcoholic ices later in the holiday...

We drank a white wine from Alsace (the neighbouring region), a pinot gris, rich and fruity. And we began to feel that despite the day's hectic driving, we really were on holiday.
shewhomust: (Default)
Well, I'm home. What have I missed? I've been dipping into LJ when I could, but never more than skimmed through...

We've had - despite some (by our standards: 2953 miles on the trip meter) long drives - a lovely time. It's been a holiday of several parts: a week with friends in Italy, a couple of days walking in Switzerland, all the various travelling in between, rounded off with a weekend with family in London -

- and I did have a sense of closing the loop, spending our last night in France back at Loon Plage, at the same handy-for-the-ferry hotel where we spent the first night, walking into the town in the evening and seeing the same floral oddities, discovering to my disappointment that despite the name, there is no beach...

We'd timed our return to bring us to London to allow us to attend the last of the Bears' summer singarounds on Sunday afternoon. So that was something to look forward to, to counter the end-of-the-holidays feeling. And it was indeed wonderful: [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler's contribution was very well received, and we are hatching a cunning plan that next time he will talk to the musicians beforehand, and arrange some sort of accompaniment. And there were some wonderful fiddle / harp duets, and an unaccompanied version of Les Feuilles Mortes with the singer's own, literal, translation, and some Dylan, and a rousing version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah...

But these were anticipated pleasures, and the weekend also held delightful surprises. There was a dinner party to welcome us on Saturday evening, which could have been sticky (old friend, recently-bereaved cousin whom we don't know very well and her mother / recently-widowed aunt who - well, it could have been sticky). But it wasn't, it went well, and I think everyone enjoyed it, even the aunt (despite feeling she'd been kept up well beyond her bedtime).

[livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler and I also accomplished some gratifyingly efficient shopping. We have for some time been looking for a clothes-drying rack (short version: there are plenty of racks which sit on the floor and air your damp clothes; we want one which sits over the bath, so you can hang out swimming costumes which are still dripping. We had two, and they've both fallen apart after years of use). GirlBear recommended a hardware shop, which she thought might be open on Sunday morning. It wasn't, but we went to the car boot sale next door, and I bought two willow pattern dishes, only one of which is cracked, and an oval ovenproof dish, and the first greengages of the season, and a leather belt, which I have needed since I bought two pairs of trousers which require a belt: I thought I might find one in Italy, home of fine leather, but no - Holloway Road. There's been a bit of a recurrent theme this holiday of things (just trivia) happening, but not when you expect them to. So the 'duty free' shop on the ferry home had sold out of the Black Grouse whisky we had noted on our outbound trip. It isn't available everywhere, and we were disappointed, but we bought some anyway, quite reasonably priced, at the supermarket which is our preferred 'just off the A1' stop on the way home.

We scooped up the drying rack, too, on Monday morning.

This post is a bit of a jumble: think of it as the last oddments which have to be unpacked from the suitcase, the clothes you didn't wear and some random guidebooks, a few sachets of sugar and a battery recharger. Now I've finished the (figurative) unpacking, I'll go back to the beginning and tell the story properly.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
First, one for [livejournal.com profile] samarcand, overheard at the self-service breakfast buffet. Son of English family at the next table, baffled by the variety of teas on offer: "They've got all kinds of tea...
"Dad, is Yellow Label normal tea?"

Dad isn't rushing to answer. "Is Yellow Label normal?"

Dad obviously has no idea. "Yes, it's normal."

Outside the hotel, the floral Eiffel Tower on the roundabout is looking even better than when I last saw it, greener and bushier. But there's better still in store, on the road in to Loon Plage itself:

The beekeeper and the bee


I spotted - and was charmed by - the beekeeper, on the traffic island as we approached the junction. But it was [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler who noticed his bee, on the roundabout across the way.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Not so long, at least this first day's drive, south through England - certainly not by US standards of long drive, and even within the UK, not quite as long as the drive to Thurso on the north coast, nor as long as it could have been if we'd been driving west as well as south. Long enough, though, especially against the clock with a ferry to catch, and although there are more long drives ahead, this is the one I'm glad to have behind us.

Evidently, while I've been spending too long at my desk and not paying attention to the world outside, the crops have ripened, and the fields have gone from green to gold. Today's best Photograph Not Taken was a field of blonde wheat, divided into dark and light by the straight edge of a cloud shadow. The deep cut of a path formed a cross with the terminator line, and a single tree - low, massive, green - stood just off the intersection of the two.

Other Photos Not Taken, this being an English summer, were mostly of clouds: a mass of charcoal grey edged with silver dropping a veil of rain over the North York Moors; a sky almost completely covered by white curds, with a chink of brilliant blue across which there trailed a swathe of dappled lace; a strip of gleaming white cloud and chalk white cliffs sandwiched between slate grey cloud and jade green sea...

And now we are in Dunkerque, where it has evidently been raining, and since French time is an hour ahead of the UK, it's time for bed.

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