Saturday, May 12, 2018

Capestang, dogs in France, old vehicles, French "rules" and poppies among the vines

It was only last night that we decided to visit Capestang, a 25 minute drive from where we're staying. There are still so many places we'd like to see (Minerve, Servian, Collioure, Termes, Serignan...etc.) but we could pick only one because our trip is coming to an end. Tomorrow we drive back to Toulouse to stay the night and then fly home on Monday. It has been a wonderful trip and I cannot believe how many gorgeous places we have visited. I have literally hundreds of photos to go through. And I may do some more posts about our trip once we're home.

But back to Capestang. It's an old hilltop town with a tall Gothic church and an old chateau that was the summer residence of the Bishops from Narbonne. Today it's vibrant, at least it appeared so. There was a big gathering of classic cars taking place there. Aficionados were gathering in a big parking lot to show of their old cars and sell and trade their stuff.

There were lots of people there milling around, many with their dogs. Of course I took more interest in the dogs than in the cars. But that's a girl thing, I guess.

And speaking of dogs, the French people we've seen here just love their dogs and they take them everywhere. Dogs are welcome at outdoor cafes and even inside classy restaurants. I think it's because the dogs are very well behaved. They don't jump up on people or bark or fight with other dogs. Today we saw this dog sitting quietly in a chair at an outdoor cafe.  This dog knows how to behave. I can't help thinking if we trained our dogs better in Canada we might be able to get the same privileges for them in cafes.  But somehow I doubt it.

Capestang had the usual mix of castles and churches and lovely manor houses hidden behind gates. 

We found a lovely restaurant in this quiet little square. La Galiniere is an upscale restaurant and on a Saturday at 1:00 in the afternoon was filled with French families. We didn't have a reservation but they found a nice table for two. We ordered from the a la carte menu.  I had fish in tomato and basil sauce with some lovely red caviar on top. Harry chose a casserole of shrimp and prawns and we shared a wonderful creamy lemon desert. I guess I should have taken a photo of the food--but by the time I had thought of it, we'd already messed up the plates. 
This poster was framed on the wall and I was thrilled to be able to translate (more or less) these "Rules of the House."

Say good morning and good night
Believe in yourself
Don't complain
Do what you love
Be happy each day
Laugh at jokes
Say please and thank you
Do your best
Hold your head high
Don't talk with your mouth full
Always try
Excuse yourself if it's too hard (not sure about this one)
Say I love you
Accept our differences
Keep your promises 
Love one another
Be respectful
Tell good stories.

I've been reading a book about French culture called "The Bonjour Effect" and I believe that these "rules" really reflect the French approach to life.  We've so enjoyed our interactions with the people here. They've been unfailingly helpful and kind, putting up with our fractured French with a smile. It was a good last day.

And best of all, I found the photo opp I've been looking for--poppies growing among the vines. The vineyards are really starting to come to life, and so are the poppies. My dream was to photograph them together and today on the way to Capestang I found the spot. Isn't this beautiful?

A fitting end to our trip to Languedoc, I think.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Cycling along the canal and a visit to Bages

We caught our second wind today. Woke up to a clear blue sky and no wind. Hooray! We walked down to the market and rented a couple of really good bikes and went for a ride south along the Canal du Robine. The path varied from paved to dirt to gravel to dried mud to rutted concrete--but the ride was lovely. We've been thinking about our friends Jenn and Jim, who rode over 1,000 km on paths like this in France.  What an adventure they had.

We celebrated our approximately 18 km ride with a lovely lunch at a bistro on the canal and then in the afternoon headed out to explore a couple of nearby towns. The first one, Sigean, was somewhat underwhelming--except for one place, a corner bar where we stopped for refreshments. This place has been around for a century or so. It dates from 1852! Pretty cool, eh?  The interior was equally elegant with a sculptured and painted ceiling. 

From there we drove north along the étang (salt water marsh) to a lovely little fishing village called Bages. Wow! Are we ever glad we didn't miss Bages. It's a sweet place with fishing boats pulled up on the shore, a medieval town on the top of a hill with a fabulous view across to Narbonne, and a central plaza out of the movies.  This is one of the prettiest places we've seen so far. 

Tomorrow is our last day here and we're still deciding where we might head to. The weather is supposed to be cooler and a bit rainy so we won't be able to duplicate this special day. But I'm sure we'll find a way to make it count.  

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Excursions from La Robine

The days have been slipping by here in the apartment La Robine. Every day we undertake an excursion of one sort or another, some on foot and some by car.  Yesterdays excursion was simply a walk down the canal to visit the cathedral here and a couple of local museums. The walk takes us by some elegant old buildings like these.

The cathedral is quite imposing with lots of gargoyles (including alligators and dogs). It also has an unfinished section where windows have been carved but not filled in. 

In France, all the sights close for two hours over the lunch hour and so we generally find a place to eat. Yesterday we managed to find a place where we were able to share the plat du jour of brochettes de boeuf, and that's a good thing because the servings are enormous. With the lunch we usually order a  a pichet du vin rosé, which I have discovered to be very nice here in Languedoc.  In France you can order wine by the glass, or in 1/4 or 1/2 litre amounts or by the bottle.  If Harry's having a beer, I find that the petit pichet (the quarter litre) is just perfect.  

We visited the underground Roman storage area with its collection of amphorae and some elegant rooms and art from various historical eras in the former archbishop's residence.  As usual I was taken by the Roman mosaics.

Today's trip was north to the town of Agde and we arrived to find the Thursday market happening in a big way. I think every car from miles around was circling the historic centre looking for a parking place. We finally found one along the river a way and then walked back in to take a look.

There's the usual array of eye candy in the way of produce and food but since our fridge at La Robine is full we simply cannot purchase anything more, particularly as we're only here for two more days.

We sat in a little alley with a coffee and a madeleine and then walked around the old town. After a while they all start to blend together in your head though. Agde appears to be somewhat run down in the centre and there are a lot of very small doorways--like this one.  Quite a few of the buildings appear to be boarded over as well.  And once the market was over the centre was really quiet and empty. 

We had considered getting some of this delicious looking paella for a picnic lunch but we ended up heading down to the river to a pizza place where we also had a lovely Salade Nicoise.
Our plan after lunch was to go to this local museum in a Medieval building that originally housed a hospital. It shows how people lived in Medieval times and sounded really interesting--however it wasn't to be. Although it posted opening hours at 1:30 there was nobody there to welcome us. So we found our car and headed down the A9 back to Narbonne for what has become a daily ritual--the afternoon nap.

At home I never sleep in the afternoons but here I can't seem to keep my eyes open after 3:00 pm.

After the nap we get up to a little apero of  olives and cheese and a glass of wine while we think about what we'll cook for dinner. What an idyllic lifestyle, right?

Well yes... but after three and a half weeks in France we are both feeling overfed and underexercised in spite of walking some 6 to 8 kilometers every day. And even though we still have a couple more days here in Narbonne, we are both suddenly feeling that it's time to go home. Things are waiting for us there that need our attention and the time of wandering around beautiful villages is over.

Tomorrow we will head out for one last excursion and then set to packing and cleaning and getting ready for our trip home.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Two French fishing ports

In the past two days we've visited two different fishing ports, one big and one small. The big one was Séte, known as the Venice of Languedoc because of its many canals. It's a city of maybe 50,000 people at the eastern end of the Canal du Midi, and the largest fishing port in Southern France.  These boats are used for the traditional sport of canal jousting. It wasn't happening while we were here though.

All along the main canal are multi-storey buildings dating from a century or two back. It's a vibrant city with lots of places to eat and shop.  These tea towels caught my eye. They are cotton with lovely French designs and I selected quite a few to bring home with me.

This little bateau also caught my eye. There were a few traditional boats tied up along the canal but this one with its name Linette was one I wanted a photo of. This is for you, Linette McElroy.

Today we visited a much smaller fishing village. This one is Gruissan, a few streets of old buildings clustered around the base of a ruined castle.

It's close to Narbonne, only about a 20 minlute drive through the countryside to the êtang de Gruissan. The étangs are the salt marshes that dot this area. And there are a lot of them. In fact Séte is also on a big étang.

This is the Gruissan étang.

When we got to Gruissan we were reminded that today is yet another French holiday. It's WW II victory day and it was being celebrated in Gruissan with a parade led by some very old fellows with medals and a big marching band. This was followed by many of the residents and their families. We felt privileged to be a part of this celebration.

Gruissan was a pleasant surprise in that it had lots of nice restaurants, cafés and stores. After walking around and exploring the main square, the patisserie (yummy pain au chocolat) and the cemetery up on this hill, we settled on a restaurant called Il Tavolo for lunch. Run by an Italian fellow it featured delicious pizza and an amazing Capresi salad. We ended up adding the salad ingredients to the pizza for a most delicious lunch.

Then we visited a lovely store selling olives and olive oils and tapenades. The young man behind the counter told us that his family has been operating this store for more than 40 years.  Tonight we're enjoying some of the most fresh and delicious green olives I've ever tasted.

Here are two final photos from Gruissan. It occurs to me that I didn't get any photos of the fishing fleet from either of these spots. But never mind--we found some lovely spots and enjoyed both our days.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Cooking chez nous

We just love this little apartment in Narbonne because of the kitchen--and the nearby market. It means we can head out during the day but plan to cook and eat at home each night. To us this is the absolute best way to explore places.

Take today for example, we headed out around 9:00 am after a breakfast of toast and jam and coffee made here in the Bodum. Our direction today was south and we didn't know exactly how far we would get. We took the side roads beside the etangs (the salt marshes between the highway and the Mediterranean. Sadly I can't show you pictures of the étangs because we were deluged by a strong rainstorm as we drove along them. However when we got to Argelés the rain stopped and we joined in a fête de fleurs.

We enjoyed a cafe au lait there and then headed south to a couple of other spots down near the Spanish border.  It's like a mini French Riviera there, but maybe less crowded, although maybe not. It turns out that today is in the middle of yet another long weekend. May is full of holidays and when they occur on a Tuesday people choose to bridge the gap and make it a four-day weekend. This is the second weekend in a row that this has happened.  Good for the French for taking holidays at this time of year!

We ended up visiting three different spots: Argelés sur Mer, Port-Vendres, and Banyuls-sur-Mer. All had a very French Riviera feeling, probably because there were lots of visitors due to the long weekend. After a lovely lunch of seafood we lingered in these spots until around 4:30, when we headed back north to Narbonne.  When we arrived we found that the wind was gone, the air was warm and everything was perfect for a dinner of soup that was waiting in the fridge, as well as salad with tomatoes and delicious strawberries. We so enjoyed being home in our little apartment looking out on the canal as evening came on.

There were some other residents of Narbonne who were also looking forward to cooking tonight. Three fellows were fishing along the canal. I hope they enjoyed their dinner as much as we did.