Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Longest Birthday Party

Birthday parties have got longer. It was my youngest's 14th birthday last week and he decided to invite three friends to his 'party' involving cinema, KFC and a sleepover.

Despite the fact it was Easter weekend, his friends were free to arrive just after lunch on Saturday. They spent the afternoon mucking about, coming in only for the birthday tea. Regular readers of this blog may remember my birthday cakes are never a success. For some reason, something either goes wrong, or they are not liked by picky French taste buds.

This year was no exception. My son wanted a banana and chocolate tart with homemade pastry. Easy peasy. I got out the food processor, made up the pastry, let it rest, rolled it out and baked it blind. So far so good. Disaster struck when I was trying to remove the split peas that I'd used to weigh down the pastry. Some of the little buggers had slipped between the dish and pastry when I was taking them out, so I thought I could remove them by tipping up the dish...

Naturally, the pastry fell out of the dish and onto the work surface, where it continued its bid for freedom by making rapidly for the floor. In bits. I yelled, dear reader. I shrieked, and many an expletive passed my lips. I even threw my oven glove across the kitchen (all of one metre). Then I picked up all the bits and wondered what to do.

Luckily the cleaner had been the day before so the 15 or so second rule was not a problem. I didn't want to throw away a tart's worth of pastry, and after some reflection, decided to arrange all the bits back in the dish, like a big jigsaw. At worst, it would end up as a choccie/banana crunch. I put the pastry dish back in the oven to finish off, and later made the chocolate filling (Nestlé dessert black chocolate + brick of organic cream). I sliced a couple of bananas, put them over the cooled base, poured over the filling and put it in the fridge. And hey presto:
Rescued birthday chocolate/banana tart
You'd never guess that it had been on the floor a few hours earlier and the cause of a total hissy fit, would you? It was delicious too. De.Li.Cious!

We sang Happy Birthday, and it all went, to sounds of approval (a miracle!). Then I dropped them off to see Fast and Furious 7 (I was not included in the invitation...) and picked them up later to enjoy their takeaway KFC. I was delighted to find out that cinema tickets are only €4 for under 14s, so that kept the price down, as did buying popcorn from Carrouf instead of paying an outrageous amount inside the cinema.

The next day I found out they were all staying for lunch and beyond (no one was having a big Easter family lunch obviously), and my youngest suggested a picnic at the Lac Cécélés near St Mathieu de Treviers. I made up jambon beurre sarnies for all except one who had cheese, baked some cookies, and we all set off to the lake. My DB joined me after lunch and we went for a walk up the lake and over to the dinky village of St Croix de Quintillargues.
Lac de Cécélés
The boys had a lovely time mucking about with a free-floating pontoon 'boat' but managed not to get wet. They couldn't get far because the wind kept blowing them back to shore, but they used up a nice lot of energy trying.
Four boys on a 'boat'
We left when they'd had enough, went home for more food, and the last one left at 5.30pm. My youngest was shattered but happy. At last I could give the boys their Lindt choccie bunnies, and cook Easter dinner which was a rolled leg of lamb that I'd brought back from England after Christmas. It was excellent, and much appreciated after such a busy day!

My son spent Easter Monday very quietly.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Heads up on Free special offer at 1.99Eur

Just a heads up on a special offer from Free at the moment.

I've just changed my internet provider from Orange to Free after getting a call offering me a monthly charge of 1.99Eur until the end of the year.

As I pay 41Eur per month at the moment (sans tv), I couldn't resist!

For 1.99Eur I'll get internet, phone and tele. Plus my mobile forfait will be free. Plus they'll reimburse the termination fees for Orange.

If this sounds like something you can't resist either, call 1044.

This is not a sponsored post. I'm just offering a public service. :)

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Odds and Sods - big news, health, local colour

What's been going on in St Bloggie's world recently?

Big news
Well, the big news is that my DB has a new job... in Avignon (watch out for more posts from the Vaucluse...). In the Agroparc, to be precise, near the airport (which is now no longer a public enterprise but only open to private jets...). It has more than a passing resemblance to a Californian science park which suits my DB just fine because he's always wanted to work in Silicon Valley. If it weren't for the current visa situation, he'd be over there tomorrow. I'm quietly happy about the current visa situation...

The Agroparc is about 80mins away from Montpellier, so not a huge distance, but too far to drive every day, so we've been flat hunting for him. His aim is to walk to work and be close enough to go home for lunch, so we've been scanning the area and crossing out places that look nice but are too far away.

The other day we were there checking out some possibilities, and were waiting to visit a house that was pretty close. Just at the time we were expecting a call from the owner to meet up, we got a call from her to say the house had been burgled and she was currently dealing with the police... You won't be surprised to hear we struck that one off his list!

You may remember I went to see a naturopathe about six months ago (which cost me €60 for thirty mins). Well, I went to see another one last week. Why? Because she had been invited to give half hour sessions for ten euro at my favourite organic shop. How could I resist?

I went mainly to do something about the state of my joints which the last one had warned me about, but only started making themselves felt from the beginning of this year. She had a good look at my eyes and told me my bones are de-mineralised. I blame this on the menopause.

Anyway, what I wanted to know was what I could do about it. She started off by giving me the ingredients to make a re-mineralising (organic) vinaigrette:
Almond purée instead of acidic mustard
Balsamic or apple cider vinegar
Walnut oil (and olive oil)
Seaweed flakes
And very tasty it is too. She advised taking vitamin D (I do), to continue with the tisane I'm drinking at the moment to re-mineralise my bones (made of nettles, strawberry leaves etc.), do a cure of sève de bouleau (birch sap) as it's the season for it, and eat more sardines, mackerel and cod liver.

I'm also trying to do at least 20 mins of yoga a day and walk as much as possible. Fingers crossed (while I can...) it all does me some good!

Local colour
I went to the most recent conseil municipal (town hall meeting) this week which was turned out to be more entertaining than expected. I missed the last one, but apparently our opposition had exchanged some colourful expressions with the majority that didn't go down well at all.

At the beginning of this meeting, the former mayor gave us his big-eyes mean stare, and a threatening speech. The treasurer felt particularly targeted at the last meeting and so, at the end of this one, he treated us all to his thoughts on three of the opposing team in a flurry of ad hominem remarks that had my eyes out on stalks. Speaking about it afterwards to another member of the team, I learned that such an attack was common place and this one was 'de la rigolade' (no big deal) compared to others that she'd heard in other communes where feelings had been running high and the insults a lot nastier.

You won't get me signing up for active politics in a hurry...!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Happy Super Celestial Events Day

Today is a special day because three celestial events occur on the same day:
1. a solar eclipse
2. a supermoon which we would not normally be able to see because it's a new moon, but will be able to because of the eclipse. Oooh!
3. the equinox

Plus it's the first day of Spring (see here to read why it's no longer March 21). And, there are going to be super high tides around the Atlantic coast of France. There's not a room to be found in the key seaside towns as people gather to watch the phenomenon.

The next time this convergence of celestial events occurs will be when we're all dead.

Pity it's raining in Montpellier and we'll miss the main event.

Still, teachers will be happy. They won't have to worry about elfansafety, keeping their little charges intent on self-destruction by looking at the eclipse, as there'll be nothing to see.


Here is a video the Mont Saint Michel as an island again. It looks fantastic!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Walks in Hérault: Hermitage de Notre-Dame-de-Monnier

I think most of with gardens were out in them last weekend. I know I was. I was tidying up the patio with my youngest (responsible for most of the mess) and took two car loads of rubbish to the tip! Behind the house now looks less like a squatters' encampment and more like a garden. I even ate my lunch outside on Monday, in the sun, at the table which had been cleaned. It was a tiger mosquito-free event too; they obviously have not got themselves together yet.

On Sunday afternoon, my DB and I drove up towards St-Bauzille-de-Putois and turned off to drive to Montoulieu which is dominated by its own ruined castle, called the Castellas. In 1626, Cardinal Richelieu wanted to calm the local noblemen, and had the castle dismantled. Apparently it was still a place of shelter until it was burned down with its owner, de Montoulieu, looking on in 1703 by Montrevel who was in command of the royal troops in Languedoc. He was irritated with the family for supporting the Camisards. The Cevennes was a hotbed of religious revolt against the Catholic Church at that time which didn't go down well at all.

We didn't in fact stop in Montoulieu (more on its history here), but turned right towards the hamlet of La Vielle where you can park on the tiny central square and follow the directions on the signpost.
We ended up walking 6.8km, about 10,000 steps :)
Just outside the hamlet we came across a home-made catamaran. Not what we were expecting to see in the middle of the arid garrigue!
Seen along the way - home-made catamaran
The path is accessible to all, but anything with wheels (prams, wheelchairs, bikes) would have to be robustly built.
View towards the Cevennes
It's a steady climb through the bois de Monnier to the hermitage, with views that get wider and farther the higher you go.

Wild violets
We saw a fair number of little blue flowers. After consulting with my botanical advisor, MM, I've found out they're violets. Very pretty, but the only thing I took was a photo.

Chapel Notre-Dame-de-Monnier
We arrived at the chapel Notre-Dame-de-Monnier, protectrice du village de Pompignan (in the Gard) which has been restored, and where you can see the graves of the last Franciscan monks by the hermitage nestling in the wood. The chapel was dry-stone built in the sixteenth century. It's set in peaceful grounds which are shady enough for a picnic.

Peaceful, that is, until a small van lurches up the track in a haze of diesel fumes spilling out the five people and two dogs crammed inside with loud exclamations. Oh, how lovely, it's a group of the colourful and quaint people so beloved of bobos from afar - gitans. Why they couldn't park their car at the bottom and walk up the hill like the rest of us, I don't know. The track is of course forbidden to unauthorised vehicles, but I expect they thought such instructions didn't apply to them.

Inside the chapel Notre-Dame-de-Monnier
We followed them inside the chapel (just in case) and admired the charming interior where there were vases of fresh flowers. Were they there in celebration of International Women's Day? It felt rather crowed inside, so we went out and started on our way back down. We were, naturally, overtaken a bit later by the van with its three passengers and dogs illegally huddled in the seat-free boot, and tried to waft away the disgusting diesel exhaust fumes that they left behind.

Seen along the way - movable look-out post for hunters?
Seen along the way was a look-out post. When my DB tried to climb up it, he saw very quickly that it wasn't fixed to the earth as it nearly toppled him into the bushes behind. Deducting that it was there temporarily, we wondered who used it.

We also saw evidence of wild boars but no actual animals (thank goodness). When we set out, we expected to be practically the only ones on the path, but just because it was new to us, didn't mean it was unknown to others, and we saw a dozen or so walkers (not including the gitans who weren't walking) in total. It was a beautiful day to be outside and enjoying the sunshine and early Spring warmth.
View across to the Cevennes. You can zoom in on the Castellas in the middle.
We had enough water, but I was pleased to see that drinking water is available back down in the hamlet.

Drinking water on tap in La Vielle
As we drove back the few hundred metres to Montoulieu, we stopped to take a photo of this dramatic wild boar activity. This is where they must have slept. They obviously like digging a cosy hole for the night. Lucky they decided not to sleep in the vineyard behind!

Wild boars slept here
Instead of turning left towards Montpellier, we turned right at the junction of Montoulieu to take a detour home up into the Cevennes via Sumène. We crossed the main D999 road and were surprised to find a tiny road which went through a tiny but dramatic little gorge, like a mini version of the one near St-Guilhem-le-Desert. I couldn't stop and take pictures because the road wasn't wide enough but we'll have to go back on the motorbike, and I'll take some then.

The narrow road continued on upwards with hairpin bend after hairpin bend. We didn't stop at the Prieuré de St Martin de Cézas although it looked very interesting, and at the top, 700m altitude, we found the dinky hamlet of Cézas, absolutely miles from anywhere. As we slowly passed a bloke on a tiny tractor chatting to another man and his dog, I spied a signpost indicating some public footpaths which looked promising.
Hamlet of Cézas
There were some fantastic views from up there, and we'll have to go back to walk through the forest of oak, pine, chestnut and cedar trees. Can't wait!

Extra Information
The pdf of the hermitage walk in its different versions is here.
Walks in the Cevennes here.
Someone else has been there too (with pics) here.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Not-so-PBV: Mosset-du-Merde

Our weekend in the PO ended with a visit to Plus Beau Village Mosset. We left Thuir, and the Byrrh factory in a happy state thanks to the generous dégustation, signed out of the hotel, and went in search of a sandwich for lunch. There was nothing in Thuir that looked appetising, so we got in the car and hoped to find something along the way.

Thankfully, we did, in an award-winning boulangerie no less, located on a roundabout at Ille-sur-Têt next to an old convent, and called Le Couvent, that was also a chambre d'hote. They had no sandwiches this early in the year, but did have some mini quiches, so we got four and some bread.

The weather was cold and menacing and not ideal for a picnic, but we got to Mosset, found a spot with a view and sat in the car eating our lunch with spots of rain dotting the windscreen. Nothing new there for a Brit, obviously... The quiches were very good and the bread lived up to our expectations.
PBV Mosset - good thing it was winter so the tree was leafless!
Mosset looked okay from a distance, but it didn't look quite so charming close up. Maybe it looks better in the sun, but it just looked a bit miserable and down at heel in the gloomy winter light.

There was also a lot of dog poo about. Tons of it. No one had been clearing it up for some time, so one had to keep one's eyes down in order to avoid a nasty surprise.

Mosset's museum la Tour des Parfums
This probably meant that we couldn't properly appreciate the cultural heritage of the Catalan village, with its 'rich architectural patrimony' (so says the PBV site).

House of no particular interest except for the very low front door. Compare with neighbour's.
It was too cold to hang about and poo-hop, so we called it a day and took to the road. The way back to the main road takes you through a spa village called Les Thermes in the commune of Moltig-les-Bains. It's set dramatically in a gorge with some stunning views. This building is Le Grand Hotel, a three star establishment with rooms starting at 95Eur (quand même!).

Le Grand Hotel
There's nothing to do else for 15km in either direction (of mountain route), so when you go there, I reckon you'd have to be serious about using all the spa facilities! Still, for a few days of peace, it must be lovely.

It was pretty windy on the autoroute. We stopped to use the facilities in one place and I was quite taken with these poor trees:

Wonder which way the wind blows here... Sea on the right.
It was a weekend plein les yeux of beautiful (or so) villages, industrial splendour, and stunning scenery. The PO is a region that is definitely worth visiting.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

A Cerfa for Medicinal Side Effects

You live in France. You take medicine. You suffer from side effects and your doctor isn't listening. You can do something about it. Yes, you can! There is a form, but not an app, for that.

Oh happy France that loves its administration so much that there are 710 forms to declare just about anything:
  • asking for a medal of honour for work (11796*01 Demande de médaille d'honneur du travail); 
  • a declaration about your spouse (11355*08 Declaration concernant le conjoint) - "She can make a proper cup of coffee made in a proper copper coffee pot", "He sells sea shells on the sea shore"; 
  • a request for spa treatment (14415*03 Demande de cure thermale);
  • an individual statement of activity time (13704*03 Relevé individuel de temps d'activité) - "Got up, went to the loo, had breakfast, had a shower, fed the cat...".

There's no end to the fun you can have with a Cerfa.

Cerfa 15301 to declare side effects from medicine
As no one knows about this form, only 8000 people a year declare they've had side effects. There's another form for doctors to use (10011*04) but they don't seem to know about it either as only 13% of declarations come from them despite the fact that they are responsible for most prescriptions. Most come from hospitals, with 84%, as 128,000 people are hospitalised each year after taking their medicine! Funny how the pharmaceutical companies don't add a little remark in the notice about ways to declare side effects...

So, if you've had the flu vaccine and felt funny afterwards, if you've been taking pills and have come out in a nasty itchy rash, or something worse, don't suffer in silence thinking it'll pass. Get onto your computer, download the form, fill it in and send it off. You'll be doing us all a big favour!