Monday, July 28, 2014

Bliss in Bruel

Saint Jean de Bruel, that is, not Patrick the singer. We came across another delightful location this weekend thanks to the book of walks we bought on our last trip. Not only did we open it, but we chose an itinerary to walk! We drove up to Causse Bégon which is a tiny spot in the middle of nowhere that has a 5km walk on the causse. Causses are limestone plateaux which have a particular arid terrain made up of stubby trees, dolomite outcrops and cropped grass. You see one when you take the A75 from Lodève to Millau which crosses the plateau de Larzac.

Our walk was pleasant enough. It was cool up there when the wind blew and had some nice views although nothing spectacular. One bit must have been eroded by water at some point in its past. It had lots of holes in the rock which I couldn't resist poking with my finger. My DB hoped the one I poked wouldn't be inhabited by snakes. As it was less than 5 cm deep, I thought I'd probably see them coming.
Water erosion and no snakes 800m up on walk around Causse Bégon
At some point, we had to climb steeply for what the signpost said was 80metres but felt like more, to see the dolmen called the Giant's Tomb.

Dolmen tomb for a small-sized giant

Just big enough for me lengthwise
Proof that my DB is not a country bumpkin happened when we were walking back towards the car from the dolmen on a different path to the original one, having decided not to slide back down the steep track. We suddenly found ourselves on the wrong side of a fence. On observing this, he asked me how we would get back to the right side. I spied some string bits floating in the breeze some way off and said that it was probably some sort of gate. He was doubtful. Then he wondered if the fence was electric. No, I said, they don't look like that. He was doubtful. It has barbed wire, he said. No, I said, it doesn't. Hmmm... We got to the fence and, as it was low, I could just lift me leg over it. No barbed wire, no electricity, AND the gate was a gate. I'm not that much of a country bumpkin, but it's easy to appear informed and clued up in the countryside compared to my DB!

We got back to the car and drove down to St Jean de Bruel where we hoped to find somewhere to sleep. We had not booked and discovered, of course, that both hotels were full. Our only option was a chambre d'hote. We are not keen on chambre d'hote (as you may remember), but the alternative was an hour's drive to cover 35km to Meyreuis (up and down and up and down), similar to get to Montpellier or stay in a scabby place half an hour away. The woman in the tourist office assured us that the chambre d'hote, Les Cardabelles, was quite like a hotel, so we decided to give it a try.

Good thing we did too as it was LOVELY and pretty much like a hotel only better because it had AIR CONDITIONING which 2-star hotels do not.
Unassuming exterior to Les Cardabelles chambres d'hote
Bathroom, shower on right
View from room
There are three rooms at the top of the building and they have a separate staircase from the rest of the house. You could really believe yourself to be in a hotel. Our room had two extra beds so you could really get value for money from the cost of the room including breakfast (€66). We were the only guests, surprisingly, so had the breakfast table to ourselves the next morning, with delicious coffee (a rarity), and excellent home-made jams and bread as well as croissants, etc. It was a bijoux place! M Vidal, who owns it, also makes potted pâtés. His little factory is next door and I suppose he supplements his income with the chambres d'hote. We found him warm and friendly, and he didn't hang around or try to impose himself. Really, the perfect place.

That evening we were fortunate with dinner too! Recommended by M Vidal, we booked at l'Oustal just down the road and chose the €14.50 menu. We sat outside on the terrace and started with a mixed salad which was followed by one of the most delicious rascasse rouge I've ever had. It seemed to have been just fried, in butter but it was so tasty I could have eaten it all night. It came with quinoa and courgette, and the whole meal was simply delicious. We had cheese for dessert, and pichets of rosé to wash it down.

After breakfast, we mooched into the village to visit the little market. There we saw a local organic veg producer who, coincidentally, sells his produce with a small number of others in their shop in the next village to me! They take it in turns to keep shop, so costs are kept reasonable because they employ no extra staff. I am definitely going to take a look this week because I like the idea of these farmers getting together and doing some sensible, and the veggies looked excellent. What an amazing coincidence finding him there in the middle of nowhere!

We had a leaflet from the tourist office on a nice walk up to the village sentinelle. It was 5km so we decided we could cope with that if it meant admiring 360° views from the top. The walk was delightful. It took us through shady sweet chestnut tree woods up a gentle incline for much of it.

Shady path through the chataigners
Part of the view from the top, with sentinelle. The village is St Jean de Bruel.
The view from the top was definitely worth it, enhanced by the fact that my DB's Free mobile phone found a network whilst there was none in the valley, so he could listen to his messages!

We came back down and it was only just gone midday. Despite our delicious and copious breakfast, we went to the village picnic spot that I had noticed just down the road from where we stayed, and next to Noria, the water museum.

Picnic spot
The canal was built to secure access to running water for the mill even when the river on the other side of the picnic spot was low.
Old mill, now Water Museum, Noria.
After lunch, we went to visit the museum. We walked round the balcony to get to the entrance and admired the old thirteenth century bridge across the river Dourbie. I also admired the vegetable plot and gazed longingly at its lusciously fertile soil. For information, a one-bedroom flat in this village (in the middle of nowhere) is a measly €20,000!
View of XIII century bridge from museum
The mill has been put to different uses in its history. One of the main ones was cleaning woollen cloth. The cloth was wrapped around a type of bobbin and fixed to a box. Water came down via a channel to wash it and protect it from damage, and the bobbin turned every so often to work the whole cloth. It was a very clever system. Although the mill was closed for business 1985, it was restored and open to the public as a functioning piece of history. 

Water arrives

Huge hammers that bash the woollen cloth

Woollen cloth on the right getting a bashing
The museum also contains a functioning hydro-electric station (mini), a large model of a river modified to produce hydro-electricity where if you press a button, you get a commentary and demonstration of water management. There are several rooms containing interesting information about water - how to manage and treat it, and its place in the cosmos. There is even a "Bistr'eau" of four different waters to show you how water tastes different depending on how mineralised it is. Low mineralised water tastes 'hard' while a high mineral count gives a 'soft' taste. Did you know that?

Finally, there's a spot for kids to let off steam in a playroom shooting water and other games, a little bar and a shop. We greatly enjoyed our visit and learned a lot from the excellent displays. The shop was lacking in books in my opinion. They had loads of useless mini figures of dogs, owls, cows all dressed up. Someone needs to take the shop in hand and get in some more appropriate, interesting products.

A lovely weekend, and just an hour from Montpellier. It felt so different, and so did us so much good. I didn't want to come home!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

University Registration à la Française

The French administration system is world renowned, its reputation having spread far and wide thanks to foreigners moaning to those at home about their dealings with it.

I've had my fair share of run-ins with it, but not as many as those who dare to start a business. I toyed with the idea back in 1990, and ran away, aghast at the true horror and expense, of starting something I just wanted to do to make a bit of pocket money. This was pre-AutoEntrepreneur days and you needed a capital of 50,000FF which I didn't have and didn't need to try and flog a few Provençal print shopping bags that I made from waxed cotton material bought locally. The paperwork had to be seen to be believed, and the hovering rapacious jaws of URSSAF (Unions de recouvrement des cotisations de sécurité sociale et d'allocations familiales) terrified the living daylights out of me. Richard Branson I am not.

Yesterday, my eldest and I were embroiled in the continuing saga of his university application. I had been nagging him to get onto the Admission Post-Bac website to see what had to be done and note the deadline. He saw that university inscription started on July 7, but didn't really take note of when it finished. Over the weekend, he had a funny feeling, logged back in on Sunday evening and saw that the deadline was Wednesday July 23.

He didn't tell me until he saw me again yesterday lunch time (Monday... tick, tick, tick). We got down to it when I got in from work. Naturally, there was a long list of papers to provide, including some which needed Googling to understand what they were. When I was typing the search, the automatic feature brought up the one I needed instantly, showing that we were not the only ones flummoxed by certain requirements! We were particularly intrigued by what could possibly be

  • Fiche d’inscription pédagogique dûment complétée (Déclaration d’examen 2014/2015)
  • Récapitulatif demande inscription Primo web 
  • Notification APB (original + photocopie) 

Here's the full list for the Law Faculty:

Pour tous les étudiants (all students):

  • Titre de paiement (chèque, carte bleue, mandat cash) (Cost for the year €189.10!)
  •  Carte Identité (original+copie) (or passport)
  •  Attestation d’affiliation sécurité datée de moins de trois mois (Secu membership)
  •  Immatriculation sécurité sociale N° personnel ou carte vitale (original+copie) (carte vitale)
  •  Photo d’identité 
  •  Attestation responsabilité civile datée de moins de trois mois (personal liability insurance)
  •  Fiche d’inscription pédagogique dûment complétée (Déclaration d’examen 2014/2015) ?? (discovered to be another certificate)

 Pour les néo bacheliers (freshers) :

  • Relevé des notes du baccalauréat avec le n° INE (original + photocopie) (Bac marks)
  • Récapitulatif demande inscription Primo web ??
  • Notification APB (original + photocopie) ??
  • Attestation Journée Défense Citoyenneté (à défaut attestation recensement) (National Service Day certificate)

Pour les étudiants mineurs : autorisation d’inscription du ou des titulaires de l’autorité parentale (as a minor, he needs my permission to register at university)
Pour les étudiants qui auront moins de 20 ans le 30 septembre 2015 : 
Attestation datée de moins de deux mois de la couverture sociale des parents (my Secu membership as he's under 20) 

Not a bad list really. If he'd been a high level sportsman, a 'pupille de la nation' (whatever that is - orphan?) handicapped, grant receiver, employed, foreign or transferring from one university to another, there would have been even more paperwork to provide.

Luckily my printer had ink for all the copying and printing, and it took us about an hour and a half to get it all done, including filling in some crazy form on the internet to register (again) online. My eldest found out he could take an appointment to register in person (how many registrations do they need?) and he's going tomorrow lunch time. I'm not sure if I should go along and hang about outside (with my Kindle) in case of emergencies. We're bound to have got something wrong! Hopefully not though because:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Taking the Right Path on Mont Aigoual

Part I Steam Trains and Olive Oil
Part II Taking the Wrong Path on Mont Aigoual

The Bastille Day holiday, or rather, le quartorze juillet, was the opportunity for a flea market down the main road of Meyrueis. I looked out of the window of the Hotel d'Europe and noted the busy goings-on, all quite low key and local. Further inspection on our way to have a coffee and croissant in the village bar revealed stands of old postcards and books, others with crockery, glassware, some clothes, toys, an old microwave oven, and a mono-cycle (new, €15) with stand. I thought of my youngest, and how he often moans about having nothing to do (when kicked off the XBox), and decided that learning how to use a mono-cycle would give him something to do. My DB agreed, so I asked the woman to keep it for me until I came back later with the car. She believed me, and put it aside.

We had breakfast outside in the morning sun having bought croissants from the boulangerie two doors down, as had everyone else, and I got quite a caffeine buzz from the strong café au lait. Now wired for the day, I went and got the car, got the mono-cycle and, stocked up with sarnies from the boulangerie, we drove back up to Mont Aigoual to walk the famous Chemin des Botanistes, stopping on the way to buy the maps at the tourist office...
Valleraugue Valley
The top was clear of low cloud, and full of sheep. The shepherd and his hard-working dog (which did not look like Shep, if you can remember that far back to Blue Peter days) were hanging about outside his van on the road.
Sheep, and shepherd's white van
We started by going up the tower to appreciate the view while the clouds were high above scudding across the sky. You can see as far as 250km away. The sea was visible, just, as was the Pic Saint Loup, and Mont Ventoux. Looking west, the cloud cover was too low to make out distant landmarks. The panorama of 360° is breath-taking and well worth the visit. The photos didn't come out that well as it was too hazy.

Then it was time to tackle our walk. We drove back down to the menhir and got ready for the 90-minute trek. Less than an hour later we'd finished. It wasn't that we were particularly speedy because we weren't, but cheating probably cut off a chunk of time, more than we expected. Anyway, the chemin was a narrow track cut into the side of the mountain with precipitous drops on one side. Not for the faint-hearted even if it was without difficulty. We saw a lot of evidence of wild boar activity - it must be a favourite spot with them because there were several areas of disturbed soil. I couldn't see why it was called the Chemin des Botanistes, not that I know anything about plants, but it didn't seem that different to the path we'd been on the previous day botany-wise.

Precipitous drop on the Chemin des Botanistes
Wild boar snuffled beds
We had expected to eat our sarnies somewhere along the chemin, but having finished in record time, we went back up to the top and ate them at a picnic table more-or-less out of the wind. They were filled with lettuce, ham and tomato salad, and were delicious. It also felt really good to be blown about a bit with cool air. Down in the valley it was 30°C+.

Picnic table and view
Eventually we dragged ourselves away and drove sedately back to earth.

The appeal of mountains and altitude is very strong with my DB and me. We love the Cevennes because it's so wild and mostly empty, and beautiful, and nearby. If I could have a weekend cottage in a small village with a fertile garden, I'd love it. Nothing grows in my arid corner of the garrigue so when I see the rows and rows of sweet onions on the valley terraces, it gets my none too green fingers itching. As we're not going to buy a cottage (we have yet to buy a house!), we have decided to walk there more often (hence the maps). It's not far, but it's so different from Montpellier, you feel like you've been on holiday even if you just go for a day. That's the plan, the resolution, the good intention. All we have to concentrate on now... is implementation!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Taking the Wrong Path on Mont Aigoual

Part I: Steam Trains and Olive Oil

It was thanks to a non-refundable hotel booking that got my DB and me to patch things up the next day and agree to enjoy the rest of the weekend together. I had indulged in a mega lie-in until 10am (I'm normally up no later than 8.30 even at the weekend, 9 grand max), so had to get my skates on to shower, pack an overnight bag (which hadn't really been unpacked since the weekend before...) and whip up a picnic.

I picked him up at 11am, and we drove off towards Mont Aigoual. Just outside Le Vigan, we took a road we've never been on before, not even on the bike. It was a teeny road - single-car narrow - and bumpy, the D329, and although not 'green' (on the Michelin map), it went through some lovely fragrant woods and scenery. (I note that it joins up at Mandagout with the D170 which is similar, but green. Must try that one next time!) We stopped at a shady spot amongst delicious-smelling pines for our picnic, and enjoyed the excellent 'Tradition' bread with good ol' cheddar, Branston pickle and spring onions, and dipped cucumber and green pepper into the rest of the hummus.

Thus fortified, we drove on and arrived at L'Esperou via the Col de la Lusette which was open (natch). There were very many bikers about, several of whom were sprawled on the sledging slopes having a snooze. Otherwise, it was pretty calm and very different from the frenetic atmosphere of the ski season.

We drove up to the tourist office at the Col de la Serreyrède and had a look at the maps and books of walks, but decided not to buy anything, which of course turned out to be a mistake. The girl at the desk suggested we do an easy walk at Mont Aigoual called the Chemin des Botanistes, and told us where it was and what to look out for.

At the top of Mont Aigoual is an imposing castle that was built in the 19th century as a meteorological observatory. It still serves this purpose, and today, has the addition of a free meteorological exhibition and museum. We had a quick look at the shop because we like to do things the wrong way round, and I bought a book on local edible salad plants because you never know when times could be hard... The exhibition was extremely interesting. It's not at all hands-on, so my boys would whizz round it in 5 minutes to be found in the snack bar later scoffing chips (probably), but I enjoyed reading the panels about clouds, the weather, and watching videos. There is also a museum of old machines used to gather information and make forecasts, and panels describing how the castle was built. We found it very interesting.

Mont Aigoual Observatory
Then, being lazy, we drove down to the menhir below the castle to start the Chemin des Botanistes. We should have started from the castle, but saved ourselves the 200m or so... Without the map, we got lost. We asked people if we were on the right path, and rather than show ignorance, they said yes, even though it wasn't. It was a nice walk along a wide path, but it was not the Chemain des Botanistes! In the end, as we were going ever further down down down, we decided to stop and turn round. It was as we neared the top that we saw the start of the Chemin des Botanistes which goes around the top of the hill.

Menhir (left)
It was lovely and cool up there. The temperature hardly ever climbs over 15°C so it's the place to go if you can't stand the heat of the plain any longer. The wrong path took us through the forest where we saw some interesting forked trees, foxgloves (which I noted for future reference... just in case, and if you've read Agatha Christie you'll know what I mean...), and a keen botanist who was not on his chemin, but was taking a photo of a small pink flower. I asked him what it was and he told me it was wild version of some edible plant (whose name escapes me).



Dead tree of many stumps
Forked tree (many looked like this)
By this time, the clouds had come down over the castle so there was no point climbing the tower to admire the view. We drove off, instead, to Meyrueis where we had booked our hotel. Meyrueis is a village set on the ancient trade and transhumance route between Auvergne and Bas-Languedoc. Today, it welcomes tourists in numerous hotels, camp sites, holiday cottages and B&Bs, but it isn't a tourist trap, for all that. We found it very charming despite having so many people milling around. Our hotel room overlooked a stream which burbled noisily below our window on the other side of the not-so-main road. We were staying at Hotel d'Europe which is a 2* place, and was basic but clean. It was July 13, so you might expect the hoteliers and serving staff to be a bit grumpy but everyone we came across in this village was warm and friendly. For France, that's saying something!

View from bedroom balcony of Meyrueis main street and stream

Narrow streets in Meyrueis
After reading my Kindle on the balcony while my DB had a snooze inside, we went to have dinner at one of the few remaining tables at the restaurant of the hotel next door (Hotel Family) as ours only did breakfast, and expected to be waiting all evening to be served, but this was not the case. We were served promptly, and ate very well. The fried aubergine, in particular, was so good, my DB asked for more, and got it with a smile. Even the pichet rosé wine was a pleasure to drink. It was a Saint Saturnin from down the road, near Montpeyroux, and was much better than a lot of the rubbish that gets put in a pichet, and excellent value at €5 for half a litre! It was great value at €19.90 for the menu.

We slept with a cool breeze floating in through the open window, and the sound of the stream which penetrated even through my ear plugs!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Steam Trains and Olive Oil

The weekend of July 14th was a long one, with Monday off too. You only get the extra day if the holiday falls on a week day. If it is unfortunate to land on a weekend day, there's no extra day off. Isn't that mean?

Anyway, with the long, and busy, weekend coming up, my DB and I decided to go away again. Plan A was to go on the little steam train at Anduze, stay the night, then go up to Millau, walk, stay the night, then head back to Mont Aigoual and do some walking there. Except that, it was a very busy weekend, and there wasn't a cupboard to be booked in Anduze.

After much searching on the internet, we finally booked a hotel room in Meyrueis, about 24km from Mont Aigoual for the Sunday night. We decided to visit Anduze on Saturday, and come home because it's really not that far, and there was no point flogging a dead cat by paying to stay somewhere 10km up the road.

So on Saturday, I got a picnic together - another ploughman's, with the addition of some hummus, and we set off to catch the 11.30am steam train. We had printed off tickets beforehand (return €15 each) so didn't have to queue, but got there in such good time it wouldn't have mattered.
Gare Anduze
There I was with my cool box containing our picnic expecting to see a lot more, but I was the only one! Times have changed. The last time I did this trip, at least half the train if not more had taken a picnic but then it was probably not high season. Perhaps locals want to keep the cost down but tourists don't want the hassle of carrying a picnic box? My DB said I looked like a right Bidochon and did I want to leave it in the car?

Les Bidochon
I said I didn't care what I looked like, and the cool box was coming too!
The steam train

Really letting off steam

When we arrived at St-Jean-du-Gard station there were a lovely lot of picnic tables, but only a few ended up being used. Even the station snack bar was pretty empty. As the train was full, I suppose most people went to find a restaurant!
Gare St-Jean-du-Gard

Station restaurants at St JdG
The one on the left looked pretty tempting, with its home-made everything, including frites! We ate our lunch under a shady tree and left the box in the care of the people on the next table (grandparents looking after grandchildren - they weren't going to go far!) while we went for a mooch about. St JdG is a small place, but it feels very pleasant there. Over the river, market stall holders were packing up what looked like stalls full of lovely fresh local produce.

Back at the station, the driver was showing people inside his driver's cabin and allowing small groups to climb up and listen to him reel off in loving detail all the specs of his pride and joy. My DB went up, but I've done that already, so let the long queue proceed without me!

Diesel train at St JdG
The train set off again at 2pm (the journey takes 40 mins), with us sitting on the other side of the train to get the lovely views from that side.

The train also makes a stop at the Bambouseraie which is well worth a visit. You can make a real day of it as the train times all fit nicely to stop off, visit, and catch the last train back.

View of Bambouseraie (shop) from the train
We arrived back in Anduze and watched the engineers to their thing filling the engine with water, shovelling coal, and going over the wheels with a squirty oil can and oily rag. They looked like they were having a lovely time.

Man at work shovelling coal

Same man at work pumping water
The little steam train of the Cevennes really is a bijoux. Everyone loves a steam train, and this is a great trip for all ages. My kids loved it when I took them, as did my parents, and my DB loved it too.

From the station car park, we drove to the olive oil mill, Les Olivettes, back along the road towards St Jean. It's one of the few remaining places that grinds the olives traditionally using stone millstones. You can visit the mill and watch a video explaining the process which is fascinating. Then you can go and taste the oils produced and chat to the producer. He told us about the severe weather of the 1956 that was so cold it killed off all the olive trees in the Cevennes. Many mills were closed down or abandoned for lack of business.

Traditional millstones, photo courtesy Oléigest
After replanting, it took twenty years before the trees became productive and oil could be produced in the region again. By then, new buildings were being constructed with modern extracting techniques that could press more olives at a time, and so increase profits. Les Olivettes which was originally located in Anduze but was moved to Saint Jean du Gard by its owner, Henri Geoffray in 1985, is the last remaining Cevenol olive oil mill that uses stones.

They have a shop that sells the oil, and associated local produce - soap, sweet chestnut flour, cakes, biscuits, honey, etc. My DB bought a bottle of the Picholines oil which is very fruity, and has a definite bite. It's good on salads, not so good used for cooking.

The last time I came to the mill, the shop was twice the size and was full of decorative items - beautiful olive chopping boards, lamp stands, etc. I asked M Geoffray what had happened and he said that with the crisis, no one was buying the (pricey if lovely) decorative items, and so they decided to give that part of the business up and stick to the stuff that sold - olive oil and other edibles, plus soap. In fact, I read (here) that the shop went into receivership last October, so obviously they are still recovering by concentrating on their core business.

It's well worth a visit, anyway. Even if you don't like the "corsé" pure Picholines olive oil, they also produce a very good blend, and an oil that's being tested this year which includes some black olives. I found it very unusual, and very smooth with a definite black olive taste.

After this lovely day out, we returned to Montpellier and ruined the evening with a disagreement!

Monday, July 07, 2014

A Long Way to Go for a Walk

After several nerve-wracking days waiting for the Bac results to come out, we were finally put out of our misery. My son passed. It was a skin of the teeth job, as expected, but the fac doesn't care and neither does he. All he has to do now is prove himself doing the course he's chosen!

His first job is to find a flat to share with two buddies though.

Meanwhile, after all the 'excitement' of the previous weeks (Bac, broken wrists, being confined to barracks), my DB and I decided we needed a weekend away, but not too far. I suggested Villefort in Lozère where we rented a chalet a few years ago because it has a nice lake you can walk around and is in one of my favourite regions - the Cevennes.
Lac Villefort (with dam). We walked along the top right hand lake path.
We set off on Saturday arguing with the satnav which we vaguely needed but only after a certain point. It wanted to send us in the wrong direction out of town for the route we wanted to take, and it got confusing unravelling the mess. Frankly, maps are so much easier except that you can't read them and drive at the same time.

Eventually, the satnav woman caught up with our choice of route and stopped telling us to do a demi-tour dès que possible. The weather was very pleasant, and the roads far from busy. We drove through Anduze which is another little town on my top local places list.

I camped there with the boys several years ago (probably the last time I slept in a tent! My back took a long time to recover!) and had a terrific time. There's a steam train that leaves from Anduze to chug its way through some beautiful scenery, stop at the Bambouseraie, and continue on to its terminus at St Jean du Gard. You can take a picnic lunch and either eat it at tables on the station platform or walk to the river, or buy a snack at the snack bar. I used to have a favourite day out which involved catching the train to St Jean where we ate our picnic lunch, then getting back on the train, stopping to visit the Bambouseraie, and catching the last train back to Anduze (or the other way round). This was when my youngest was small and I could carry everything in the pushchair (nostalgia).

My DB hasn't been on the steam train yet, and although we didn't stop this time, we have decided to make Anduze our destination next weekend.

Beyond Alès (which is a dump), we came off the main road to find a spot for our picnic lunch. We found a nice quiet country road which had been recently rained upon and smelled delicious. I had packed a ploughman's lunch complete with cheddar and Branston Pickle which tasted marvellous with the Tradition (levain) bread from the boulangerie. We ate shooting party style with the Yaris boot up and platform down to make a lunch bar. It was peaceful, pretty and perfumed.

Picnic spot... note incongruous shoes with walking outfit
Back in the car, the roads twisted and turned up and down the mountains to Villefort. We stopped by the lake and decided to walk for an hour. The path was often in the shade of the huge pine trees that grow on the banks of the lake. I had cycled this path with the boys when we stayed opposite in the camping/chalet park. It is not actually a path suitable for mountain bikes, but we didn't know that... We made it all the way round though, even my youngest who was about 8!

It takes two and a half hours to walk round, but this time we stopped after half an hour, and turned back. My DB was feeling a little fragile after the previous evening's merriment... (plus tendinitis, bad back, etc...).

Lake walk (lake on left)... note sensible walking shoes
Then came the challenge of finding somewhere to stay. We hadn't booked because we always regret it, but there and again, it was the first weekend of the summer holidays and... everywhere was full. There aren't that many hotels in Villefort, so we had to try further afield. I got my satnav to help out by finding hotels in the area, and it sent us on a wild goose chase to a small village called Vialas where the hotel was in fact chambres d'hote. We don't really like chambres d'hotes as you have to talk to people at dinner. Sometimes you want to and sometimes you don't. We didn't, except to each other, so carried on towards Florac some 25km away.

Just outside Florac, we came across a village that had a hotel and not too many people about, unlike the picturesque Pont de Montvert which was packed with visitors. The Hotel Lozerette had room (hurrah!) so we booked ourselves in and went to relax in our room.

Unfortunately, wifi was not available in the rooms, and there was barely a phone network. This wouldn't have been a problem except that my DB had two MOOC assignments to finish which he'd completely forgotten about, and needed a good internet link to watch the videos. He hummed and haahed about staying or leaving (and going home!), and in the end opted to stay because he could do his MOOC the next day once home.

By this time, we were sitting outside in the delightful garden, in the balmy summer air, sipping rosé and studying the menu. Dinner turned out to be nothing great. I had a trout which was so over-fried some of the bones were welded to the meat. He asked for a vegetarian menu and got a plate of veggies plus mashed potato instead of fish, which was a little weird. We also had to send back a half bottle of local wine because it was 'bouchonné'. The waitress annoyed my DB by going to check with the chef rather than taking him at his word, like he can't tell the difference between bouchonné and normal rosé! I don't think we'll go back!

Next day, we packed up and left, had a coffee and croissant in Florac at the biker bar rather than pay 9 Eur for the hotel breakfast and were home by lunch time.

View from biker bar terrace, Florac
To be honest, it was a long way to go for an hour's walk...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

School's Out

School's out. Well, not really, but the marks are all in, the books given back, and the fête du collège no more than a memory (if you attended it, which my youngest did not, saying it was going to be way too boring...). The actual end of school is July 4, but think of it as an administrative date because my youngest and all his friends have been off school for days. It serves no purpose actually going to school because the teachers are all occupied with the Brevet for kids in 3e, so kids in lower years are just babysat and do nothing useful: no revision, no catch-up, no preparation for next year - nothing except drawing and watching the odd film (again).

Doubtful that my son has acquired all there is to learn during the year (from his marks), I bought an exercise book of the whole syllabus and he is instructed to do a page of maths and SVT (sort of biology) per day. His SVT teacher was a disaster this year; the whole class have had consistently bad marks, and my son has hated the lessons. I mark it at the end of the day and go through it with him, and although it's not really the best way to chill after a hard day's graft at the coal face (no comparison with an icy glass of rosé and a packet of S&V crisps, for example), it is serving a useful purpose that even my youngest can't deny. He is revising, catching up and learning that which he had zapped during the year - especially important in maths!

My eldest has finished his Bac. I'm hoping and praying he's done better than scrape through by the skin of his teeth, although it's what he deserves considering the amount of work he's done. He's been accepted at the Law Fac in Montpellier so he just needs to pass. Skin of Teeth or Mention Très Bien, it makes no difference. How's that for a motivating force? Personally I think it's a disastrous system and I know I'm not the only one. Many in and out of l'Education National (but mostly out) believe the system needs a huge overhaul. When 90% of kids who take the Bac pass it and then mostly fail in their first year at the Fac after wasted a pointless year in a place where they have no business being, it's time to do something sensible and reform the system. Not much sensible in l'Education National though so I expect the status quo to be with us for many a year yet.

My son's plan next year is to share a flat with some mates (a coloc) and have a riotous time. He also intends to do some work. School, he said, was boring and pointless (except Philosophy) and he was fed up with it. Life will start at the Fac and he says he's going to take it seriously. I'm hoping he doesn't forget after a week or two...

In the meantime, with both boys slobbing about at home, the place resembles Beirut all the time. The kitchen is a one-way zone: walk in, make mess, walk out. There is no return journey to clean up, or indeed to remove the plates, bowls and glasses that accumulate from the one-way system. I can't even walk in and rant because the chances are, they won't be there. They'll be out and about and I'm supposed to be grateful they haven't taken root in front of the XBox or some stupid reality show like Angels. By the time they come sauntering home (not always the case with my eldest...), I've cleaned up in order to make dinner and lost the will to vent.

In other news, I was behind an old woman with a thick peasant accent in La Poste the other week who had a perfect moustache. It was salt and pepper coloured, and she kept it nicely trimmed over her top lip. There was even a tuft under her bottom lip. I wonder if she sings...