Wednesday 30 September 2015

Farming fashions

Recently in the UK (Dorset) I was interested, and rather happy, to see the return of the oblong hay bale, as appose to the round ones usually covered in plastic. Maybe it's just in that county? Or maybe a countrywide 'tendance'. There was always something comforting about the sight of hay stacked in wobbly towers across a clipped field; something I haven't seen in France for some time. Maybe it's straw, not hay stashed in the round ones? Might have to check this . . .
Anyway, while walking at Badbury Rings, a favourite Dorset landmark, and ancient hill fort, I saw this majestic hay ship sailing across a newly smoothed beige expanse, rather like something one might have constructed on Minecraft - a giant pixilated vessel (or a dog/sheep/cow, depending on how your visual imagination works) intent on entering the next land (field) to add more oblong pieces to itself.

Sunday 27 September 2015

People to be trapped in a lift with

Don't know if it is a lift, but it looks like fun.

I saw this video in Gerona airport while waiting for luvly Ryanair to take me back to the UK.
I usually ignore TV screens that seem to be placed everywhere that you might be wanting a quiet bit of time to read, compose a letter, or edit something, as I was trying to do; but this was ignorable (wow, that is a word! - no spell check) and in fact I could happily have watched it on loop until my gate was called: cool but with added silliness; I can just imagine the filming of it, and talking of editing - amazing!

Thursday 24 September 2015

it's a chippy Jim, but . . .

Back in the good old UK, I was expecting to experience a couple of food staples that we do miss over here (France). I ticked the cream tea of the list after a happy and cosy couple of visits to tea emporiums with the suitably reassuring features of glass cake stands holding overly-large Victoria sponges and big soft scones; cottagy pictures and teapots as appose to the French 'bag-in-cup-of-tepid-water'. I failed to visit an Indian restaurant, but did get to a fish and chip shop; however, not something I would recognise as a F and C café, or this instance, restaurant. When did chippys start having glittery marble floors like the duty free department in an airport; champagne behind the counter and fancy oblong plates? The ones I hold dear in my heart are full of formica tables, mugs of tea and adverts for terrible pies.

I sat down warily and ordered haddock and peas, wondering if the bill would echo the champagne.
It didn't and the fish was excellent, however the slab of crispy yellow, and portion of electric peas just didn't sit well within the environment of sleek plastic seating, nouvelle cuisine china and funky lighting. It was out of plaice (ha-ha), didn't ring true. I think (and hope) the decor might have a definite lifespan before the owners might themselves have a pang of nostalgia.

Hilda kemp working in a London chippy in the 50s

Monday 21 September 2015

Mad . . . probably

I've always thought that having a dog is a good thing: two, getting a bit complicated, three - mad. But we seem to have taken on another one.
Gala, our 'Galgas' or Spanish greyhound (yes, those that are tortured, hung, etc in Spain after being deemed as 'past it' as hunters) leads a double life. With me and son she is happy, waggy and playful, but when Mark is about she becomes a silent scared beast. Not that Mark resembles, or at least I imagine not, a Spanish hunter - being six foot six, blue eyes and pale-skinned.
We have no idea why she views him as a threat, but after two years it's no different - I can only imagine she saw or suffered some terrible things as a pup and has never recovered, viewing all men as a threat. Anyway, in order to try and create a different atmosphere we have become a host family to another Galgas who we are assured has no fear of men. And so far this is totally accurate. She loves Mark: head on knee, follows him about, whimpers when he has disappeared from the room for more than a few minutes, etc. So far so good, and I hope a little of her extrovert-ness might teach the older dog to be less afraid.

Friday 4 September 2015

learning curves - and slopes

Mark has been saying, 'let's go to Andorra' for years, to which I have always replied something along the lines of, 'Why on Earth would you want to go to a giant Oxford Street and buy fags when you don't smoke?'
This year at the point of choosing where we might go on our mini holiday while lovely cousins house/dog/youth-sat, Mark suggested Andorra again, and I said, 'Oh, go on then.'

This is what we do, us humans - make assumptions about people and places, and this assumption was no exception on my part. I spend a fair amount of time looking at land structures on 'Google Earth but had somehow failed to look at the spectacular mountains and valleys of this part of the world, thinking only of the shopping mayhem I had imagined in the capital - in fact Andorra itself in my mind was really just that: 'Andorra la Vella'.
The view above was taken as we motored, following camper vans and shiny BMW 4 by 4s towards the city. No one lives here, except cows who amble bovine-ly across the roads and sit chewing contentedly on roundabouts.
We drove into the capital and did the usual hunt around for an interesting, decaying hotel full of character (sadly disappearing these days) but did find a solid and handsome 1940's building that houses the Pyrenees hotel. In fact, a lot of this city's architecture hails from that decade as there was a mad spate of building during its rapid expansion as a tax haven/ski capital.
Compare (blurry - sorry) photo of Andorra La Vella in the 30s to photo of now.

Another assumption I had made was, as Andorra La Vella is a rich capital concerned with banks, skiing, et al, that everything would be expensive as far as hotels and restaurants were concerned; not so. Our three-star hotel with a vast buffet breakfast included and use of pool on the roof was 64.00 a night; somewhat less than anything in a French city.
We spent a happy day wandering around shops and gawping at how many types of gin and whisky are produced in the world; photographing the odd mix of rather brutalist and 90s architecture, and sampling cream cakes, then to return, swim on the roof overlooking the city and eat in the old -fashioned restaurant of the hotel.

Hotel Pyrenees dining room

 Roof top pool

  Well-stocked allotments on the slopes behind  the pool (swim to the sounds of chickens clucking)

A less salubrious area (which we loved)

 Glitzy spa building

Downtown Andorra la Vella

A few of the hundreds of different gins available

fish scale slate of the roofs

Tobacco - THE crop of the region: oddly they don't make cigars anymore - imported from Cuba

And a warning that tobacco will finish you off (posters for cigarettes everywhere) 

The next day we walked end to end of the city, discovered some interesting, less salubrious areas and decided against spending a lot of money having 'treatments' in the mega-glitzy and already rather dated looking spa.
Having eaten chicken soup with pasta again (seems to be a staple) and with our brains crammed with images from jewellery/camera/perfume - filled windows we decided to leave and see the Andorrian (a word?) 'countryside'.
Mere photographic images cannot capture the majesty of this region's mountainous landscape, but here are a few attempts.

And, this is the hotel we stayed in - rather reminded me of a location that might have been chosen for David Lynch's Twin Peaks. And we had a jacuzzi bath which I put bath gel in absently-mindedly and created a giant foam 'happening'.
Reluctantly we left Andorra after some serious walks in the mountains (Mark serious - me piddling about and looking at flowers, although I did walk/scramble up to the top of the hill featured in second pic) and drove back towards the Ariege, stopping briefly at a depressing ski station where we had lovely salad and encountered possibly the most friendly waitress - ever.

Ski station - without snow

Wednesday 2 September 2015

I do

In this world of speed and madness, one of the things guaranteed to increase the speed and madness is the planning a wedding . . . but hopefully with a flower-filled wine-flowing day of fun and relaxation to follow - and remember with great fondness and a tear in the eye.
I have been following the process of a friend's wedding recently from the first few ideas of style, music, food, flowers, etc, through to the huge preparation for the actual day.
The venue they had chosen turned out to be probably the best I have visited in this region of France; not just for its surroundings/pools/excellent wine and attractive grounds, but mainly for the people who run it.
That's what makes the difference - people who are relaxed and friendly and make the organisers feel relaxed; really nothing too much trouble, and happy to sort problems that naturally arise in the stress-filled days that lead up to such a important life event.

Chateau Canet, situated a few kilometres from Carcassonne is surrounded by its own vineyards and olive trees with views of the Alaric mountains.

Contact Victoria for details of their venue.