France – Villeneuve-sur-Lot and around

Our house-sit in Allez-et-Cazeneuve continues on full of reading, learning and exercise.  And downtime – plenty of that too.  Here’s a taste of what we’ve been up to recently –

On one dry day we cycled over to see the main local town of Villeneuve-sur-Lot.  We climbed up and over a steep local hill then enjoyed a very fast but all too-brief downhill to reach the valley on the opposite side.  We found and followed a grassy, damp abandoned railway line, now a designated cycle way that ran parallel to the main road a few hundred metres distant.  This led us all the way to the centre of town where we stopped on a modern bridge to enjoy the view over to the parallel 13th century stone bridge with its very imposing 26m wide and 18m high arch.  The river was wild below.

Villeneuve-sur-Lot (bridge view)

Villeneuve-sur-Lot (town streets)

We cycled around the historic centre, impressed by the neat shopping streets and decorative squares, before reaching the Église Sainte-Catherine de Villeneuve-sur-Lot, a tall Gothic red brick church dominating the square.  After a look, we circled around past the modern Hôtel de Ville and along wide tree-lined streets before cutting back through the narrow town centre to cross the river Lot on the ancient bridge.  Here we passed under one of several gate towers before following a quiet country road back towards Allez.  We had to climb over the hill again to return to our base valley, a harder climb in this direction especially as we’re no longer bike-fit.  It was only a 22km cycle trip to the town, but felt longer by virtue of being book-ended by the same steep 2km long climb.

Cazeneuve - (nicky summits hill)

On another exploratory day out, we found ourselves visiting the local swimming baths at Pujols.  We swam a good number of lengths in their wonderful 25m pool before availing ourselves of the largest Jacuzzi bath either of us has seen, followed by a stint in the thick menthol mists of the adjacent steam room.  It is a fantastic facility that is now set to become a key part of our weekly agenda.  We occasionally undertake a short walk with the neighbour’s dog, know only as le chien noir, when he chooses to come visit us.  In our more passive downtime we are doing lots of house-hunting, and have looked on-line at hundreds of potential places over the past few weeks.  We have fired enquiries out to many agents but have yet to locate the perfect property for us.  But we now have a feel for what is available and what we want (and don’t want) so will hopefully manage to find our perfect property soon.

Cazeneuve - (walking black dog).jpg

Along with our weekly formal lesson in French, we have been reading select news articles in French to improve our vocabulary.  I’ve also taken to translating a few children’s books, them filled with many words still challenging for my fledgling French (En Route is my favourite so far, a story of a young bear making her way in the mountains).  “Le monde est plein de surprises!”  We have been watching a French movie most nights too, but the speed of the spoken French renders it practically incomprehensible, even if we know the words.  Translating words on a page to spoken sounds is the next, more challenging hurdle we face.  Still, we are giving ourselves the very best time and opportunity to improve.

Cazeneuve - (the knowledge centre)

We practise piano most days, Nicky very decently rebuilding her repertoire of tunes whilst I, having started from scratch, am struggling through a children’s Grade 1 piano book, playing scales and hand exercises until I can no longer bear the incessant noise.  I may need a silent piano to practise on first until I manage to improve.  Learning to read music is another language, another set of arcane symbols my weary mind has to translate before being able to fully utilise.  In the midst of all these efforts, I also had the strange notion to begin learning Japanese, and have spent a few weeks learning kanji symbols along with a few basic words.  By now you perhaps understand why our brains are challenged; learning anew is not a natural state for gnarly old brains constantly abused by too much wine.

Cazeneuve - (sunset)

Our brains haven’t had so much pressure to learn new things put on them since our school days.  It’s proving to be very productive, but also tiring and we can’t do much more than a few hours each day before fading out.  Little and often is said to be the key, so we break up our self-led French lessons by going for a run or playing table tennis, or a little bit of garden maintenance.  Several hours of French study followed by bracing hilly runs or cycles to clear the mind and awaken muscles works well, but also serves to wear us out.  We are feeling very tired at the end of each day and are sleeping long and soundly.  It’s a very nice life here in this very beautiful corner of South West France.

A&N x

 

 

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Starting Our Second House-sit – Allez-et-Cazeneuve

Arriving in Allez-et-Cazeneuve to begin our latest house-sit commitment.

We are now firmly ensconced in our second house sit of this French winter.  We arrived here last Wednesday, near Villeneuve-sur-Lot, after sadly leaving the tranquil beauty of Barie and the easy company of Ozzie and Tilly, the two loving cats we were looking after.  We spent the afternoon catching up with our hosts Monica & Ken then left them in peace to finalise their packing as we settled into our new accommodation.  The following day we travelled with them to Toulouse airport, said our goodbyes and returned with their car to the rural calmness of their lovely home.

Since then, we have been quite disciplined with our anticipated learning, helped by the abundance of rain that has fallen.  Whilst our hosts are enjoying the extreme heat of Australia, we are enjoying having very little we have to do, but so many available options for things we want to do.  Every day we have been playing piano, practising our French, reading books and watching French movies.  We had our first formal French lesson today with Rebecca, Ken and Monica’s friend and tutor.  She kindly agreed to continue her weekly visits and language instruction although after hearing the abomination that is my spoken French she may well be regretting that decision.  When the weather dries up we hope to practise archery in the garden along with fully exploring the rather hilly local area on our bikes.

We have had one exploratory cycle, where we quickly realised the heavy winter colds we’ve both been carrying were not fully cleared and our lungs did not enjoy the steepness of the local hills.  We are off for a slow run this afternoon to see how we hold up, and this offers a chance to clear our heads, currently full to overflowing with new words, phrases and musical notes.  We are settled here until the first week of March, so we have plenty of time to improve the aspects of our knowledge we wish to, and to rest in between in a comfortable and peaceful environment when we want to.  We’ll hopefully be wiser, leaner and fitter by the time we leave, and living here should give us more insight into what we are looking for in own French property, the purchase of which is one of our key goals for 2018.

We’ll update more about the local region we’re in when our explorations have taken us a bit further afield.

A&N x

 

 

2017 – A wonderful year of travels remembered in select panoramas

A photographic look back over some of the favourite places we visited in 2017

 

France House-sit – Our Activity Synopsis

Today we woke up to find we have been nestled in our current house-sit for a full four weeks.  It’s difficult to see where the time has gone, but in all honesty it has been so relaxing not to feel any need to do anything, like we’re pleasantly floating through life as clouds in the sky.  It’s also been nice to have time away from writing this blog, as although it is something we really want to do it does take up a lot of time and energy, especially when we’re busy seeing many sights on the road.  Sitting still for all this time has been a welcome relief, a return to the familiar comforts of a permanent home, and a sharp contrast to our current roaming lifestyle.

Back in this post we promised some updates of our activities during our house-sits, to see how we were progressing with the tasks we set ourselves.  Don’t be expecting too much, as our will drifted away after a few days of wonderful, luxurious cosiness.

Here goes with a short synopsis of our activities to date (4 weeks in):

Exercise:
Running – 45km (6 short runs around the backroads of Barie).
Walking – 83km (exploring all the local pathways we could find).
Cycling –  51km (4 exploratory cycles along the canal and to local villages).
Mat training – Occasional but hardly fanatical – 5 x 5 min workouts completed.  More work required on this.
Books read – Midway through my fifth book since our arrival.
Writing – Very little of note to date.  The response to our Leibster Award nomination and this short synopsis post is all we’ve so far produced, bar a few emails and personal notes.
Learning Piano – Not planned to begin until New Year, except on a basic iPad app where I’ve been learning a few simple scales and kids’ tunes like ‘Mary had a Little Lamb‘.
Learning French – Very little. A couple of podcasts listened to and a few stock phrases learnt, but nothing truly constructive – need to up my game, but in all truth my mind has been switched off for (or by) Christmas.
Baking – Lots, so a very successful category.  A simple rosemary and honey soda bread has quickly become a firm favourite (recipe on request).  Lemon cheesecakes and cinnamon buns have also been made and disappeared much too quickly too – yum!
Christmas markets – Three visited (all very small, disappointing and poorly attended – we’d hoped for more French festivities).
Trips Out – Seven visits to our local town (La Réole) or others for shopping or exploring.
Dogs collected – One; who followed us all the way home on a long walk
Table tennis mini-tournaments – Five matches played, each the best of three games (played under the old rules, with 5 serves each and 21 points to win a game).  It currently sits at 5-0 to Nicky, so I really need to up my game here too.
House callers greeted – Jehovah’s Witnesses, speculative tree trimmers, window-fitting builders, ‘stolen’ dog-collectors, local firemen selling calendars
Worthy mentions – Minor forays into landscape photography, astronomy-viewing, guitar playing, vegetable-patch weeding, kiwi-scrumping, seedling-tending, red-kite spotting, chainsaw maintenance, well-stone cleaning and Christmas decoration-making.

Barie (canal cycle)

Feeding cats, looking after fires, cutting wood and raking leaves have expanded to somehow fill the rest of our days. The time here has simply flown by, simply and easily, enjoyably and gently. Long riverside walks followed by long, restful reads followed by eating far too much yummy cake, snuggled up by the fire with the two cats.  Fresh air in our lungs, fresh vistas for our eyes, fresh ideas shaping our minds; it has been cathartic to remove ourselves for the constant sight-seeing for an extended period and simply live, and live simply.  Christmas celebrations are up next then we’re soon into the New Year, when we will look to focus more attention on learning.  2018 is to be the year we hope to find a property and build our own nest in France, so a deeper concentration on learning the language is a critical aspect of our future plans.

A&N. x

A Liebster Award nomination – Zen and the art of new blog appreciation

LiebsterAward

Out of the blue we were nominated for a Liebster Award by Jane at bonvanageblog.com

Many thanks to Jane for introducing us to the concept and handing us the opportunity to ramble on at length about things that interest us with no need to feel (too) self-conscious of our indulgence.  Jane & Tim write a travel blog with a similar theme to ours, all about their travels in Europe in a motorhome – please click through and give them a visit.

One set task of the process was to ‘spread the blog love’ and nominate other blogs for the Liebster Award. We are not prolific followers of other blogs, or at least not ones that are just starting out.  There is only one blog that we currently follow that qualifies for being nominated for this Liebster AwardLiving this Life Out Loud so we will call out to Julie to see if she is interested in continuing the tradition and passing on the ‘blog love’.  If we come across any other blogs we will return and update this post to expand its reach.

UPDATE 2:  Julie posted her Liebster Award response post here – check it out. 

UPDATE 1:  We’ve spent a lazy morning with a cup of tea and, whilst being lovingly nuzzled by a well-fed cat, managed another look through blogs we follow and discovered a few more worthy candidates to celebrate:

Motorhome Moments  –  Meet Richard & Kate, currently chasing the winter sun

Followourmotorhome  –  Meet Andi & Paul as they motorhome around Europe in Boris

And to finish, here are two other blogs, that we find inspiring and hope you will too

Paddleagainstplastic – Cal, Jack and Zoe

In their own words, they are “Inspiring positive environmental change through adventure”.  We very much appreciate their passion, drive and commitment to their goals and the sentiments behind it as they help clean up the seas around one of our favourite parts of the UK – the Scottish Western Isles.  Please read their blog and support their efforts.

Groundwerk – Heath Johnson

Although this blog doesn’t quite comply due to already having a few too many followers, I’m bending the rules a little to add it in, as the motivation and effort inspires us.  Heath is walking thousands of kilometres across Europe, from Spain to Cyprus, to raise money for three very worthwhile charities.  Have a read, follow and donate if you can.

Thanks for reading.  Our questions and answers follow below:



What country, city or continent would you most like to visit and why
Continent – Antarctica, as it’s the most inaccessible and the last on our wonderful pale blue dot we are yet to visit.  We love the history of all things related to polar exploration (especially loved a visit to the Polar museum in Tromso).  Seeing penguins in their natural habitat is a long-held dream, a visit to Scott’s hut near McMurdo would be spectacular, along with the opportunity to stand at the South Pole.

Country – Currently we would choose to visit Madagascar, for the varied wildlife, jungle and mountain terrains and the fusion of South-East Asian and African culture.  It has long been on our list, so we’ll hopefully make a visit soon.

What was the most inspirational time in your life so far
This is utterly impossible to answer, even with the benefit of hindsight and time.  Certain individuals from my school and university days taught me the potential for living a life beyond what I originally thought was possible for a poor boy from the backstreets of Northern Ireland.  Growing to understand the size, scale and breadth of available paths through life were the first steps in grasping what is potentially achievable.  Opening up the world, through snippets of conversation, books and old maps led to taking tentative exploratory steps and to daring to dream bigger dreams.  But meeting Nicky on those terrible, rainy roads of Russia, a like-minded partner-in-fun with a similarly deep passion for sporting activities and travel, was likely my most inspirational moment.  She opened up another huge aspect of the world to me, sharing adventures, and has been inspiring and pushing me on ever since.

What are you passionate about?
The values of Humanism; equality, honesty, inclusiveness, critical thinking and the reliance on evidence over wishing.  Being treated fairly and treating others with the same courtesy.  Understanding the obvious fact that we get only one ride, one shot at this glorious, incredible life or ours.  We have the precious gift of consciousness for such a short moment; to miss this single, fleeting opportunity to fully live would be asinine.  Making sure we don’t waste it drives us.  We’re passionate about facts, evidence, reason, logic, truth. We’re fervent about the intellectual simplicity and elegant beauty of science, a guiding light of rationality in the expansive dark sea of superstition and ignorance.

We are passionate about living life.  We love the natural world, its ecology and conservation, and searching for our place within it alongside all other creatures.  We love the open spaces, the wild countryside, and living the active outdoors life the Scandinavians like to call friluftsliv.  We are passionate about reading, learning, seeing and experiencing new things, having an active, inquisitive mind, exploring both the physical and the cultural aspects of any given place.  We love mountains, the buzz of a hard-earned peak or the after-glow from a long trail run.  We care deeply for our fitness and our health, ensuring the longevity of our adventures through sensible body management, exercise and diet.  We love cooking and eating, exercise and resting, reading and writing, playing and listening to music, chilling and dancing.

What is your favourite book and why?
We read so many, in such a range of topics and genres that it’s incredibly difficult to pick out true favourites.  I’ve picked out four that jumped to mind, though I’ll no doubt think of twenty books I prefer more than these just as soon as I post, but here goes:

Paul Auster – New York Trilogy, as a study in timing, threads of coincidence and meaning, of loss and grief, acceptance of fate or driving desires, a complicated, exceptionally written book for those willing to give it the time it needs to sink in.
JRR Tolkien –
Lord of the Rings, as the definitive fantasy book, with the history and story and deep characterisation that defines the genre.  A far-reaching story of sacrifice, strength and defiance of evil, the only book I have re-read on more than one occasion.
Paul Theroux – The Happy Isles of Oceania,
as both a travel book (kayaking around the south Pacific islands) but also as a study in dealing with grief and loss as he comes to terms with his marriage break-up.  Moving and inspiring on many levels.
Jostein Gaarder –
Sophie’s World, as a beautiful, accessible story-telling way to tiptoe readers into the complicated history of developed thought and philosophical musings, assisting future understanding and the development of key thought-processes.

What is your favourite time of year?
Long days of dry, sweet warmth, the summer sun soaking into your skin on long mountain hikes and cooling river swims.  Crisp autumn days, bright with burnt yellows and deep red colours, on leafy paths under empty blue skies.  A hard day’s skiing, followed by a winter-time roaring fire and a glass of warm mulled wine as the snow falls gently, soft and white, outside your frost-marked windows. A budding spring as the weather finally turns, holding the vast potential for growth yet to come, us out cycling under pleasant, clear skies as the countryside awakens from the chilly frost and returns to green.  Each season holds its own wonder, each turn of the clock brings something new.  There are no favourite times, just favourite experiences.

What other interests do you have besides blogging
I’m not sure blogging is a real interest, but more a way to keep in touch with people at home and a vehicle to help us remember where we’ve been and what we’ve seen.  But it has been a good way to meet other like-minded people, and to feel in some small part a member of a large community, from a blogging, a travel-writing or a motorhoming perspective.  There is such diversity across each discipline, and this has opened up a new range of insights, ideas and opportunities to us.

Our main interests are plentiful; cycling, hiking, running, wild swimming, kayaking, sketching, music, movies, literature, cooking, beer, wine and whisky.  We lead a relatively simple life, unencumbered by unnecessary material things but rich with time and experiences.

Do you prefer the beach or the mountains
We definitely prefer the mountains, but sea coasts are a close second.  Mountains can be cycled down, skied across and hiked all over, offering such a variety of vista and experience.  Beaches are, to us, a means to access the sea for swimming and kayaking, rather than a place to linger lazily for a day. We have enjoyed the odd day lying on a towel, soaking up rays and reading our books to the low murmur of gently-lapping waves, but it’s such a rarity when we want to do so.

Wide, flat beaches can be more appealing under a huge, brewing storm, with wild waves crashing high on the sand and a wind that blows you sideways.  A bracing walk in those conditions can shift cobwebs and build appetites.

Where did you go for your most memorable holiday
Even ignoring the last 15 months of travels in Benny, see our page on previous travels to outline how difficult such a question is to answer.  We have had so many wonderful and incredible experiences all over the world that picking just one memory from them all is impossible and would do a huge disservice to other equally-deserving destinations.

If we need to pick just one, we’ll single out our Greenland camping / kayaking trip for its glorious icy setting.

Do you prefer a sunny or a rainy day
Sunny days can be filled with anything, on rainy days you have only a few good options.  Sunny days offer all manner of possibility so will always be our preference.  To temper that, too much sun is beyond my useless, pale celtic skin to deal with, so scorching days in foreign climes can be quite limiting and repressive in many ways.  If I have a long run planned, then a light rain would be preferable to a hot sun, but warm and dry will always win out over grey and dull.

If you had a day all to yourself how would you spend it?
This depends on where we are and what the weather is doing, and what we’ve been up to recently.  Ideally – A lazy breakfast then a long walk or cycle in the morning, followed by a cooling swim in a calm, fresh lake.  Content with the day’s exercise, the afternoon would be baking bread or cakes, and reading our latest books with cups of tea as we awaited our masterpieces from the oven.  A local post-cake walk for some sketching or photography practise and then, with the sun set and dinner eaten, we’d open a bottle in front of a roaring fire and snuggle up to watch a movie.

What books have you been inspired by and why?
Adventure travel books in any genre always leave me wondering about how much more we should be out doing, how much harder and further we should aim and struggle for, before the twin curses of age and infirmity overcome us and deny us the opportunity.  Climbing multiple mountains, skiing across ice sheets, cycling or running around the world, swimming or kayaking around islands; what to do?  Our current life is wonderful, but is lived at a level we could still achieve 20 years from now, so should we now be pushing harder, ensuring we have reached the full potential of what we are truly capable of?  This is the telling question that often surfaces with book-led inspiration.

A short selection of books ranging over different interests:

Fearless –  (biograpjy of Freda Hoffmeister) – Joe Glickman
Blazing Paddles: A Scottish Coastal Odyssey
Brian Wilson
The Worst Journey in the World
Apsley Cherry-Gerrard
Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know
– Ranulph Fiennes
Touching the Void – Joe Simpson
White Spider – Heinrich Harrer
Moods of Future Joys – Alistair Humphreys
Arabian Sands – Wilfred Thesiger
Force of Nature – Robin Knox-Johnston
Born to Run – Christopher McDougall

On an entirely different tack, quirky travelogue books of simple adventures also appeal to a different aspect of us, like A year in Provence, or Driving over Lemons.  But there is time yet in our future for such classic, relaxed living.

What would you say has been the biggest challenge of your current lifestyle?
Being patient and accepting of the loss of privacy and the cramped living quarters of a life in a motor-home.  We have daily differences on how things should be, and the sooner I learn to accept Nicky’s way is the right one, the easier my life will be. 😉  We gave up a lot to follow this lifestyle; the comfortable ease of our busy, professional lives and seeing friends and family, possessions and the easy comforts of home.  A large part of the challenge has been in accepting the loss of those things and now learning to ensure we make the very most of every moment we now have.

 What has been the biggest benefit of your chosen lifestyle?
Time; an embarrassment of time, so much that we waste far more than we ever would have before, and often don’t even feel guilty about it.  We can go where we like, or stay still, on our own schedule and daily whims.  It’s so liberating not to be squashing our many interests into mini-chunks of time scheduled in accordance with society’s expectations of us.  We are learning and experiencing more, being healthier and more active with every day we spend away from ours desks.  A life fulfilled.   A&N x


liebster-award

Liebster Award images appear courtesy of the Global Aussie – thanks.

Arrival at our house-sitting commitments – willing staff to two adorable cats

Leaving Monpazier we made our way south and west, skirting around the main town of Villeneuve-sur-Lot to reach the municipal area of Allez-et-Cazeneuve, where we would soon be living in a comfortable renovated former boulangerie for a few months, early next year.  This was the location of our second upcoming house-sit, and we’d arrived to both familiarise ourselves with the property and to spend time with British owners Monica and Ken.

Allez-et-Cazeneuve (boulangearie)

Allez-et-Cazeneuve (view from gardens)

They are both keen open water swimmers and occasional triathletes, like us, although their challenging, long-distance swimming exploits put us to shame.  We had long chats about travels and possible future adventures as we toured their property and ate wonderful home-cooked food, fresh from the garden, washed down with very tasty home-brewed beers.  We were greatly impressed by Ken’s artistic skills, expressed through his classical guitar playing and photography.  We had a local guided walk around the nearby leafy countryside, before checking out their sizable vegetable patch and lands.  After a slow breakfast and more animated chat, we said our goodbyes until our return in the New Year, after which Monica and Ken will be sunning themselves on the opposite side of the world.

La Reole (river view from house)

La Reole (canal walk)

We drove a further hour west to the outskirts of La Reole, into the small hamlet of Barie to meet up with Jane and Roger, with cats Tilly & Ozzie, the hosts for our first winter house-sit.  Another British couple living in France, they own a large stone farmhouse backing on to a kiwi orchard, with the river Garonne running fast by the front – such an idyllic, rural setting.  We got our bearings of the property, learning of its idiosyncrasies, with a constantly-refilling glass in hand.  We had a wonderful dinner and chat, then relaxed into what will be our room for the duration.  Later we had a local riverside walk with Jane to help gain our bearings as Roger dealt with a last-minute plumbing issue.  With us settled in, they left early to drive back to the UK to meet up with family and together fly to Australia for Christmas.  We awoke the first day under glorious blue skies in South-west France, our home for six weeks, as the willing staff of two adorable cats.

La Reole (kiwi orchard from bedroom)

La Reole (patio with Ozzie)

There will likely be fewer posts from us over the next few months, as we’ll not be passing through interesting, beautiful places that cry out to be described or recorded, but instead living a more insular, quiet existence.  It will be more a journey of self-discovery, a personal tourism, as we adjust back to staying still and having a consistent, daily schedule as we look after pets, a home, a garden, again.  Staying in one place for a few months will also free up even more time for us to utilise, play, learn, engage with or sleep through, depending on our mood and energy levels.  We are starting our house-sits with grand plans to occupy our time; along with catching up with the many things we miss from our previous lives like gardening and cooking, we have set ourselves specific goals to fill our hours:

Physical:  Set up a daily exercise task of stretches, weights and core work, to get stronger and more flexible.  We’ll run more, longer and faster to an organised schedule, getting fitter with an eye on completing a marathon in 2018.

Mental:  Learn / improve our spoken French, spending at least a half hour (or more) talking, listening and playing app-based games, alongside listening to podcasts during exercise or walks.  And watch a few French movies too.

Musical:  Learn to play the piano.  This will be totally from scratch (for me, not Nicky), but there’s one in our second house-sit, so we have the means and opportunity – all we need is the will and dedication.  Learning to read music is also a part of this.

Culinary: Bake many various breads (and cakes), testing and learning different styles and recipes and seeing which ones are the most successful.  Tweaking and finding the best options for simple bakes in Benny when we’re back on the road.

Literary: Read lots of books not yet read, and aim to produce and develop more interesting and challenging writing pieces, rather than simple, descriptive diary-entry blog posts.  We have plenty of ideas, but no execution as yet.

Writing out these five goals, each set in a different field of study, is one small step towards making them happen.  Creating the time to undertake them, by organising two restful, relatively long-term house-sits, is the second small step on that long path.  All remaining steps will be subject to us garnering the requisite determination and resolve to use our free time productively.  Whether we manage to complete all of these self-enforced tasks, no matter how much we wish to do so, remains to be seen.

We’ll post occasional updates of our progress to help keep us honest.

A&N x