Leaving the elegant, damp streets of a rainy-day Pau, we drove further into France, homeward bound. We overnighted in Villeneuve de Marsan at a free aire that offered two free electricity points but there were three other vans already plugged in and we had no splitter, so had to go without. We walked into the centre of town, it looking scruffy and unloved, but was in the midst of new works to the streets. It might be very nice when it’s finished.
The next day we cut diagonally to the north east, through beautiful rolling countryside, to return to Pugols, near to Villeneuve-sur-Lot. This was an area we had grown to know well, having enjoyed a six-week house-sit there at the start of the year. With fond memories we revisited the local swimming pool and spa for a relaxing morning treat.
That afternoon we called in to visit friends Dave & Kate, near Bergerac, with whom we had previously spent a week completing a rewarding WorkAway. We had a lovely dinner and catch-up, picking their brains on quirks of life in France and pocketing great tips for the upcoming restoration works we are planning around our French home.
From then we arrived home and settled again into the pattern of decorating and pottering around our house. The weather was entirely different now, wet and cold, so our focus was back on internal spaces. Over the course of a few weeks we decorated our living room, kitchen and the second spare bedroom in preparation of two guests of honour arriving – both our mums were visiting for an early Christmas. We arrived at the airport to collect them where we were greeted with a loud, improvised chorus of “We are the Mother-in-Laws”, repeatedly sung to an obviously practised tune, to the bemusement of local crowds. We feared that Christmas spirits had already been liberally imbibed and this now how our next days would go. We got back home quickly so we could begin to catch up.
It was almost dark on our arrival home, so after a quick tour and room allocation we closed the shutters, turned on suitable music and settled in for an evening of drinks, food and chat. The weather was grey and wet, but we sat cosy inside by the fire, catching up. We had prepared quite a few different dishes, from wheaten bread with smoked salmon, French onion and potato & leek soups, pesto & lentil lasagne, chocolate cookies and lemon sponge. All these and more were to be tasted over the course of the evening and the next few days. In the morning we enjoyed a short visit to Châlus to wander around their festive market, along with a visit to the supermarket to stock up on essentials and treats; this short stay was all to be about indulgence, with some token light exercise to justify it all.
One morning we headed into the centre of Limoges, the first time we had returned to the historic city centre since our initial visit over a year ago now. We walked along the riverbank and the mass of grey clouds parted for a few moments to display a wonderful blue sky, lighting up the vista and even warming our faces. This morning break in the rain allowed us the opportunity to explore the historic quarter, climbing up through the old city walls to the formal gardens and the cathedral. We later wandered through the under-attended Christmas markets, although it was a mid-week morning so most locals were still at work. The rain returned briefly for one short burst, but we mostly stayed dry as we explored the shopping quarter, ice rink and all other quirky pockets of Christmas stalls.
We took the mums for a short walk around the local woodland trails that we know well from our run training. The autumn colours still dominated the paths and everything looked rich and beautiful, despite the monotone greyness and constant threat of further rain. We then warmed up again with a bout of present opening, replete with giggles and silliness and new Christmas hats all round. We enjoyed a good approximation of a traditional Christmas dinner, with turkey, ham and all the yummy trimmings except for Brussels sprouts as they had been surprisingly elusive in France to date. Stuffed and squiffy, we retired to the lounge to watch ‘A Good Year’, for a small taste of French life, as we polished off more food and drinks. This was like the ideal Christmas days we remembered – lazy and boozy.
On our final morning we attended a small local Christmas market in the nearby village of Les Cars, filled with stalls of hand-made crafts and local food and drinks. It was nice to be a small part of a local event, but it seemed under-attended and rather empty, which was a shame for those who had worked hard on their wares. A few trinkets were bought more from politeness than want, and then we retreated back home, out of the rain, to allow the mums to finalise their packing. We dropped them off and said our goodbyes, knowing our house was going to be quieter, emptier and less joyful in the coming days.
But at least we have a new distraction to regather our attention – an upcoming trip to Paris to squeeze in before Christmas – the city of lights awaits.