Tag Archives: cathedral

France – Mums, Markets & Mulled Wine – Early Christmas fun with our mums

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.

Pageas Christmas - (nicky and mums)

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.

Pageas Christmas - (Limoges river)

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.

Pageas Christmas - (cathedral grounds)

Pageas Christmas - (cathedral plaza)

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.

Pageas Christmas - (nicky and tree)

Pageas Christmas - (woodland trail)

Pageas Christmas - (woodland walks)

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.

Pageas Christmas - (pre-dinner drinks)

Pageas Christmas - (mum cheers)

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.

A&N x

 

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Spain – Vitoria Gastiez & Nanclares de la Oca

From Gorbeiako Parke Naturala we headed south, starting off with a narrow miss on the tight entrance road, from a crazy impatient driver who was desperate to squeeze past us without waiting for us to manoeuvre and make space.  The side of his car was lined with deep scrapes, signs of a previous mishap, as is our wing mirror now after his latest idiocy.

Not to be outdone, I later had my own driving faux pas – I brainlessly followed our SatNav the wrong way back out of a car-park to a roundabout on a two-lane but, as it turned out, one-way road when leaving a Decathlon store – it only by chance that nothing was coming.

Vitoria Gastiez (cathedral santa maria)

All drama over, we made it to an impressively busy aire in the north of Vitoria-Gasteiz, where we joined a long run of motorhomes at the back end of a huge car-park.  From here we undertook a longish walk into the old town, a little wearily, feeling yesterday’s mountainous 20km in our legs.

We passed thousands of apartments in tall, sprawling blocks, with scruffy communal spaces but no private gardens other than what could be imaginatively squeezed onto the small balcony spaces.  There was lots of commerce, small stores in long rows, no known brands, all looking locally owned and well used.  There were also lots of small bars, accompanied by the constant and distinctive smell of piss.

We arrived at the north of the old town centre where we were able to ride a long conveyor belt up the hill to the imposing 14th century Cathedral de Santa Maria.  There were multiple escalators on other steeper streets too, a modern means of ensuring an ageing congregation can always make it to church.

Vitoria Gastiez (san vincente church)

We followed our noses through lanes and squares large and small, flanked by tall townhouses with enclosed balconies of painted timber, looking more Venetian than Spanish. After some exploring we entered the grand Plaza de España, where we found the tourist office and swiped ourselves a handy town map.

We next stumbled upon the Plaza de los Fueros, a stepped amphitheatre with peripheral spaces created out of tall walls, all corners, niches and dead ends. On paper it may have represented something profound, intellectual, but in reality it was a horrible piece of urban design, deeply flawed, with dark, enclosed spaces designed only for violence or for use as a makeshift toilet.  We were in awe at any council that allowed it to be built.

George Mélès movies and their history were being displayed in a travelling show trailer in the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca.  As it was our favourite price, we had a good look around inside, imagining more simple times when his oftentimes bizarre films would have been seen as wild, shocking, incredible, sometimes scary and always technically brilliant.

Vitoria Gastiez (plaza de la virgen blanca)

Vitoria Gastiez (george meles posters)

Vitoria Gastiez (palacio de la provincia)

We passed several other large churches including the Neo-Gothic cathedral de María Immaculada, then sat a while in the sunny, leafy square in front of the Neo-Classical Palacio de la Provincia. The oval-shaped historic centre was delightful in the sunshine, much more appealing than the surrounding estates.  We returned through a leafy park and alongside a large cemetery.  It was slightly longer, but a much nicer route.

We decided not to stay overnight here, so we abandoned our original plan and moved to another nearby aire at Nanclares de la Oca.  The motorhome bays there were separate from the adjacent car-park and we were the only van in town, so we had our pick.  We had a short walk into town to look around, and buy onions.  We passed an interesting sculpture, a negative of traditional dress without the person within.  We then saw a huge heron nest on the pretty stone church roof as we wandered the side streets, before retiring for the day.  Later, after dark, we could hear the distinct roar of planes overhead, mixing with sporadic traffic noise, but despite the mechanical interference, we slept soundly.

A&N x

France – Périgueux, St Yrieix & our house search

France – St Yrieix, Périgueux & our house search

NOTE: This blog is slightly out of chronological order as we wished to see what conspired from our house viewings before writing anything specific about them.  We posted our latest Workaway synopsis first, as we awaited news.

Before leaving the UK back in early April, we had arranged several house viewings in our chosen region of Limousin.  We had looked at thousands of properties on-line, spending many hours discussing our budget, accommodation needs and wishes, rural vs village, trying to nail down precisely what we wanted.  We ran circles in our minds from simple, tiny 2-bed cottages to large barn conversions with gîtes, pools and hectares of land, covering every other possible option in between.  All various types had specific advantages and disadvantages; financial, spatial, practical, aspirational.  It took us a long time to finally settle on the type of property that would suit us, and then try to find it.

We saw two houses in quick succession, the first deeply disappointing and over-priced, the second intriguing as it was large (a four bed main house with attached two bed gîte and two acres) but the arrangement of rooms really didn’t work for us and it needed  lot of work to bring it back to a liveable state.  They were both discounted.  A third viewing brought a different house, a perfectly presented two-bed cottage with immaculate views and an exceptional garden. It was owned by a lovely British couple who were heading back to the UK in the hope of spending more time with grandchildren, a common story we’d heard on our visits.  This house remained our favourite for a while as we definitely contemplated converting the floored loft space to a third master suite, creating internal accommodation that worked for us.

We later viewed a small gîte complex high in the hills, near Villac, with no near neighbours and far from anywhere. It was a very rural site, accessed by a tiny single-track road, set in utter peacefulness.  There were three stone-built one-bed cottages set around a pool, with a large garage, outbuildings and potager, and offered the most spectacular views either of us could remember seeing in a long time.  We thought long and hard about how we could make the quirky accommodation work for us, mainly so we could retain that view, but we just couldn’t find a way to justify it; it was all just too immutable without major renovations, and a tad too far from civilisation, even for us.  Our previous favourite, small and perfectly formed, remained with its nose ahead, but it was our final organised viewing of the week that brought us to the one property that, on entry, immediately captured both our imaginations and hearts.

Rouffiac swim lake - nicky at beach

En route we stopped off to have a look at the full set-up at the base de loisirs de Rouffiac, a swim and activity lake we were passing.  We were curious how well they were provisioned, and it didn’t disappoint – It looked fantastic, despite the weather, with dedicated motorhome parking, a beach-side café and plenty of woodland walks.  Limousin is known as the region of 1000 lakes, and we planned to be utilising these as often as possible.  We then visited the market town of Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche, to wander around and take in the sights, but it was rainy and our minds were full of recently viewed houses.  The town was founded in the 6th century and forms a part of the Route Richard Coeur de Lion.  The streets were beautiful and historic, replete with medieval buildings, and even in the dreary rain it had a powerful presence that appealed to us.  It would definitely be somewhere we would return to, hopefully under sunnier skies.

St Yrieix - (square and castle)

Our viewing didn’t start auspiciously.  We had a sneaky drive-by the day before our scheduled viewing, under grey skies and bucketloads of rain, and everything looked damp, sodden and sad.  We were again prepared to be disappointed the next day, with moody dark skies overhead, but once we were on the grounds and then inside the house that feeling evaporated into one of quiet excitement and a joint, massively positive vibe.  This was exactly what we wanted in terms of accommodation; flow, openness, lightness and character, along with a distinct separation between a two-bed and a one-bed portion of the house.  It had a vegetable garden, a well, an in-ground pool and a half-acre adjoining paddock, and although the pool is a welcome addition, with us having no intention of keeping horses or chickens, we had no clue what we’d do with the latter. We’re now considering a wild flower meadow, but time will tell.

Pageas house - (gardens)

We returned to nearby Châlus to park up and reflect.  Our minds were full of details about the house – is it the right one?  Does it provide all that we need?  Is it in the correct location?  Yes, we think so, but don’t be so hasty.  But several others are viewing today and more viewings are planned later in the week.  After so much searching on-line, so many viewings, so many previous disappointments, to find a house that suits us and to potentially lose it to another offer (asking price offers must be accepted in France) we were desperately eager to move quickly, but also trying to be wary and controlled, tempered, sensible.  We organised a second viewing for the following day, to check out a long list of things we came up with overnight, and to ask a lot more more questions.  We had a good chat, a walk around the boundaries of the property and a closer look at the pool and out-buildings, galvanising our initial opinions into solid, reasonable surety – yes, this was right for us, and we should be confident enough to move quickly.

Perigueux - (river approach)

Perigueux - (bridge to centre)

Later that afternoon, after a bit of figure juggling, we nervously made an offer, our first on a French property.  We left it with the agent, and with wide smiles and nervous knots in our stomachs, we departed Limousin and headed south into Dordogne.  We had a short city visit to Périgueux on our way south to our previously mentioned Workaway, stopping in one of the free spaces outside the barrier of the neat and spacious paid aire as we were only staying for an hour or so.  It was bright and sunny as we wandered the short distance to the centre, in the deep shade of the tree-lined banks of the river Isle.  We crossed over the Pont des Barris which offered immediate views of the domineering and unmissable Cathédrale Saint-Front, the most prominent visual aspect of the city’s skyline.

Perigueux - (view from park)

Perigueux - (selfie in streets)

We sat in a small park, in the shadow of the domed cathedral, surrounded by pollarded plane trees and ate snacks, looking out over the sun-lit valley below.  The light was ever-changing from a dull uniform grey to a bright white, the latter throwing the stone buildings into deep contrast of shadows and light.  We walked up the main street and visited the cathedral, before winding through the smaller backstreets, twisting and turning as we spotted each hidden square, each beautifully neat and speckled with happy, lunching locals. It was here, on a small side-street, that we received a call informing us our offer had been accepted, the house secured and all future viewings cancelled as it was now removed from the market.  We continued walking the shaded back streets of Périgueux, but now with huge smiles and not a small amount of trepidation on our faces.  What had we done?!  It was all so quick, but still, it felt right.

A&N x

France – Orléans & the road south

We rolled away from the pleasant beach boulevard in Seaford to catch our uneventful four-hour ferry to Dieppe.  We doodled only a short way south before deciding we deserved a lazy afternoon and evening, so we pulled into a tidy, and surprisingly somewhat busy, free aire at Clères.  It was a nice aire, set between rows of hedges with each large division each accommodating two motorhomes.  We had a short walk around the adjacent local football fields whilst some young players trained reluctantly, and we had a play on their climbing frames and slides as we went.

Cleres - view of aire

We drove a few more hours south, initially on roads familiar from our recent trip north, with our next stop being Orléans for a short city break.  We arrived just before lunch and found an easy park just a few kilometres out of the city centre and followed the river in on foot.  It was a cracking day, hot and clear, and produced our first outing of the year in shorts; it was a wonderfully comfortable and budding spring-like day in all ways. The contrast to the past chilly weeks in the north of England was stark and clear, and we thought on how well we had successfully dodged the worst of the winter weather as we enjoyed our makeshift picnic overlooking the river Loire in the gloriously hot sunshine.  It was the first proper sun we’ve experienced in a long while, and felt like we were finally warming up, mentally and physically.

Orleans - (riverside walk)

Orleans - (main street)

As the birthplace of Jean of Arc, we expected to have this historical fact hailed from the rooftops and be drowning in constant references to her life and exploits.  Yes, her childhood home is now a museum, the main street is named for her and a large statue of Joan on horseback sits proudly in the main square.  But there was little other mention, not even visible in the ubiquitous postcards or souvenirs, where the gothic cathedral seemed to be the dominant local feature. The city, built with clean white limestone, had the feel of quiet elegance, restrained and classy, and it maintained an ambience of understated opulence, confidence and openness.  It would be a difficult place not to like, especially lit up in the gloriously bright sunshine we were experiencing, and we were happy to oblige the mood.

Orleans - (Jean of Arc's house)

Orleans - (Square and statue)

We passed by the childhood home of Jean D’Arc and easily found the main square where her statue dominated.  Golden-coloured trams glided almost silently along wide avenues, with a casual ease that typified our first impressions of the city.  A festival celebrating street activities, from street dance to music to BMX tricks to spray-painting, was in full swing in the main square.  Groups of young girls danced while skateboarders rolled by and BMXers jumped and flipped, with music blasting all round.  We continued through the narrower, much quieter, medieval streets to find another festival focus, this one on junior rugby skills, set up outside the cathedral.  Players from a local club ran drills with the participating kids, with a Top 14 match projected on a huge screen behind.

Orleans - (festival in square)

After a lazy loop round the centre and the obligatory look inside the cathedral to cool off, we returned back to the riverside to slowly walk back to Benny.  We stopped for a while to watch a couple of kayakers on the river, or pedantically-speaking one kayaker and one canoeist, twisting and playing in the bubbling rapids formed by the stone arches of the King George V bridge breaking up the fast flow of the Loire.  As we reached Benny the blue skies darkened overhead and the now grey weather threatened a deluge, but we made it safely back before the inevitable happened.  After a short while we headed off to a nearby aire, to park up early and enjoy a little bit of the afternoon.  The sun soon returned with a welcoming smile and was back on full brightness as we reached our overnight stop.

Orleans - (kayakers in Loire)

We overnighted about a half-hour on from Orléans, at the small town of La-Ferte-Saint-Aubin, on a patch of land outside a currently closed campsite that doubles as a free aire, available until 1st May.  The weather had cleared again so we went for a short run along a trickling river bank, studiously avoiding rogue brambles and nettles, on sodden ground that occasionally squirted liquid mud up our legs.  On our return we passed by the aire and beyond to have a closer look at a large château set behind a moat on the other side of the main road through the village.  We had a brief look around the impressive exterior but didn’t visit inside as it was closing.  We returned to the aire and explored a little of the external artwork, a joint venture between French and Australian artists, scattered around the woodland; it reminded us of art installations we visited in Skovsnogen in Denmark but this was, if it is even possible, worse.

Orelans - main street trams

The following morning we doodled off again early, heading south this time with intent, as we had a number of house viewings lined up.  After a few more hours of driving and we arrived back in the Limousin region, readied for a few days, or weeks, of serious house-hunting in our chosen area.  We were viewing five very different houses in varied settings over the next three days, to get a feel for what we’d like.  Unfortunately one house that we were very keen on (on paper) was, we were informed only a few days before our scheduled viewing, seen by another couple who made their excited offer the same day, was subsequently accepted and the house immediately taken off the market.  This was a reminder to us that if you see the house that feels right for you, snap it up.  We were geared up and ready to pounce.  Watch this space…

A&N x