Tag Archives: family

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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UK – Last days & prep for return to France

We’d been busy in our first days back in the UK.  After a few more days of relaxing, eating too much, drinking far too much and rarely exercising, we waddled off southwards.  We had a flying visit with Nicky’s dad, enjoying a nice catch-up with him and happily helping out with several jobs around his house and garden. Then on to park Benny at Stansted, in a huge, entirely empty parking lot, before catching a flight to Dublin, Ireland.  We had more family and friends to visit on the other side of the pond.

Stansted - empty parking

We were met by Mary at Dublin airport and driven north to their home in Co. Meath to catch up with Andy and their two girls, all bounce and noise and smiles.  A late night and a few drinks then followed, us all trying hard to capture our highlights of the past year in easily-digested sound bites. Saturday morning took us all out for a steady run around some very pretty woodland near the town of Virginia (no, not that one) before finishing with a short walk with the girls to locate all the pretty fairy doors built into trees around the park.  On Sunday we had a lazy morning playing around the house then, with the weather clearing up and looking brighter, we enjoyed a cycle trip around a nearby lake, followed by a park walk and an ice-cream with their extended family. It was a wonderful, relaxing few days catching up, something we only manage to do once a year or so now that our lives are taking different paths.

Meath - lakeside cycle

But Monday morning brought with it the requirement for our friends to return to work.  With a very early start and bleary eyes, we drove with Andy to a local station then caught a train into Dublin Connolly, before saying our goodbyes and us catching the Enterprise up to the north, where we were smoothly met by my sister around 10am.  From there we had a quick pit-stop at hers before driving on northwards, back into the Republic, to visit Buncrana. From there we drove to Malin Point to be the most northerly people on the island of Ireland, at least for a brief moment, walking along the cliff path and enjoying the views out over the wild, foaming ocean.  A raucous family dinner out completed our visit then a long drive back to my sister’s home for a well-deserved long night’s sleep.

Malin Point - Panorama

The next morning we awoke to visit my mum, and headed out for a lovely lunch at the local golf club.  Later we played family games; chess, Monopoly, Texas Hold’em, talking nonsense and having lots of fun.  Our few days in where I still refer to as home, passed quickly, as always, and soon we had to again say goodbyes.  Hopefully we can all meet up soon in our new place in France, should we ever find this illusive home we have been searching for.  We returned from Belfast international to a patiently-waiting Benny at Stansted and drove north, back to the wilds of Lincolnshire for our final days of packing and organising.  In one dry-weather window we managed to fit in a windy beach walk on Mablethorpe strand and afterwards a muddy and wet 10km run home cross-country, passing by all manner of water management installations and huge, stalking wind turbines, spinning furiously in stormy skies.

Lisburn - games night

So, packed up and ready to go, we said sad goodbyes to our host Mummy Finch and headed south.  We still had a few friends to see.  First we called in to see Jannette & Paddy in Market Harborough for dinner and drinks, then we briefly called with Cathy in Northampton for tea, cake and a catch-up chat, before reaching Louise & Nigel in St. Albans where we enjoyed lamb curry, prosecco and whisky.  The night was a tamer, more civilised affair than many other nights spent in their gregarious company but it was mid-week school night for them, so excuses were readily available. Our love to all, great to have seen you and thanks for fitting us in. We had then hoped to visit Brighton, but it all seemed to be quite anti-motorhome, so we skipped on and parked on the expansive seafront in Seaford, a much more welcoming place for larger vehicles and also much closer to our next morning’s goal – the ferry terminal in Newhaven.

Walking the seafront, we passed through the ruins of Tile Mills, the foundations of an almost entirely lost mill complex that has slowly been eroded either by the encroaching sea or the changing flows of tides.  We continued our meandering beach walk to a fishing pier right by Newhaven harbour and later we enjoyed proper chip-shop fish & chips as we watched the sun set over the still sea and pebble beach.  Our last meal in good ol’ Blighty was a tasty one, and we felt contented with our jobs and whistle-stop tour of the UK, feeling we saw and fitted in as much as we realistically could.  We quietly overnighted in a curved area of the seafront that was set back a little from the main road; the signs suggested we could stay for 12 hours, and we overstayed this a little, but were gone before 9am to catch our ferry to Dieppe; the opening gambit in our next exploratory chapter back in the heartland of France.

A&N x

WorkAway – Guldbæk Vingård

After a week of gentle exploring and lazing on sunny beaches around the north of Jutland, we again headed back south of Aalborg, to the area near Svenstrup.  It was here we had our second WorkAway project lined up to begin, this time volunteering at Guldbæk Vingård,one of the most northern vineyards in the world.

WorkAway - (the vineyard)

On arrival we were warmly greeted by our host, Jan, and after introductions we were given a whistle-stop tour of the grounds and facilities.  His wife Lone would join us later after her return from work at the local kindergarten. We saw their house, storage rooms and wine production areas, alongside the more public face of the business, their beautiful raised conservatory dining area complete with decked verandah.  We noticed maps of Greenland and mentioned our recent kayaking trip there; Jan was pleased we knew a little of the country and would later regale us with tales of the frozen north.

WorkAway - (approaching house)

WorkAway - (musk ox)

Walking through the door of the main house we were met face to face with a musk ox, staring down at us from the wall.  We later learned how this was hunted in Greenland and saw the very hairy pelt, now a large rug, in our accommodation.  We had offered to live in Benny for our stay, in case other WorkAwayers were visiting, but Jan insisted they have only one couple at a time and that we should use the available separate annex apartment, so we happily agreed.  We could spread out and enjoy the comfortable space in our downtime; perfect.

WorkAway - (relaxing in the house)

Jan and Lone’s house was constructed based on a Swedish design; angular, spacious rooms with light double-height sloping ceilings inside, tall, full gable windows, walls heavily insulated, underfloor heating ran off biomass pellets, with a focal-point log burner.  The rooms were very comfortable spaces to completely relax in, overlooking the garden and nearby woodland, and we loved that they were very generously willing to share the spaces with us.

WorkAway - (n tends vines)

WorkAway - (a in the vines)

We worked stripping the vine trunks of excess growth, to help focus the new growth at the top.  Our first day in the vineyard was a little damp and rainy, but we still enjoyed the experience of moving along the rows, clearing weeds and ensuring that we carefully removed all unnecessary growth on each vine.  We found our own rhythm and personalised technique as we went along, and soon made progress across several large blocks.  It felt good to be contributing, even in such a small way, to something we’re quite passionate about – wine.

WorkAway - (block 3 vines)

WorkAway - (vine wildflowers)

We spent one other, much sunnier, day re-staking new vines that had recently been planted to replace frost damaged ones.  We pushed long twisted-metal bars into the ground near the vine root, and secured this to the existing horizontal wire trellis with a special shaped wire twist.  Once the support was fixed, the stalk was then taped and stapled to hold it in place and to defy the wind.   We progressed along each row of vines, loving the freshness of the warm air and gentle breeze, with the gentle discipline of the work providing a focus that we’d both missed.

WorkAway - (staking new vines)

WorkAway - (working the vines)

Most days we completed 3-4 hours work in the morning, occasionally at their vineyards on the other side of the village.  We’d take ourselves over there in the morning on our bikes, and when lunch time was approaching, we’d cycle out of the vineyards, past the Kingergarten where Lone works, through the village and back home – a simple but fun journey with the anticipation of lunch to come, to satiate hunger earned from working in the fresh, clean air.  A beer was usually offered and enjoyed over our tasty cold-table lunch each day.  Sometimes beer was even brought to us in the fields; a beer-break treat.

WorkAway - (beer break)

WorkAway - (well earned break)

Occasionally we’d nip back over to the vines again in the afternoon, once as we were asked and other times as we were keen to ensure we properly completed a task we’d been working on in the morning.  Otherwise we would have the afternoons to ourselves, and we took to wandering local paths in the nearby forests or simply relaxing, whether in our comfortable annex apartment or in the vineyard’s conservatory and spectacular timber verandah, from where they host functions and tastings, overlooking the lush green valley with the dutifully tended vineyards in the background.

WorkAway - (the glasshouse)

WorkAway - (verandah)

There were great stories told over dinner, as we enjoyed the vineyard’s own wines each night.  We learned of their time in Greenland, Jan working there as a policeman.  Along with two other colleagues Jan was responsible for a jurisdictional area larger than France.  Policing this involved helicopters and light aircraft, many of which were maintained from a civilian compound set within the confines of a US military base.  We heard stories of conflicting legal entities, as contrary to the expectations of most US army bases around the world, local Greenlandic law remained the ultimate authority inside.

WorkAway - (nearby horses)

WorkAway - (icelandic ponies)

We heard tales of an emergency beacon rescue in north eastern Greenland. Unknown at the time, the beacon had been flippantly initiated, due to encroaching timescales rather than a life-or-death situation.  But this put in motion a series of complicated logistics right across the country that, once demanded, couldn’t be reined back in.  Undertaking a helicopter rescue to a remote point thousands of kilometres away, over inhospitable ice fields, led to multiple shuttle runs with regular fuel dumps, a process that can take over a week of constant flying and refuelling to finally reach the isolated destination.  On this occasion the culprit, safe and secure and only hoping for a lift home, was hit by a huge fine for misuse of his emergency beacon call.

WorkAway - (wine-tasting with Jan)

WorkAway - (beef loin)

The generosity and openness of our hosts, Jan and Lone, was boundless.   They cooked the most sublime food for us, such as barbecued Uruguayan beef loin, chosen to complement their own carefully chosen wines.  We felt so spoiled. We started early, as we chatted, tasting wonderful sweet wines served as an aperitif, before enjoying a glass or two of deep, rich reds or a sharp, clean whites, depending on the type of food on offer each night.  We tried their apple wine and bubbly fizz variations, loving hearing the story behind each as we sipped.  It was a real pleasure to relax in vivacious company.

WorkAway - (vine view)

WorkAway - (feeding the cows)

We met Jan and Lone’s two sons, both of whom live locally and are involved in assisting the vineyard business.  They both have their own projects and careers, keeping them very busy.  We met Kim, his wife Helle and their three children first.  They work in IT, keep dogs and chickens as pets, rear a few cattle for meat, along with numerous other side projects.  Dennis and his wife Heidi, along with their kids, run a large farm breeding Icelandic horses, where they also design, produce and sell specialist equine leather products; saddles, bridles, stirrups, all specific for use with Icelandic horses.

WorkAway - (family takeaway lunch)

WorkAway - (Emil & saddle sales)

Our hosts have lived, and continue to live, interesting and full lives; we heard tales of dancing with the Crown Prince of Denmark, being friends with the Prime Minister, hosting important civil parties in Greenland, investigating crimes, of kayaking, sailing and dog-sledging, and they now run a successful vineyard back in Denmark.  Their involvement in the wine industry has led them to travel extensively, to New Zealand and Australia, to California, to Japan, to visit other vineyards, increase their knowledge of wine production and make lots of good friends on their way.  But Greenland was the largest and most formative part of their lives, with over 20 years spent in the insular, patriarchal society.  It was Greenland where their heart lay, the stories most vivid.

WorkAway - (local views)

WorkAway - (tea stop)

WorkAway - (wildflowers between rows)

We have struggled to find words for the welcoming generosity of our amiable hosts; everything was just wonderful and the experience of our stay could not have been better.  We met three generations of this hospitable, happy Danish family and were deeply honoured to have been invited to so closely share in their lives, if only for a short while.  The stories we heard and the times that we had will long linger in our memory.

WorkAway - (us with our hosts)

Thanks so much for everything,  Jan & Lone; skål!

WorkAway – Solbjerg & Øster Hurup

WorkAway – Solbjerg & Øster Hurup

After visiting Aggersborg Viking fort and having our lovely walk near Skørking, we drove on to a quiet, rural location near to the east coast of Denmark.  The nearest town was Bælum, but we were to be based around 5km away, just south of Solbjerg.  With nervous anticipation, we met our hosts, Synnøve and Jens, and their dog Ollie, in late afternoon.  We made our introductions and felt instantly at ease with this friendly couple, and suddenly felt eager to be involved with their ambitious renovation and art project.

WorkAway (walking Ollie)

WorkAway (alfreso dining)

We walked the large gardens and workshops of the old saw mill they owned, and were shown the progress that previous WorkAwayers from Chile and Austria had assisted with.  The project was explained to us and we started to formulate ideas of how we could best support.  Later we had beers on the terrace as we chatted about each other, our travels to date, the project and the help required from us. We also learned that we would be joined the following day by two fellow WorkAwayers, young brothers from the USA.

WorkAway (the garden project)

The concept of WorkAway is a simple one; hosts, who require some assistance with their business or a special project, offer meals and lodging to registered WorkAwayers who wish to visit, in return for 3-5 hours of work each day.  This arrangement is generally targeted at young backpackers as it offers a way to visit foreign countries very cheaply, whilst having worthwhile interaction and learned conversations with your hosts. The reciprocal curiosity between travellers and locals allows a powerful cultural exchange to arise, alongside the practical help given.  The freely given labour of the visitor is exchanged for a peak into the world view, and cuisine, of the host country; it’s a win-win for both parties.

WorkAway (leafy shed)

WorkAway (shed cleaned)

Our first full day in Solbjerg was a Sunday, and we were not expected to work.  So, with well-received local advice, we decided to cycle to the coastal town of Øster Hurup then north to Lille Vildmose, a nearby nature reserve.  We saw the quiet harbour and long, flat beach before cycling to the visitor centre built just south of Dokkedal.  It was filled with information and exhibits on local wildlife that we enjoyed browsing.  We spent a long while learning about the reserve, before cycling on to the village of Kongerslev to buy some supplies and then back to Solbjerg on a cycle path that ran directly past the WorkAway property, closing our 44km loop.  Even though officially a day off, we couldn’t resist completing a few small jobs around the property, along with providing a few initial sketches for consideration.

WorkAway (top view)

WorkAway (completing benches)

We spent our first true work day cutting back intrusive long grass and painting the vertical planks of a large timber barn in bright sunshine.  It felt good to be out in the sun, working under our own initiative to help our hosts and to earn our dinner.  We enjoyed the hours of painting and watching our progress, feeling the low burn in muscles not often used in our normal travel lives.  This was a large and slow job, and one we returned to a few times during our stay, but we still only managed to complete one full façade.  The welcome monotonous nature of painting gave us time to fully consider other portions of the works and to plan out how best to help recreate the host’s vision.

WorkAway (completed chair)

WorkAway (sketches)

The following day there was rain in the air, so we switched to dismantling, sanding down and re-staining or painting some old benches.  An inside job with periods of drying involved, this was again one that got spread out over several days as we wanted to ensure a proper, thorough job was done, rather than rushing.  We took some pride in making sure the works were completed correctly, as we would if the bench was our own.  When our arms ached too much from the sanding, we sat in the garden and sketched out plans for planting, pathways and timber cycle shelters, as per the brief.  This was where our professional experience could really offer the greatest value work to our hosts.

WorkAway (Aarlborg street)

WorkAway (Aarlborg centre)

On another day off from work, we gratefully accepted a lift into the nearby town of Aalborg with Ronja, the oldest daughter of Synnøve and Jens.  After being dropped off in the centre near the bus station, we walked into the historic centre and on to the harbour.  We walked along the waterfront, passing a Jørn Utzon building, his last.  It was more modest, grounded and robust than his iconic Opera House in Sydney, but the roof forms were equally inspired by maritime endeavours that similarly reflected his deep love of sailing and the ocean waves.

WorkAway (Utzon centre)

WorkAway (Aarlborg church)

We passed large sailboats moored along the sea edge as we meandered to a pedestrian bridge, built adjacent to a railway line, that led across Lim fjord to the northern portion of the city. From here we walked several miles to visit the Viking burial site at Lindholm Høje. An active Viking site from 400CE to 1000CE, the entire area had been buried below several metres of drifting sand until excavations in the 1950s uncovered its extent.  We looked around the visitor centre and walked amongst the ancient standing stones, trying to imagine how life was here 1500 years ago.

WorkAway (Aarlborg bridge)

WorkAway (Lindholm Hoje field)

WorkAway (Lindholm Hoje)

One evening we experienced the generosity of a post-dinner ice cream trip, where the younger family members, Ronja and Holger, got involved and drove all four of us WorkAwayers to the beach at Øster Hurup.  They got to practise their already excellent English, we got exposure to the attitudes and music of a different generation whilst enjoying typical Danish treats.  The queue for the ice cream was long (the Danes eat more ice cream than any other nation) but the wait added suspense and the topping of guf, a sickly and sticky marshmallow-like coating, completed the tasty showcase cones.  We chatted and walked to the marina to take in the sunset as we ate through the multiple flavours and layers.

WorkAway (Ronja and Holger)

WorkAway (Oster hurup marina)

WorkAway (sunset ice creams)

Nicky spent a free afternoon baking cakes that were soon devoured by grateful hosts and guests.  Another evening after work I went for a run, with Nicky in tow on her bike for company, around the local forests trails.  We had remarked more than once that it was so quiet in the location, and the run encapsulated that fully, where nothing other than birdsong disturbed us.  It was a little like being at home again; pottering in the garden, undertaking cleaning and maintenance where required, fitting in runs and cycles where we could before enjoying a glass of red and watching the sun go slowly down.  They were relaxing but still full days, shared and open, lived well and with a smiling heart.

WorkAway (running)

WorkAway (before and after)

We felt we experienced the spontaneous kindness of strangers, and were building easy friendships through our shared experiences.  We walked into Solbjerg one evening under a setting sun with Will and Eli, the other current WorkAwayers from Michigan, US. We talked of inconsequential things, exploring our experiences and the subtle differences between our cultures and that of our hosts.  Rural Denmark has so many similarities to midlands England, down to the beech hedges and the gently rolling fields of luminous rapeseed.  Eli said the same, that the villages and countryside here reminded him of the rural upstate Michigan that he was so familiar with; it truly was a home-from-home for all of us.

WorkAway (Solbjerg church)

WorkAway (setting sun)

There is a transformative power in constant curiosity-fuelled travel, but an equal interest and energy exists in standing still, taking a lasting interest in local people and the everyday details of their lives.  The eight days and nights we spent volunteering in Solbjerg was the longest we have stayed in one place since we began our travels nine months ago.  We had previously spent seven nights in Serre Chevalier when skiing in the Alps earlier this year, but this stay topped that.  Interaction with passionate and knowledgeable people and being an active part of something beyond our everyday circle of experience was a welcome prompt that we should all slow down sometimes, to listen more intently, and re-learn the restorative value of change.

WorkAway (family)

There is such a different dynamic and feel to knowing you will be stationary for an extended time, and a guest rather than a customer.  It offers a welcome break from the usual daily schedule, filled ordinarily with packing up to travel, research into where we could stay and how best to get there, as well as what to see along the way.  Several weeks into this tour, the break and the change of focus for us was very welcome.  The challenges of completing our designated tasks, finding inspiration and formulating ideas to assist future WorkAwayers was a timely reminder of the simple joy and satisfaction that can be found in honest application and endeavours.