Six weeks is almost up, and in two days (15/07/11) we leave our little gite, take possession of our boat and head off to the upper Nivernais for ten days. We've cruised the lower Nivernais, the Borgogne and the Canal du Midi at other times but are looking forward to this canal, reputedly one of the most beautiful.
There's so much to see and do around here that we'll be sad to leave, though - especially now that we've got to know some of the locals.
Last week Russ had work in Dortmund, Germany, so we spent three days in the Ruhr valley then stopped in Paris on the way back to stay over the weekend for a meeting on Tuesday at the OECD - or OEDC, as it's known here. It was a great chance to reacquaint ourselves with Paris. One thing I wanted to do was go to La Rue Poncelet, well known for its street food market. This isn't huge, but it's packed with absolutely wonderful food beautifully presented, and well worth a visit.
|Just a peek at a cheese bar|
You can't be in Paris on a Sunday and not go to Notre Dame to see the cathedral, no matter how many times you've seen it before, and to hear those voices!
And you know how the old joke goes - every New Zealander is born with the genetic imprint of every other New Zealander and can't go anywhere in the world without meeting someone they know, or someone who knows/is related to somebody they know? Sure enough, we met an old friend from Hamilton, Shelley, at the L'Orangerie . . .We're great fans of the impressionists, especially Monet, and Renoir too - Musee D'Orsay was a must see . .
Strolling down the Champs d'Elysee in the sun.. .
Some places we'd visited before, as well as a few we hadn't - the Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette and others during the "reign of terror' were incarcerated before being guillotined by the revolutionaries...
Sainte-Chapelle, built by Louis 1X to house the relics of the Passion of Christ, most notably the Crown of Thorns - the stained glass windows tell the story of mankind from Genesis to Christ's resurrection and are breathtaking. . .
And, last for us but not least, a visit to the Du Pere Lachaise cemetery, not really something I'd prioritised, but it's quite compelling and impressive, the tombstones and vaults from other eras among the trees that dominate the 43 hectare site. We found Oscar Wilde's resting place and admired his memorial stone covered with lipstick kisses and surrounded with fresh flowers. There were fresh flowers, too at Edith Piaf's, and in the end we wished we'd had more time to explore - not for any gratuitous impulses, but just that it's such a peaceful and pretty place, and so interesting.
After our return to la Cour Barree, we attended an al fresco, seven course dinner complete with pianist. Adam and Claire helped in the organisation, but it was hosted by Brigitte and Lucien who like to 'introduce people to each other'. They live in a nearby village, Arcy-Sur-Cure, and the dinner was Spanish/Latin American themed. Brigitte is a trained chef and together they operate a bed and breakfast - highly recommended!
|Brigitte & Lucien|
To our surprise, many of the sixty who attended were ex-pats, mainly British who now live in France and many of whom run B and B's or own gites. And would you believe, another New Zealand couple from Alexandra?
Another great night with music, food, laughter and dancing.
|Ninety seven year old Tessa, when the dancing started|
|Tessa and Lucien|
At one point Tessa (a local) was taken off to bed by her daughter in law, but she escaped and came back to the party - just look at that face! I'm so sad that my camera didn't flash just when I wanted to capture this, but if you look closely you'll see why I can't resist posting it.
We also visited Roman ruins at Escolives, and a very large prehistoric cave (grotto) at Arcy -Sur-Cure, complete with rock drawings of mammoths. As long as Russ gets a good run at his work from, say, 9am - 3 pm, we can take a couple of hours to explore in the late afternoon. There's still the evenings to work when he needs to.
Market day at Toucy was a cooler day, but it's an excellent market
We also invited Louis and his family to a 'return' dinner at our gite - Louis, Claudine and the twins - Celine and Marie. It really wasn't up to Claudine's standard, but in my defence I don't have much equipment at the gite, not to feed 10 people, in any case. Claire and Adam and their two boys came too. I think the salmon went down well, though, and they really seemed to enjoy my foccacia bread as both Claudine and Claire asked for the recipe.
Claudine insisted on providing more wonderful dessserts - a chocolate mousse and sour cherry clafouti - you just can't outdo their generosity, it seems.
|Twins - Celine & Marie|
Louis had to borrow Russ's bike and ride back across the bridge to milk the goat after the main course - but this time, he arrived back with the milk as a gift for us, still warm - delicious!
A couple of days later, Louis took us to visit his brother's cave (cellar). He's an excellent vintner but doesn't sell his wine- which is all chardonnay (chablis) apart from some liqueur and schnapps - and he doesn't grow the grapes. The juice is given to him by neighbours, and he makes the wine for himself, family and friends - and very good wine it is! We sat in their garden for several hours in the afternoon as the sun sank, much longer than we had anticipated, talking and laughing as the odd neighbour dropped in or walked across the newly baled paddocks to join us. We felt particularly blessed; Russ announced that his new ambition in life is to retire and make wine. . . and I suspect he may not be joking.
Celine drove us back, and once again we were surprised - Claudine insisted on our staying to eat with the family, and once again it was delicious - slow cooked beef, leeks, turnips, potatoes and carrots followed by cheeses and then cherry clafouti and creme caramel. At this rate we'll be lucky to be able to fit in the plane when it's time to go home!
We have been walking in the early mornings, though, and have found some great tracks up into the hills around the village, through cherry orchards, wheat fields and sunflowers.
Tomorrow (14th July) is Bastille day, and the whole of France will be celebrating; roadsides have been mown and all the parks have gussied up in preparation. In La Cour Barree, the village is invited to pay 10 Euros for a paella lunch and something to drink in the central park, and we're hoping to go. We may get to the fireworks in Auxerre tonight, too, despite knowing the town will be really crowded.