Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Otters on the River Garonne

Image courtessy of www.riparianchurch.com (I wish this was my pic, but who knows if i am patient I might get an image like this if I am lucky!)

Just had to tell everyone as I am so excited, silly really, but being a country lass at heart I am easily pleased by unusual wildlife and new discoveries.

This week I have a friend staying here with her daughter, so in order to introduce her to our beautiful village of Auvillar we went for a quick tour around yesterday in freezing temperatures. The village was quiet and most of the town houses had their shutters closed either to keep in the warm or to shut out the cold.

In order to show her the spectacular views while the kids played in the playground opposite the Tea Rooms we took a stroll to the look out point. Whilst describing what we could see in the way of villages and scenery we noticed how the river had frozen along the Southern bank. At that moment we saw an otter swim across the river. When it reached the ice edge it turned around and swam the 200m back to the other bank. Initially I was not sure if what I was seeing was actually an otter but as it turned for the return trip back to the northern bank I saw its distinctive white neck and thick tail. Such a treat for braving the freezing temperatures.

Guess who will be paying more visits over the comming months to the look out to see if there is more than one of these lovely creatures living close by.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Christmas in South West France

Since my last blog there has been lots going on here in Sunny Auvillar. The weather has been extremely cold but so far little snow, just a light covering on a couple of occasions.

We have been doing lots here and after my return from Paris my friend came from the UK for a few days. We spent the weekend up at the local farm culling the last batch of ducks to make foie gras and preserving the meat in different ways, something completely unexpected for my friend and not speaking French at all she was slightly wary of. However, she need not have worried, the locals here are so friendly within one morning she had made friends and was part of the fold, so to speak! We were even invited to Sunday lunch and ate some of the labours of our hard work, although I must say we didn't really want to know what we were eating, but what ever it was, it tasted good with plenty of red wine! After a few days of laughing, crying and over indulging in food and alcohol my friend went home and I started preparations for Christmas.

The Christmas night market in Auvillar was a spectacle to behold. The grain market was adhorned in lights and the area was dotted with fresh Christmas trees, stall holders pitched under the arches around the market square, father Christmas was being followed by hoards of kids while he dished out handfulls of sweets to the expectant pleading faces and the smell of hot mulled wine filled the crisp night air. Although the products on sale were not my cup of tea, it was a great way to spend a cold winters evening.

My daughter Megan and my dad arrived on 17th December and just missed the chaos at the UK airports by arriving early in the morning. After lunch all airports were closed due to heavy snow fall and there were many unhappy travellers facing Christmas in an airport terminal.

To make things that little bit more Christmassy for us all here in France, mother nature tried her best or us and we a hard frost the next morning. I dashed outside before it all melted with my trusty camera to capture some of the beautiful scenery (see attached).

Christmas Eve was a new experience yet again for us and we were invited to the farm to participate in a French Christmas. I produced (as requested) some English style nibbles and took trays of homemade sausage rolls, mini toad in the holes, cheese straws and cheese scones that went down a storm. After nibbles we all went off to Donzac to the Mass at the Church and although I didn't understand alot of the service I got the general jist and it got me into the Christmas spirit.

On returning to the farm at 10pm festivities recommenced and 22 of us sat down to a fantastic homemade, but very professionally presented, Christmas banquet. First course was (of course) foie gras, second course was scallops and boudin (white sausage) in a lovely spicy sauce. We then had fresh king prawns and whelks, followed by roast Munjack deer with pureed sweet potatos and jersualem artichokes made into a souffle. There would have been desert, cheese and coffee too but as it was by this time 12.45am and the children were beyond tired, we just had Christmas yule log made with Chestnut sauce and skipped cheese and coffee. We arrived home at 1.30am, I suddenly realised, after too much food and alcohol that I had not wrapped all of the Christmas presents for the "big visit" the following morning and set to it, frantically removing price tickets and wrapping items with copious amounts of paper and sellotape. The end result was something of a car crash! but nevertheless everything was wrapped and placed infront of the fireplace with carrots, mince pies and a drink for the big man himself by 3am!

Christmas morning was a bit of a blur, but I put on a brave face for all concerned and after the squeels of joy from my youngest (which made the late night before all worth it) I made my way in my PJ's to the kitchen to start preparations for the Christmas lunch. Vegetables prepared and bird in the oven by 11.30am, I took time to get dressed and sort myself out, which takes a while these days! The table was layed and drinks were a plenty, and we waited.........and we waited................and we waited..............and we waited! Yep you guessed it the oven had gone on strike and was on a go slow, typical! We finally ate at 4.30pm! After retiring to the front room fat and digestive system struggling with the brussel sprout intake (need I say more!!) we all collapsed in front of the open fire whilst the kids played with their new toys. HAPPY CHRISTMAS!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

If you want "real" snow - go to Paris!

OMG blizzard, white out, chaos! that's my experience of my two days in Paris.

Perhaps I should have watched the weather a bit more closely before I left Toulouse on Tuesday for two days of work at the exhibition centre near Charles de Gaulle airport.

When I left Toulouse however, the weather was a pleasant 15 degrees and the city drenched in glorious sunshine, I remember vividly looking out of the window after take off and recognising certain landmarks from the air of our local area as we passed over Moissac and the lake at st Nicolas de la Grave. I could even see the snow capped Pyrenees mountains clearly in the distance after being airborne for 20 minutes and heading North. As soon as we reached our cruising height we started our decent into Paris Charles de Gaulle, quickly the weather turned into thick cloud and the pilots had to revert to their instruments to land the plane successfully in a snow storm. We circled the airport for over 35 minutes before being allowed to land on the remaining open runway and we skid to a halt on icy and snow covered tarmac. After making my way to my destination and working for the day, my focus on Wednesday morning turned to the weather forecast as many stand visitors were discussing the impending blizzard. At 11am the snow started falling heavily and I decided to make a move early to the airport. All flights at 3pm were still scheduled and on time but as the light started to fade the storm got heavier and instead of watching the planes come and go to their stand points, it was snow ploughs that took their place. Everything was covered in a thick blanket of white snow by 5pm and the announcement over the tannoy confirmed my worst fears - "unfortunately due to extreme weather conditions this airport is now closed and no further flights will depart or arrive until further notice". GREAT!

After going back through security and queuing patientely for 2 hours to be told I was in the wrong queue, I joined a further queue after confirming it was the correct one to get a new ticket issued. However 45 minutes later when I reached the front I was told again "Computer says no!" At this point after remaining calm, I flipped and my personality took control!

I was finally issued with a new ticket to fly to Toulouse later that evening (weather permitting) I rejoined yet another queue passing thousands of stranded passengers including disabled people and families with young children, to again be told "computer says no!" the print out that the security people said no flights to Toulouse were flying that evening arrrrrrgh. After explaining that surely all airport staff should be singing from the same hymn sheet one of the security guards went to talk to the check in desk staff............so simple but just not done before, how stupid! Yes Toulouse flight was on! I was allowed though security at 8pm to a proposed 8.30pm flight and at 9pm the airport reopened. After chatting to some nice French men who encouraged me to celebrate leaving the airport with them over a bottle of Champagne we finally boarded after crossing the airport behind a snow plough to our waiting plane that was being de-iced. We then taxied out to our holding point and............ there we sat...... for 2 hours. Finally, after being de-iced again we finally took to the skies skidding our way down the runway. Once we were airborne I started to breath again, Toulouse, home, here I come!

Weather here today a balmy 10 degrees, what a difference an hours flight can make and yesterday it was an amazing 20 degrees, how fab!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Pathetic excuse for snow today

After watching the news from the BBC for the last 4 days as to how bad the weather was in Scotland and now yesterday at Gatwick, we actually had snow here in Auvillar today!

I looked out of the window at midday and the sky was heavy and threatening shortly afterwards it obliged and a soft white blanket covered the lawn and fields. It looked lovely...................for about 20 minutes! I don't really think it was much to get excited about but Abigail came home from shcool full of it...did you see it mum??? What I said with an innocent air? The SNOW.....

There is more forecast tonight, and it is currently zero degrees outside, so who knows we may wake up to a fresh covering making it fun for all just to get to school.

Enjoy peeps!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Doing well with our language skills now!

Summer rolled in to Autumn and all too quickly Winter has arrived. We have not had any guests for a while and I have not felt that there has been much to tell. Sometimes with tweeting, blogging, updating the website and sorting out online advertisements working on the laptop can become a chore and the words just don't flow. Dark nights, cold mornings and huddling round my electric fire in an unheated office make it even harder and its enough to make even the most hardened expat want to think about hibernation!

Nick is continuing with the jobs around the property and is currently re laying the floor in the front office as the wooden one had rotted away. He managed to go to the local quarry and order in French a tonne of sand and 3 tonnes of balast that was delivered here today with no problems after I directed the delivery driver. Not just that, but spending time with the locals preparing foie gras, going to bingo and generally putting ourselves in more challenging situations really does help the language skills.

We have visitors from Spain next week for 3 nights in the B&B (my Spanish is non existent!) and off to Paris to work for two days and then at the end of the week I have a friend coming to stay for a few days, which I am really looking forward to, so busy busy busy again..... I have decided to organise a pre Christmas drinks evening for our new friends too so need to start thinking about food and conversation topics, better get the dictionary out!

Keep warm all, I am just putting another log on the fire.

Boy oh boy - we know how to live it up in Auvillar!

Yep, it might be winter in Tarn et Garonne, but things are still happening here! Guess what it we did in Auvillar on Friday night?.............. put it this way, we are definitely living in the fast lane (not!)

Hold on to your hats, are you sitting down, well eyes down! (Clue).

Yes, it was village bingo or lotto as they call it here and it is extremely popular in towns and villages over the winter months and it a great social event to get people together that would otherwise be hibernating in their houses with the shutters closed and a fire in the hearth!

It was all in aid of charity, my daughters' local school, and the venue was packed to the brim with parents, villagers, and children too. What did surprise me was that the children were involved in an event that started so late in the evening. Proceedings commenced at 9.00pm, in the UK if it was an event for the children it would have started at 6pm latest.

There were a few hiccups with the sound system but at 9.30pm the evening finally got underway. Prizes were donated by local businesses in Auvillar, Valence d'Agen and Bardigues and there were many on offer.

The first to shout with a full line won a bag full of goodies, then anyone with two lines also won a bag of goodies and finally those with a full house had an extra special prize of a leg or ham or 120€. Surprisingly, we actually won something too! With one line we won a bottle of local wine from the Thermes vinyard in Bardigues, a string of garlic, 800g of sausages from the local butcher and 8€ of bread and cakes from the bakery, fab!

By 12.30pm the children we getting beyond tired and I was loosing the will to live. Concentrating on the numbers that were easy at the beginning of the evening was now fast becoming a chore! When the last game was announced there was a small cheer that rumbled around the room and by 12.45 it was all over. We helped with the tidy up and put chairs and tables away and rolled into bed at 1.30am. Told you.............living in the fast lane here is exhausting!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Foie Gras - the traditional way!

After being invited by my friend to her parents farm this weekend to help with the duck, I thought I would give a resumé of my experience and share my new found knowledge on how to make "real" foie gras.

For those of you concerned about the well being of the animals, rest assured I saw no evidence of any battery farming, no unhappy looking animals and plenty of space for them to live and nest. However you must bear in mind that these animals are bred to eat, much like other livestock and are not pets. For those of you that are squeemish or vegetarians, you may prefer not to read on!

I have never been a person that enjoys killing anything (except rats or spiders!) and thought I would find the killing a bit too much to handle. However, I disconnected myself from the fact that this was a cute duck and treated it as a means to an end. The process of producing foie gras has been used for many years and only in recent years has commercial production on such a large scale meant that battery farming has hit the headlines. This foie gras was produced by the farmer for the sole use of his family and keep them in food over the winter months.

Anyway now I have got the politics out of the way, I will continue!

An early start in freezing weather was the order of the day for Friday morning. 8 barberry ducks were to meet their end and when I arrived at 8.30am proceedings were already under way. It was a real family affair with uncles, aunts, son in law's and grandsons and the all important expert farmers themselves were in attendance.

For the last 20 days the ducks have been fed solely on a diet of maize which gives the skin and the liver a yellow colour. Each duck was chosen at random and was killed expertly and quickly by André the farmer. Within 2 minutes the duck was dunked in a boiling vat of water and plucked. This process is done to blanch the skin and make it easy to remove the feathers. Timing is critical as too long in the water and the skin starts to cook, not long enough and the feathers don't come out easily. After plucking, the bald beast was whisked away for any small feathers to be removed and little ones to be blasted off by a blow torch.

It was then washed and weighed, the biggest bird of the day weighed in at just under 6kg.

Then one person held the duck, breast upwards, and the other cut a slit from its bottom to the base of its neckneck with a very sharp knife. This is a delicate process as the liver is very close to the surface of the skin, about 3 inches from the anus and not protected by anything other than the skin. Open the slit in the skin and with two fingers, push up under the ribcage to dislodge the liver from the bone and sinews and then use a pair of sharp scissors to cut the bone down to the wishbone and the neck bone to split the carcase in two pieces on one side.

Open up the bird and gently dislodge the liver all the way around its edges making sure you don’t split the liver itself. The most important part of the whole process is to ensure that the waste tube from the liver that then passes out through the bird is cut cleanly and none of the green goo is absorbed in to the liver.

Once the liver is removed, it is washed and weighed then lightly salted and covered in white pepper and garlic powder. A small amount is added to the base of a jar and then the liver is placed in the jar and sealed. The jar is then sterilised/boiled for 30-40 minutes and left too cool. The fat that comes out of the liver in the cooking process sets in the jar around the liver and acts as a preservative. The bird is then tied back together and left for further preparation the following day.

When the bird is butchered the French way every part is used except for the intestine, the wind pipe and the testies!

The meat is removed from the carcase in one piece and is known as a monteau as it looks like a cloak. The thighs, breast, neck and wings were preserved in salt, the bones were cut in to bbq sized pieces and head and feet were used to boil with carrots and onions as a stock. The fat, (of which there was alot) skin and neck skin was cut into small pieces. The tongue was removed from the beak and all was cooked in a large vat until the liquid fat could be drained off cooled and stored for cooking use later. After draining the remaining skin and tongue meat it was fried until crispy and wrapped in muslin cloth to extract any oil, and then tossed in a mixture of garlic and salt. These crispy duck pieces are known as fritons, a bit like pork scratchings, and are eaten as nibbles with an aperitif.

After 4 hours everything was packed away and the whole process starts again in 15 days to finish the last batch of duck for the year.

If you have a go at foie gras yourself, let me know how successful it is. I am sure the farmer and his wife will be impressed if the wider world is aware of their methods and using them to produce their own French delicacy.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Trip to the Tax Office!!

After being here for nearly 8 months and working hard on the gite we thought it was time to get our tax affairs in order. A friend who lives near Tours came to visit for a few days, so I took the opportunity to go with her to the tax office at Moissac. I prepared lots of documents I thought necessary to take and we set off on the 20 minute drive.

The offices from the outside were attractive and the architecture appealing but inside the building was large, cold, uninviting and resembled a Victorian mental hospital. I didn't change my opinion after visiting the second floor. Walking from one dormitory room to the next whilst the occupants looked blankly from behind their desks when I asked about setting up an "auto entrepreneur business, I got the distinct impression that rather than dealing with our request it was easier to push us onto another department and we were then out of their hair!

Finally, on the third attempt we were directed to a slightly more appealing room where three middle aged women sat surrounded by pot plants each concentrating hard on piles of administrative papers to be filed and entered onto their computer screens. The heating was on and a bottles of water were dotted around the room, whether they were for the plants or the women I could not tell. After explaining the reason for our visit for the umpteenth time and actually getting somewhere we started the process of registering the gite business, however after 10 minutes it became clear that there was more to this than was indicated at the start of the conversation. The upshot of it was that in fact due to my other work commitments being self employed, but working on a contract for my previous company for one of their clients my situation was not a straight forward one.....now there is a surprise.......... not. Finally after an hour and a half we came to conclusion that we in fact needed to go to the USSAF administration centre in Montauban.

By the time we had made our way back to the car it was late and we took a chance that the French equivalent of the DVLA Office would still be open, as my first attempt to register the car with French number plates had gone the same way as my visit to the tax office. How stupid am I..........if course it was not open, it was Friday and 4pm. Note to self.......... ensure I don't attempt to go next time on either Friday afternoon, Saturday, Monday, during a two hour lunch break or after 4pm or a bank holiday or if it is raining or if the wind is blowing in a northerly direction!

Next instalment on my tax progress will follow shortly!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

At 45..... a touch of dementure!

What a nightmare! Having spent a busy week last week working and visiting friends and relatives, I left the UK on Saturday morning ready to return to our lovely home in France. I think the traffic and stress must have taken its toll on me!

My friend kindly took me to the airport for a lunchtime flight and after a quick cuppa I wandered through the security check area and on to the plane relaxed and chilled. For the first time in ages it was actually on time! After a pleasurable hour long chat with a nice Irish man I disembarked at Toulouse with everyone else to get my suitcase. That's when I realised .................I had left the keys for the van parked in the long term car park in a coat pocket at my sisters in the UK!

I mumbled a few expletives under my breath and tried to calmly ring my husband to organise him to bring the spare key in the other car to Toulouse.....................Oh dear, not a happy man, he did not have a spare key and the air was blue! After leaving the van at the airport we travelled home in silence and I organised a courier to get the keys to France as soon as possible.

We received them Wednesday morning and went off to the airport that afternoon. It was pouring with rain and after paying a large amount for an extra weeks parking, we made our way to the car park. Typically, no umbrella in the car and the van was parked at the furthest point from the entrance!

After a lecture by hubbie on how to start it (as he kindly informed me that the battery was playing up) I dashed trough the rain and puddles and jumped in before being drowned by a passing vehicle. Off I went to the barrier to pay and immediately smelt something "not right" from under the bonnet.

At the barrier I had to get out of the van as it is right hand drive. I need not have worried about being splashed by one vehicle, as within seconds I was soaked through by many and my feet were squelching in my socks and shoes. Unfortunately the ticket was wet too and wouldn't scan so I moved to a second barrier and asked for assistance as I couldn't get it to lift. After a two minute discussion with the security guard I returned to the van. OMG, lots of white smoke was rising from under the bonnet. I turned off the ignition immediately, that was it...... dead. I rang Nick to come from the other car to help explaining what had happened, guess what......................it was all my fault!!

We pushed the van through the barrier to the side of road and left it to find the French equivalent of Halfords to look for a tow pole. An hour later we started the 50 minute journey home in the dark and rain.

Oh, I forgot to mention it was Armistice Day and a bank holiday in France so the roads were heaving with people getting away for a short break. The journey started well and even though we were causing long traffic queues we made it through Toulouse and out towards Beaumont de Lomagne in an hour and a half. Then............. the van lost all power, so I was towing a vehicle in the dark with no lights, no brakes, no wipers and no heater around hairpin bends and in pouring rain. I was scared and starting to get tired. Abigail had been told to say nothing and play on her DS in the back of my car so I could concentrate!

On looking in the rear view mirror coming down a steep hill, I lost sight of Nick and heard a loud bang from behind....... I stopped quickly expecting the worst, fortunately he was still there but a bit shaken. The van had bent the tow pole, bent the towing eye and broken the numberplate, but fortunately that was all. At that point we both decided enough was enough and abandoned the van until the morning. We arrived home shattered at 9.30pm after the epic 3.5 hour trip and went straight to bed.

Yesterday we went back to collect it and bring it the last few miles home, which was a breeze in the daylight and no rain!

So, the moral of the story is........ don't be an airhead, check you have your car keys in your bag or pocket before going any trip. After over 100€ and a van repair to sort, I have learnt the hard way!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Beautiful Blighty!

After spending the last weeks fretting about money and where we were going to find the money to continue with the renovation of Le Farat, I decided drastic action was needed and organised a trip back to the UK to work, do some important networking to help promote Le Farat and meet up with friends and relatives of course.
I arrived back in the UK late Sunday night after another super efficient flight by squeezyjet (not)and my dad collected my daughter (as she had been with us for school half term) and I from the airport. I felt guilty that he had had to sit and wait in MacDonalds car park for over 2 hours in the dark and rain for our delayed flight to arrive, but we finally flopped into bed weary at 1.45am (or 2.45am for my body clock!)

On waking up Monday morning and taking a look outside the window made me realise that the Autumn in the UK was nicer than I remembered. The trees are probably about 1 week ahead of the ones in France and have turned a much deeper shade of Orange. I think it is because there is a lack of Beech and Maple trees where we are in France and they produce such vibrant colours it is hard to ignore them.

Having said all that and loving the countryside in my old home area, I immediately felt a yearning to get back to France. The traffic on the way to work yesterday was a nightmare and everything is just so much busier and stressful. Equally scruffier than I remember too. First impressions for visitors arriving at Gatwick airport is not good. The Olympics here in 2012 will create a lasting impression on the world for how old, outdated and rubbish the infrastructure for roads, rail and air all are. I predict a disaster!

Anyway, I arrived early (very unlike me!) for my meeting with work colleagues and spent a day in a sales meeting, training on new software and collecting a new laptop. For those of you that don't know, I work on a contract basis for Zebra Technologies who are the leading manufacturer of barcode label ,and card printers, and I am fortunate enough to be working part time remotely from my little office in deepest France account managing their vast list of UK resellers.

After work a team meal had been organised together with one of our distribution customers at a local Indian restaurant for a group of 21. For some reason my body cannot do Indian food, and despite taking the mild option and eating copious amounts of Naan and poppadoms with mango chutney, I still had to visit the loo more often than normal! Therefore at 10.30pm, and fading fast I bid my farewells and took to the road for the 45 minutes journey back to my sisters. Result, the motorway was almost empty, and made me feel like I was back home in France, apart from the regular speed cameras and roadworks everywhere.

Need get out and about promoting our holiday home today. Sometimes a bit of leg work and networking works wonders, and we need to try everything.
Just had an email from my hubby in France to say we have had a three night booking for the B&B in December. Result things are looking up!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Sun still shining in South West France

Wow 18 degrees today and its the end of October! Just got all the washing dry and now under more mountains of ironing!

The garden is looking good and I have collected the last carrier bag of Walnuts from our three trees. The lawn is growing madly again and the only slight problem we currently have is the lack of petrol.

Due to the general strike here at the moment, fuel supplies are restricted and definitely no cans allowed to be filled at the pumps. Twice this week I have been to get fuel and been turned away. Prices in the last 10 days have rocketed from 1.12€ per litre for diesel to 1.26€ per litre, and we have even heard of petrol stations putting up prices after dark to deter panic buying.

Megan our daughter is coming to Le Farat for half term on Monday and we are all looking forward to seeing her again after an absence of 8 weeks since the summer holidays. I will be returning to the UK with her at the end of the month for work and catch up with friends and family. I think I am ready for the break.

Thoughts are now turning to Christmas and what we should do to placate all members of the family and not rock the boat. Almost impossible I would say. How many families I wonder are in a similar situation and dreading the festivities due to enforced happiness with the family!

I shouldn't be so sceptical, but from past experience all I really want to do is spend our first Christmas in France as a family of four and no outside pressures. No chance................ I am sure a large bottle of Armagnac will be a necessity!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Peace and quiet....well almost!

After a late flurry of B&B guests we are now into winter mode at Le Farat. Which means to us crack on with the work and get on with the marketing!!

But hang on a minute, its October.......here in France it is still T shirt weather and the sun is shining brightly. Yes of course it is cooler but to have 27 degrees in Mid October would be unheard of in Blighty!

So why waste it we thought.... why not have a BBQ. Toulouse sausages on special offer at the supermarket 3.95€ per kilo, pork chops on offer too, French bread with fresh salad from the local market finished off with BBQ bananas, Armagnac and cream; washed down with a number of bottles of the local wine. All consumed in the name of market research of course, we couldn't have wished for a better couple of evenings!

Why is it most people still think that holidays are only for July, August and September........ clearly in France the holiday season can go on way into the Autumn!

The scenery is changing slightly now as the cool mornings are turning the leaves beautiful shades of burnt oranges, reds and yellows. The fields are ploughed for the winter and the spring crops are planted. The views are shrouded in a blanket of mist until the heat of the sun burns it away and the chasse (huntsmen) are out in force most mornings with their hunting dogs tracking down rabbits, deer and wild boar. The pool covers will soon be going on and the mowers being serviced ready for the flurry of spring mowing all over again from April.

Events are still on going here too, last weekend we had a pottery fayre in Auvillar that was attended by many craftsmen, the village was bustling with locals and people from "out of town". There was a section put aside for the children to have a go at making something for themselves. One local potter created a kiln out of clay and straw mixed together by the children in wellies and all the creations were fired in the kiln overnight and put on display the following day.

Next weekend in Valence d'agen there is a Chrysanthemum fayre and the following weekend no doubt another fayre in a neighbouring village. It really is all about village life and local produce here and everyone gets involved, the community spirit is great and just like we used to have in the UK many years ago, such a shame it no longer exists.

For those of you tempted to book with us, contact me via my website www.lefarat.com which I have just spent the last three weeks updating, still a bit to do in the events section and some of the layout to tweek but nearly there!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Update on our progress

Feeling guilty, for those of you that are following our progress, I apologise for not keeping you up to date!

We have been busy with yet more guests and I am so pleased that our business has gone well in this our first year. I must thank Nick for all his hard work in making the gite so fantastic and all his hard work has paid off. All who see the Maison Du Soleil think it is georgious.

Nick has lost so much weight in the process that some of the family and friends that have visited hardly recognise him!

I must admit I am getting twitchy about bookings for next year now as our last guests for this year come next week and then it is all quiet. Lets hope that the tweeting, blogging and the marketing activities I have been doing over the past few months pay off, if not, we are sunk!

I know I must be positive and all the comments we have had from our guests in this our first year have been so good but as the bookings calendar looks a bit bare at the moment I suppose it is normal to panic a bit and I am sure that most people have not even started thinking about next years holiday yet!

Currently we have an American child here with us from Denver Colorado on a school exchange, things seem to be going well, but he is so quiet it is hard to really be sure he is happy. Being his first time away from home it is understandable that he is a bit homesick but lets hope he comes out of his shell a bit over the next 10 days or so.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Bardigues en Fete

Its another round of village fayres again in Tarn et Garonne! This weekend we attended the Fete de Bardigues. The village fayres generally last all weekend with events on the saturday and an open air meal for the village followed by dancing and fireworks.

We had anticipated the fireworks, but were not prepared for such a spectacular display from a village with just over 200 residents. We were treated to over 25 minutes of beautiful colours and loud bangs with rocket after rocket exploding into huge balls of colour illuminating the clear stary skies for minutes on end.

On Sunday morning we were up bright and early to do our first carboot sale in the village. I had spent a few hours with Abigail my youngest going through things we wanted to sell the previous weekend and were fully organised and prepared.

With the car loaded and the sun shining but with a slight nip in the air we drove the 1/2 mile to the village. We set our stall out between two large plaine trees that lined the road to the village and took our seats in the sunshine. After 3 hours I was miffed.....I had had no one looking at my stuff at all and neither had Abigail. Clearly people wanted to buy crap as Nick was doing a roaring trade!!

I was called on for my translation skills on numerous occasions, however we had forgotten the dictionary and Nick didnt know what it was he was selling in English, let alone me trying to translate it into French! Still, we had a laugh, met lots of people and an English couple that lived just a few miles away!

(Result.....the English woman has a couple of very nice horses and wants someone to ride out with offering me a ride out anytime....after that I was not worried I hadn't sold anything, just pleased I could get back in the saddle after an absence of a few months after sadly having to leave my horse in the UK)

During the day we were entertained by street dancers, a stilt walker and the village clown who trundled up and down the high street on his home made music wagon playing french music, we even had a rendition of "when the saints come marching in" played on a Xylophone with cow bells as an accompaniment!

By 3pm I had sold one item for 5€ and Abigail had sold 5€ of lucky dip prizes. Nick however was doing much better. At 5pm after sitting outside for 10 hours we decided to call it a day and loaded the car for the short journey home again.

Next weekend it is the village Fayre in Lavit de Lomagne and they are holding a nut festival, as the nut harvest is in full swing now. I will report on any interesting findings next week.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Out of my comfort zone, plus some!

I am told that I will not improve my command of the french language unless I put myself in more challenging situations!

Well, this evening I did just that..............I volunteered to help the children at my daughters school with their swimming lessons. Little did I know it would involve an in depth training session followed by a swimming test!

Off I trundled to the municipal pool with my nicest all in one costume (just in case the lifeguard was a dish!! lol).... On arrival, I was ushered to a holding room where all the other parents were gathering to represent their childs school in the region. I didnt realise, but some had travelled for nearly half an hour for this induction and test! It all looked a bit serious to me.... I just thought I was helping with swimming lessons!

After a scary looking woman spent over half an hour going through rules and regulations, which I appreciate are necessary (and amazingly understanding most of it), we were asked to go to the changing rooms and to gather by the pool when ready. I felt I was back at school myself!

Rather disappointingly, the scary female instructor re appeared, and not a lifeguard or a pair of speedos were in sight! Our names were called one at a time and we had to do a simple test of entering the water at speed (ie diving or jumping in). This was to be followed by a length of breast stroke, a length of back stroke and retrieval of an object from the bottom of the pool....simple I thought.... NO!

As my name was called, I made my way to the end of the pool and took my position to enter the water. All eyes were on me, every other mum had dived in so I couldn't just jump in, I had my reputation to establish and certainly did not want to look like a fool!

Actually, I have not dived for some time as I wear contact lenses and have always been a bit scared I would loose one, if i did I would be totally helpless and blind! So... I held my breath... closed my eyes and dived............ great I thought as I came up for air, no belly flop and I still have both lenses.... oops, but not my top.......... how embarassing! I quickly rearranged myself, completed the test and after getting the nod from the instructor that I had passed, made a hasty exit from the pool , rather red faced, before I could be called upon to do anything else.

The next problem will be when I actually have to go and help with the children. I will be allocated 8 youngsters between 6-8 years old all with various degrees of confidence, fingers crossed for me!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Harvest time in france!

Although it is the end of the summer here, it is still warm during the day and we are regularly hitting 28 degrees, there is however a nip in the air in the evenings and it will not be long before I am forced to wear socks again!

Clearly the birds are noticing it too, the housemartins and swallows are gathering in their thousands along the power cables anticipating their long journey south and it takes skill to miss them in the car as they all take to the air as I drive past.

The hunting season has also started and we were woken this morning to the sound of bells... each hunting dog has one around its neck so they are easy to follow by their owners. There were a few shots, a bit of shouting and some partridge taking to the air, but unfortunately no wild boar this time!

With the wheat harvested in early July and fields already ploughed for the winter, the farmers are busy harvesting crops of sunflowers, maize, millett, grapes, plums, nectarines and tomatoes and it will not be long before the nut harvest begins.

We are now in the last stages of harvest at Le Farat and have this year been lucky enough to gather large amounts of food from the garden like cherries, apricots, nectarines, strawberries, grapes etc...it is so wonderful to be enjoying all the things I love for free.

This weekend I have been ducking attacks from wasps and hornets in order to gather figs. We have one cob nut tree that seems to be loaded and three trees that have more walnuts on them than we know what to do with. I think I need to find some walnut and fig recipies and buy a bigger freezer!

right...........need to get to it and make some fig and ginger chutney!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Fully equipped games room at Le Farat

We have been working hard all summer here at Le Farat and all our guests have been so complimentary about the house, gite and the B&B room. So clearly the hard work has been paying off. We asked each of our guests what they thought of their stay on departure and what we could do to improve thier experience, all without fail said they love it, which is great but a couple said that it would just be perfect if there was a bit more to do for the teenagers..........so we have done just that and added a fully equipped games room in one of the large converted barns opposite the swimming pool, which has an impressive vaulted ceiling with open beams.

It now contains a full size table tennis table, a 5ft air hockey table, a professional table football and a dart board, a seating area at one end, and to add to the experience, a drinks (beer) fridge!!

Why not spend Christmas here this year....I will provide a Christmas hamper and a decorated tree, all you have to do is book the gite for the week!

More wine tasting - regular occurance now!

We have had a steady stream of visitors, in this our first year of running our holiday gite business, and each time someone visits we are recommending a trip out to Saint Sardos and to Donzac to the cave of Cotes du Brulhois. Not that we are encouraging people to increase their alcohol consumption of course............but a lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon in France.

Last Friday...yes you've guessed it we went back again! This time the people at Saint Sardos recognised me!! and invited us into the bottling plant to watch my favourite Gilles du Morban being bottled. Our guests purchased a number of cases after a condsiderable time testing different wines and as a thank you we were given a discount and a free bottle of wine!

Leaving Saint Sardos behind we drove the short 25 minutes back towards Auvillar and on into Dune and Donzac to find the wine cave. The lady there, who was supporting a neck brace (we didnt dare ask!) offered a number of white, rose and red wines to taste. Again, already feeling more than a bit relaxed from the previous tasting, our guests purchased yet more red and rose wine! Good job they were driving their own car home!

Later that evening, we discussed our afternoon over a BBQ and a few bottles of the said wine by the pool and went to bed happy and relaxed.

So at Le Farat, we have now decided to offer a wine tasting trip once a week to our guests, with me driving so that everyone can partake in a tipple or two and not have to worry.

Who's going to be next to experience what Le Farat has to offer?

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Biggest sand dune in Europe

For the first time since we arrived in France we have had a weekend to ourselves with no pressing work to be done and no guests!

What could we do with our time?.... It was Megan's last weekend with us before going back to the UK for school, so we decided a day at the beach was in order. Where should we go? So many beaches to choose from and all about 2 hours in the car.

Unfortunately, after such a hot week, the forecast was not brilliant (typical) but being brits we were used to having to take wet weather gear to the beach! Nick, my husband gets ants in his pants if he has to sit for too long so we decided to split our day in two... half a day doing something different and then a few hours on the beach so the kids could play in the sand!

After contemplating which direction to go from Auvillar, we decided we would try West and set off towards Bordeaux, I had read about a giant sand dune just South of Bordeaux near a town called Arcachon and programmed the destination in to the satnav and set off.

After two hours in the car with everyone, I was ready to get out! Why is it that a day trip (which should be fun) always ends up with multiple rows over silly things!..... anyway differences a side, we arrived at the Dune du Pilat.

OMG big is an understatement............... I thought i'd just driven to the Sahara! At 120m high and 3km long, it is the biggest sand dune in Europe and is truly amazing. After standing at the bottom for 10 minutes to take it in, Abigail decided she wanted to climb it without using the steps provided, I had to follow!! I think we only managed about 60m and had to give in and make our way over to the stairs, not that I am a wimp, but in the heat (approx 28 degrees) it was more than a stroll and even the steps were hard slog!

On reaching the top despite being sand blasted, the view that greated us was incredible. We then ran down the steep slope and rewarded ourselves with an ice cream!

Biscarosse beach is just a few km further south, and although the beach was long and amazing the town itself was heartless and just another modern holiday resort. We had only been on the beach for about 45 minutes and the lifeguards called everyone out of the sea using their loud hailers to say a storm was on its way. Within 10 minutes the beach was deserted and we arrived back at the car looking rather bedraggled! Taking the scenic route home we travelled through the Landes forest and rejoined the familiar countryside of the Gers with its rolling hills and fruit production, which was much more interesting. After stopping briefly in Condom and Astaffort, which are beautiful, we arrived home.

The car was emptied of bags and our own mini sand dunes and after grabbing a quick snack all took to our beds early!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

A hot weekend in Auvillar

After mixed weather for the last few weeks this weekend has really come good. 35 degrees since Friday, we have been enjoying ourselves by the pool and now that our gite guests have gone, taking advantage of some spare time enjoying the area, although mountains of ironing await!

Megan's friend Daisy has been with us and we have been travelling around the area visiting some of the sights, (with my trusty camera in tow!) Markets, historic towns and local eateries, not to mention visiting Saint Sardos again!

After numerous attempts of going to Moissac and finding the Cloisters closed, I finally made it inside this morning, and wow was it worth the wait.

Hope you like the pics!