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!