Friday, July 30, 2010

Funky Friday

In my mind I thought these two pieces
should be joined as one.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wednesdays in France

Salon de Provence and Menton
Goodbye Saint Chinian

We left Saint Chinian at 10.30 am to hit the motorway but it was a little sad leaving Saint Chinian. It had been our home for the past week and I would recommend the villa for anyone staying in this region.
Little did we know at the time that we would return in less than two years time and say hello to Andreas and Anthony.
Although the motorway has a speed limit of 130 kph, we were continually passed by faster cars. We were even passed by a Fiat Panda going flat chat at its maximum speed – how embarrassing.

We actually left a day earlier as we thought we would need an overnight stay between Saint Chinian and Menton, close to the Italian border. Somewhere in the middle was Salon de Provence. It was a wise decision of Sue's as it added experiences that we would surely have missed.

Salon de Provence
Salon de Provence was just an overnight stay but on arrival, we became aware that there was more interest to the city than we would be able to appreciate in a short stay. As I was becoming more comfortable driving a car from where the passenger usually sits, Salon de Provence was a comfortable size to drive in and around. It was also a lovely city to walk, not too large or crowded - very relaxing.

Salon de Provence, our overnight stop between Saint Chinian and Menton - home to Nostradamus

On arrival it was time for lunch so after locating the Hotel du Midi, we strolled down the street to find an interesting wood fired pizza restaurant. The waitress spoke English and took delight in practicing on us. So delightful was the restaurant’s menu and the waitress that we returned for dinner – I had grilled duck breast and mushrooms, Sue had Rouget fillets.
Our waitress found it astounding that we could come from so far away (Australia) and take six weeks to travel. I must admit that we are fortunate in Australia with our work benefits. After 10 years working with my employer, I had accumulated eight weeks fully paid long service leave. I had also accumulated several weeks of holiday leave from my annual four weeks owing. Some years, I would just take two weeks so the accumulated leave just kept adding up.
Salon de Provence shares some of its history with Nostradamus. There was a museum dedicated to him but time did not allow us to visit.
Early the next morning we were back on the motorway to Menton on the French/Italian border.


Menton Beach, France.
 Menton was a place we wanted to visit overnight on our way to Italy for no other reason than our home suburb in Melbourne took its name from this city on the French/Italian border.

Mentone beach Australia,
painted by Charles Condor in the 1880s. Condor was one of Australia's impressionists whom along with others painted along Port Phillip Bay in the Mentone area before forming the Heidelberg School of Impressionists. Maybe I'll post a future blog on this piece of history soon.

When our suburb (probably then a beach side holiday village in the 1880s) was being subdivided, the developers gave the streets, names such as the Corso, Venice, Antibes, Naples and Florence, which gave it a real European feel. Looking along the sandy bay beaches of Mentone, you can see why the developer was influenced by its French cousin Menton.

From the Diary,
“It’s impossible to get town maps beforehand so you find yourself going round and round - mad traffic – high blood pressure and Leon in melt-down.”

As we drove into Menton from the motorway, we were enthralled by the winding roads that descended to the coast of the Mediterranean. Finding our hotel was the usual hit and miss procedure of the last two weeks. This first trip we didn’t have a GPS. Sue had printed out pages and pages of Mappy maps which are fine for the simple stuff. To find where your hotel is requires more detail instructions. Most of the time, without realising it, we were usually no more than metres from our destination and sometimes just opposite.

The first thing we did on finding our hotel was to order a bottle of Rose and two glasses and admire the coast line from our third floor balcony. Then it was time for a walk to discover Menton.

The highlight was stumbling upon the Anna Chromy exhibition in the gardens of the Musee des Beaux-Arts.
I’d not been aware of her work previously but was amazed with her talent and extraordinary visual concepts.
If you would like to look at more of her work follow this link

Menton being just around the corner to Monte Carlo and the centre of the rich and famous, we found Menton not as friendly as the smaller cities and villages. Unlike our waitress in Salon de Provence, the few people we encountered in the tourist precincts were not anxious to exchange pleasantries. I guess it can be a chore putting up with endless non-French speaking tourists like ourselves.

Another hidden treasure of Menton - At the end of a leafy driveway I spied a Citroen DS.

We decided on buying some bits and pieces and a bottle of wine instead of going out for dinner. This we enjoyed on our balcony overlooking the Mediterranean on a full moon balmy night. Our entertainment was watching the passing promenade of cars and people along the esplanade.

The sun begins to set on our day at Menton - tomorrow we arrive in Italy.

As the sun sets, we raise our glasses and say goodnight to Menton,
and France for the next 2 weeks.

From Menton, our next overnight stop to Rome would be Viareggio, another seaside city set in the region of Tuscany.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Listening, Reading, Watching.

I caught up with my 89 year young father on Saturday morning. He’s a real cycling tragic, having raced in the pre-war years and still pedaling to this day. I hope I can do the same. Jack (my dad) and I have a tradition of sharing a Guinness together after my Saturday morning track training session. Ahhhh, it tastes so good.

Guinness - breakfast of champions

Jack introduced me to Stout as a 16 year old and I’ve enjoyed it ever since, especially with HIM.
Being a quiet weekend, well more than usual that is, I thought I might offer an insight to what I am reading, listening and watching this lately.
Recently I discovered Did I hear you say, “Where have you been lately”? OK, I’m a bit slow.
From previous blogs you might have realized that we have a substantial music collection. After discovering Amazon, I think it may grow larger in a very short time.

Christine McVie, Maria Muldaur and Cyndi Lauper - what can I say - I like chick singers.

Back in the 70s I heard this unbelievable song, Midnight at the Oasis by Maria Muldaur. I bought the album but as time went by, it was misplaced. The CD, 30 years of Maria Muldaur is a great collection of songs from her long career and if you look on YouTube, you can find an interview of a very interesting narrative of her early years.
Would you believe that I only discovered Cyndi Lauper in recent years? I had no idea how talented this woman was when she was popular. The CD I bought was Cyndi singing the Blues – I think she could even sing opera.
There seems to be a trend here because the third CD was another female singer, Christine McVie. She (as Christine Perfect) originally sang in the English blues band, Chicken Shack before moving on to Fleetwood Mac. Such a smooth, easy listening voice she has.
So I chucked these Cd's along with a few others in the 6 stacker to help pass the travelling time to the office.
Do you have books, magazines and newspapers beside your bed. I even have junk mail - how pathetic.
At the moment, I have two books that I’m trying to get through. I started a biography on the Finn brothers. Tim and Neil are Kiwis, that is New Zealanders if you hadn't guessed. They became household names in the music industry as Split Enz and Crowded House. Both have recorded Cd's as individuals as well as together as brothers. I was only into the first chapter when a good friend of ours, Lisa found a book in an op-shop that she thought I might like.

Cycling and Music - what more can one ask for on the weekends. Oh yes, food and wine!!

It’s called “French Revolutions – cycling the Tour de France”. I’m afraid that the Finn Brothers have been put on hold while I’m in TdF fever at this time. It’s about this nerdy guy who decides that he’s going to ride the TdF course without the training or experience it requires – tell you more as both he and I progress through the book.

Well, what can I say, Le Tour of course. The poor old Aussies have had a bad run this year. Never mind, there are more waiting in the wings to get an opportunity to ride in the future. With tonight’s stage in Paris, I expect Alberto to be standing on the highest step of the podium and congrats to him. He’s a true champion with three wins now – and more to come I expect.
With the Master Chef Australia final on tonight, Sue won’t let me watch a new DVD that my son Andrew purchased for us.
A fellow blogger, Walt (he lives in rural France) suggested we should watch “Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud”. Walt, if you’re reading this, I’ll give a critique later.

Thanks for the recommendation WCS

Sue was a little surprised as it was delivered in a plain brown package and she wondered what my son had ordered!!!!!!!!
Master Chef has absorbed our household for longer than I can remember – its Sue’s obsession. Tonight it is the finale of Master Chef and the Tour de France. With a 5.30 am get-up, I’ll check out the TdF results in the morning.

Adam takes out Australia's Master Chef with Callum a creditable second place.

To congratulate Adam and Callum were some of Australia's most famous chefs and cooks who were mentors over the series of one of the highest rating programs this year.
Australia is about to have its Federal government elections next month and the "Great Debate" between the two leading parties was rescheduled so it wouldn't clash with Master Chef.
Hope your weekend was full of interesting experiences.

Friday, July 23, 2010


To say we have a very diverse circle of friends is an understatement. Meeting people and experiencing their interests and talents adds to one's own enjoyment.
One couple that have a rather offbeat creative streak is Denise and Darren. This creative streak seems to have broadsided to their son Jules.
Last night Darren invited us to watch the last mountain stage of the Tour de France, sure that sound fine but the direct telecast didn't finish until 1.45 am and I'm sitting here with very droopy eyes.

On arrival at their home, against the wall were panels that had been painted by Jule. Denise and Darren told me that the panels had hung on the walls of the school for a couple of years. Being so large, only some were available to photograph.

I'm not really sure about the story behind the panels, but I just love the colors and technique.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

MINERVE - something else

Minerve was something else. We had read about it in the DK travel guide of France. I was intrigued by its Cathar history. Why we left it to our second last day in the Languedoc, we will never know. To say it just blew us away is an understatement. We didn't enter the village immediately as we were awestruck by its savage beauty.

Minerve sits on the confluence of the rivers Cesse and Briant. We did eventually walk across the bridge leading to the village as only residents cars are allowed there. Possibly only 100 people still lived on this rocky outcrop.

We walked to the church and there before us was the shape of a dove carved from a huge piece of stone - the symbol of the Cathars. Inside the church was an alter table believed to be from the 5th century.

Some information from Wikipedia
In 1210 a group of Cathars sought refuge in the village after the massacre of Béziers during the Albigensian Crusade. The village was besieged by Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester. The attacking army besieged the village for six weeks before it capitulated. They set up four catapults around the fortification: three to attack the village, and the largest, Malevoisine, to attack the town's water supply. Eventually the commander of the 200-strong garrison, Viscount Guilhem of Minerve, gave in and negotiated a surrender which saved the villagers and himself after the destruction of the town's main well. However, 140 Cathars refused to give up their faith and were burned to death at the stake on 22 July.
(I've only just noticed that as I write this, tomorrow is July 22)

Minerve will always be in our memory as one of the most amazing villages of France, even now after four visits to this diverse country. I don't think my photos do Minerve justice - But my memory does.
From the Languedoc, our travels take us briefly through Provence to Italy, but not before we stay at Menton on the border of France and Italy. Why? Because our home suburb of Mentone took its name this city in France.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Busy Weekend

Retirement seems like an inviting prospect lately. Its tooooo hard to fit the things we want to do in life while also working for a living. Don't get me wrong, my working life gives me great pleasure. I guess I'm blessed that way but at 60 years young, there's so much more we can look forward to.
Friday night we were invited to join friends, Denise and Darren for a dinner, and how relaxing it was. A really nice way to start the weekend. Denise makes great crepes, yummmmm.

I needed to get my usual Saturday morning ride in and as we rode along Beach road with the Bay to our left and a clear sky as we drift out of winter, I thought, how lucky are we to live where we live. The Spirit of Tasmania had docked at Port Melbourne on its return from Tasmania. People were sitting in cafes, sipping coffee and enjoying breakfast as we zoomed down the road.
On the return journey its a bit of a race with an attrition rate. BUT all is rewarded with a coffee at our usual bike shop, come coffee lounge. Its always a good chance to catch up with friends that have the same passion.
Saturday night we had lifetime friends Gloria and Barry around for dinner. We were originally planning to travel together in 2006 (see recent Wednesday blogs) but circumstances changed. Baz has been a mate of mine since our art school days. I think Barry met Gloria at the local bus stop as teenagers - isn't that romantic.
After a short viewing of Le Tour I was in bed at midnight to race in an event in Ballarat.

Now Ballarat is not the best place to be in winter (by Aussie standards). It has lovely architecture and a great gold mining history. Maybe a subject for a future blog I think.
But in Lycra, it's not the place to be in winter. I was glad to be home after a pathetic performance.

Nico came home with a bronze medal - its a wonder that we let him come home with us.

I was looking forward to a relaxing Sunday night in front of the telly, starting with the highlights of the previous night's stage of the Tour. Its been an interesting Tour so far and of course the Aussie interest keeps us excited, but unfortunately the guys from downunder have been afflicted with a bit of bad luck.
Having said that, I think anyone that can finish the Tour is a Legend.

Watching Le Tour on telly and down they come.

And finally a win to Astana's Vino

This was followed by Sue's fave at the moment, Master Chef. Its getting very exciting in the final week - Master Chef that is, Le Tour has two more weeks.

The judges from Master Chef including Iron Chef from Japan - Can't spell his name.

Not many photos this weekend, been toooo busy.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

An Addendum to a Long Day in the Languedoc

Last Wednesday we posted a day of driving around the surrounding area of Saint Chinian and discovering the ruins on a hilltop. My curiosity was getting the best of me so I hopped on Google Earth to see if I could locate the ruins. I had a vague idea but no luck.
Then I thought maybe our hosts in Saint Chinian, Andreas and Anthony may know of it. Within 24 hours of sending an email, Andreas came back, not only with a location but the name of the ruins.
After a little Googling, I discovered the following information;

Chateau Saint Baulery
The Château was built in the 1500's on the ruins of a 12th century fort. Records of wine making in the building date back to 1550, and ruins of stone cuves from that period are still visible. The Château and 37 acres of Carignan and Cinsault vines were purchased by the Durand and Valentin families in 1970. The winery was in poor condition and the families started restoration work immediately. At the same time, they planted additional acreage of Syrah and Grenache. At the time of the purchase, the Durands already had 30 acres of their own vineyards, including a small recently planted parcel of Syrah, one of the first in Languedoc. The Valentins also brought in their own 20 acres, mostly Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault. Today the Domaine consists of 128 acres of AOC vineyards, mostly in Pic Saint-Loup, with all of the Appellation wine estate-bottled at the Château.

This view shows the dirt road we drove up to the ruins, not quite sure if we were on private property or not. My curiosity took the better of me and I was hoping I would not be confronted by an angry farmer as I walked the final metres from the road side. Sue stayed by the car.

In this closer image, although fuzzy, you can see the foundation walls of the Chateau - just to the right, nearer to the road is the little chapel shown in last Wednesday's post.
  The remains of the Chapel in 2006

As they said in Watership Down, "You've read the book, seen the film, now try the stew" I now need to try the wine from Chateau Saint Baulery.
I was suitably impressed with the wonders of the Internet and cyber friends. Without them, I would never have learnt about these historic ruins.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Long Day in the Languedoc

Wednesdays come around quickly and its off to another day's memories in the Languedoc. The photos on this post are of ruins we saw on our drive back to Saint Chinian. They absorbed my imagination as much as Carcassonne, but with no tourist in sight - that is except for us. I wish I knew the history behind these ruins.

The day started with overcast skies and a little drizzle – it only added to the texture of the village. We walked across to the Marche only to bump into our new found friends, Rob and Wendy. After purchasing the needed requirements we returned via the Marie to see if the library was open to access the Internet. No such luck, closed for one more day.

We decided to take a mid-morning drive into the mountains, the other side of Saint Chinian to Saint Pons. The road was wide and smooth, obviously built not too many years ago although one could imagine how nail-biting it would have been several decades ago. Along the way, there was a car pulled over to the side of the road. A local had decided it was time for lunch and was enjoying a baguette and a bottle of wine while his dog sat patiently waiting for any leftovers. His wife sat in the car.

We arrived in Saint Pons and walked across the car park to the Marche and casually started shopping when one of the staff ushered us to the door. We didn’t realise it was their two hour lunch break – nothing comes between the rural French and their lunch.

We returned to our villa to enjoy a baguette with a tasty pork terrine with cheese washed down with a beer.

After our lunch we were ready to explore more of the local area and took a drive to the west of Saint Chinian. The villages of Villespassans, Assignans and Cazedarnes deserved more time to discover on foot but you feel like you may be intruding on the resident’s privacy. These are villages without any commercial outlets but most have their churches and Marie. Most have lovely winding back lanes and seen from above have a snail shell layout. The back laneways are difficult to navigate, even a small car like the C3.

We reached a charming larger village called Cessenon-sur-Orb. Its central area had a few shops, bars and cafes opposite its picturesque church. We’d been without the Internet since Paris and we were keen to share our journey with friends and family. Sue had discovered that the best information on Internet cafes came from the local teenagers and so as a group of young boys and girls walked towards us, she asked them if there was Internet access in the village. Yes there was and the kids directed us back down the road to where we proceeded to send news home.

On the return to Saint Chinian from the corner of my eye, on the hill tops I thought I saw what looked like ruins. We turned up a small dirt road that meandered into the hills and there at the highest point was what centuries ago would have been a small community. The stone ruins took the shape of a small church, a castle and several other smaller buildings amongst the overgrowth of shrubs and blackberries. The buildings seem to have only small slits as windows. I assumed that it dated from medieval times and the it was built in this location for a commanding view of the valley below.
That night as we relaxed in our lounge room we heard English being spoken from the building across the street. Peering through our window we saw two middle aged ladies having a glass of wine on the balcony. We were invited to join them.

Lyn and Karen were from Canada and we exchanged viewings of each our villas. From the outside some of the villas look nothing but once entering the front door, some amazing decoration appears. Their villa was quite modern inside where ours retained much of the old world charm.
A long day was concluded with Wendy and Rob joining us for coffee.