Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Relaxing in Saint Chinian

Where is Saint Chinian?
Saint Chinian is between Beziers and St Pons, on the way to Castres and Albi. We've travelled the surrounding roads on two trips to Saint Chinian and realise there's much more to see.

We took this photo from our Juliet balcony - looking down towards the market square.

We had a leisurely get-up morning before breakfast and then walked to the local market. We could hear the church bell ringing as it most probably has for several centuries on a Sunday morning. Sue was excited about actually shopping for the first time at a French village market and a little daunted by the fact that she may have difficulty with the language but also in knowing what some of the produce actually was. Something she would become much more used to in our future trips to France.

The market stall holders were friendly, happy and talkative. They made an effort to help us and even offered samples of their produce to try. I don’t imagine that Saint Chinian has a lot of tourists and that was kind of the attraction. We were mixing with the real French in our minds. It made us feel part of the village rather than strangers.

One stall holder whom had a good grasp of Franglais was enjoying a bottle of wine with his mates and offering kisses to the passing women. We chatted with for awhile before moving on to our next experience.
I was keen to get back in the car for some further experience and get over my previous disasters. We decided to drive back into Beziers to look for an internet café and send some news back home. The only internet access in Saint Chinian was the local library which was not open, being Sunday.

Beziers old pont spanning the Orb River

As we drove through Beziers we spied an internet café on the other side of the road but my instincts told me that a U-turn was not advisable, or in fact possible. So we drove on for a kilometre or two before reaching a roundabout and returning. This is a procedure that I’ve employed many times now. If you miss a turn or a parking spot, whatever, just wait for the next roundabout and return - no panic, no drama, no stress.
The medieval 14th century Cathedrale St Nazaire of Beziers sits on the highest point of the city and from below there is a wonderful scene of the old bridge (pont vieux) with the banks of the river rising with the cathedral perched at the top of the rocky outcrop.

On returning to Saint Chinian I was feeling more at ease with my driving and enjoying the Citroen C3. It seemed to be the perfect car for the small villages and it performed quite well on the open roads as well. The lease plan offered by Citroen Australia called “Drive Europe” works well and is competitive with hire car fees if you decide on a car for more than 17 days. The Citroen comes straight from the showroom, brand new and in your name with full comprehensive insurance and no extras to pay. Being Citroen owners we also received a 10% discount and on our future trips, we were given an additional 3 days as a loyalty bonus.

My very first lease car (not my last) was fantastic, once I became used to all the controls being on the opposite side - After 4000 kms and 5 weeks of driving, I fell in love with the C3.
Cloister at the Saint Chinian Church
Back on the balcony I enjoyed my favourite French beer, a Pelforth Brune. Sue on the other hand took a liking for Pelforth Blonde, although back home she hardly ever drinks beer.

Sitting on the balcony of the villa in the late afternoon sun became a pleasant ritual at the end of each day.

The weather however does changes during the days with some mornings starting with an overcast sky, but by noon the sun shines down into the valley, changing the colours of the terrain. Sometimes after a humid afternoon the grey skies return bringing on further colour changes. Our villa also changes colour with the various rushes of light.

Pastel colours of orange, purple and greens blend with the natural elements of stone, wood and rendering of the walls. Each hour of the day brings new experiences of our time in Saint Chinian.

Sue decides its time to relax and enjoy the ambience of our villa. Can't say I blame her.

A couple of Arty Farty fotos from the inside of the villa Tourism website on the area Our Villa website Anthony and Andreas email

Sunday, June 27, 2010


That's right, Limecello, not Limoncello.

I mentioned a couple of blogs ago that Sue was making limecello from the multitued of limes that are dropping from our lime tree (well bush actually). Tonight was our first tasting.
The verdict!!!!
Limoncello is better but vodka is OK with anything.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

No Reservations for Mostly Martha

Last weekend on a Friday night we sat down to watch an old favorite Movie - No reservations. Its a Foodie's movie.
It had Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart. It was a slick American movie and just the perfect light entertainment for a Friday night after a long week at work. A glass of wine on the couch and an entertaining movie makes for the perfect Friday night.

In between last Friday and this Friday, I found "Mostly Martha", a remake, NO, actually the original German movie.

Since travelling, we seek out French and Italian movies and find that the Americans often do remakes (even of their own old movies). No Reservations was made in 2007 where Mostly Martha came out in 2001.

I found that Mostly Martha was more real, and a little gritty compared to No Reservations. Maybe the difference was the harshness of the German setting of the docks and winter. The two main characters are not overly attractive in the movie star sense.
No Reservations did follow the original storyline quite well however I found Mostly Martha more realistic and a tinge more sad.

I wouldn't say one was better than the other - just different. It's interesting to see how cinema is treated in different countries.
Take humour for instance - compare British humour to American humour and as for Australian humour!!!! 
Here in Australia, we are offered both British and American humour but very little European humour - so I buy from the small "World" section of DVDs. Our Euro collection is growing as is our sense of international humour.

Added to the collection recently are "My Best Friend" with Daniel Auteuil and Dany Boon. "The Closet", again with Auteuil was funny. Depardieu whom we saw in the US film "Green card" was also in this movie.
Maybe some of you out there can suggest other Euro movies that we might try.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Funky Friday

Driving home Thursday on a cold wet night I saw this sign when stopped at lights and thought, "I wonder if I can get a shot as I driveby."

I guess you could call it a driveby shooting. I wonder what this guy has against pigeons and what prompted such a huge statement.
I like pigeons, duck, chicken especially washed down with a crisp white or even a Pinot Noir.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Saint Chinian in the Languedoc

The Cathedrale  St Nazaire at Beziers sits perched on the highest point overlooking the city where the Orb river meets the Canal du Midi.
It was where 1000s of Beziers citizens were massacred when the Papal troops crusaded against the Cathars in the region. They were ordered not to discriminated between Cathars and Catholics. "Kill then all, God will recognise his own."

After a good strong coffee and a couple of delicious pastries, I changed the wheel on the Citroen C3 and we left Beziers on our way to Saint Chinian. It was the last leg before we good relax for a whole week and take in the local area. Saint Chinian is the central point of the wine growing district and nor more than 50 or so kms from Beziers. Driving through the village of Puisserguier, you start to climb and as you get to the highest point the road starts to descend into the valley, but not before getting a glimpse of the village below. We started to become quite excited at this moment. What would our home for the next week be like?
Saint Chinian doesn't show up in the usual tourist books, this is part of its charm.

We arrived early. Our hosts were not expecting us until much later so we decided to become aquainted with the village that would be our home for the coming week.

The main shopping areas are hidden behind the main road through Saint Chinian and the streets have  lovely paving and planter boxes. People greet you regardless of the fact that you are new.
Nice really - its a very comfortable village.

From the Diary - Ärrived at Saint Chinian about 2.30 - we had told our hosts 6.00 so we had a look around. What a wonderful village. Chatted with a local lady, she had no English but was sure we would understand if she kept talking, especially if she got progressively louder. Met with Antony and Andreas and was shown around the villa.
It has two sets of steep steps - wonderful....
It is beautiful and decorated with care and an eye for detail. Went shopping at the supermarket and cooked pasta with a salad for dinner. Neither of us wanted to move from the villa. After the day it felt like a refuge.
Market day tomorrow."

Its true what they say about it being a small world. As we waited for the local supermarket to open, there was another couple also waiting. We said hello and discovered that they were fellow Australians. Not only from OZ but only 3 or 4 kms from our home. They were to become good company while at Saint Chinian and we continue to see them occasionally to this day.

AND there it was, our little French villa for one whole week. The little Juliet balcony was used to its full advantage. We would sit with a glass of local wine and aknowledge the passing locals, as they would us. This is truly heaven.

The stairway to our living quarters.

Sue relaxes in the sitting room on our first night in Saint Chinian.

And the bed after the past driving dramas was most inviting.

Now tell me where in France you can see a bathroom this HUGE!

Just an Arty Farty photo of a window in our villa.

Like most French villages, Saint Chinian hosts a market. Its a great market, not too large for people to be friendly. We could see the market setting up from our balcony and Sue couldn't wait to get the shopping basket and buy some local produce.

As the sun dropped, we would watch the locals going for their evening walks, and they would offer a bonsoir when they saw us on the balcony sipping our wine.

NEXT - Carcassonne and Minerve, Cathar country

Monday, June 21, 2010


That's right - it was a nothing weekend really.

On Friday I was in the City and this scene reminded me of the Cafes of Paris.
As you can see, winter is well and truly with us but never gets below zero, well hardly ever.
The weekend was NOT looking good.

You think to yourself, what can I blog this weekend and then before you know it, the weekend has gone and you are back on the treadmill at work. Usually our weekends are so busy that we don't have time to relax but this weekend was different. I enjoyed a pint of Guinness with my 89 year old Dad on the Saturday Arvo. He's a bit of devil really and he seems to know every face that walks into the cafe/bar where we enjoyed the pint. Maybe not always by name but when he forgets a name, there's always the G'day Maaaate!!!
Then it was off home to a few jobs on the "List".

First was to take the excess magazines and books out to the garage or the dumpmaster. We find it difficult to just dump any form of printed literature but Sue's Cook Book and Magazine collection is at the point of obsession. She'll say its a passion and I don't help the situation when it comes to birthdays and christmas. When I can't think of a special present, its off to the book shop for another cook book for Sue.

This whole five level book shelf is full of Sue's cook book collection and that's after she culled it.
There's even another bookshelf in the bedroom full of cookbooks. Nowhere for my cycling books.

I see a few gaps, but it won't take her long to fill these. The usual international chefs and cooks are amongst the collection along with our own very favorite Australian ones.

Not Limoncello - scroll down
Our lime tree has gone crazy this season so Sue decided to experiment with the limes.

Limoncello was something that we discovered on our 2006 trip to France and Italy (check out our mid-weekly French Travel Diary) and Sue occasionally makes a brew. Our lime tree this year has gone crazy so she decided to make a brew of Limecello. Let you know how it works out soon.

Sunday morning was wet and I'm a fair weather rider, nothing worse than a wet bum, shoes and socks so we decided that a breakfast in a nearby cafe on the bay with a view of the winter waters lapping the sand would be invigorating. Fortunately we are a little over a kilometre from some great cafes and bars that are on the bay. This one is actually on the beach and has a great view. We sat with our hot coffee and raisin toast watching joggers, dog walkers and the odd (very odd) wet and miserable cyclist pass by.

A little later in the morning I had a call from Dags and Nico to go for a ride in the Arvo for a quick 50 kms and since the skies had cleared, I agreed. We decided to pedal down to Port Melbourne and back. As we arrived at our turning point, we discovered that the Spirit of Tasmania had docked. Sue and I sailed across Bass Strait to Tassie for our honeymoon in the early 80s with our MGB below. We were spoilt by a very smooth and calm trip over but the return trip made me bad company. Very rough!!!!

That's Dags on the left doing his "aahhh my hearties" pose while Nico says, "Come on Dags, lets get back on the road, I need a Merlot".

Anyway, we pedalled back home to the nearby suburb of Black Rock where an old Art Deco garage has been renovated into a trendy bar. An end of ride dark ale was in order to signal the end of our weekend.

A bit of a nothing weekend really.
How was yours?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Our second day in Arles

Our second day in Arles allowed for a more relaxing wander after the stressfull first day of driving on my part. Can you imagine picking up a car that when you hopped in the driver's seat, you find that the steering wheel is not in front of you!!! AND, you drive on the opposite side of the road from what you are used to. Very stressful.

From the diary "Walked around Arles this morning. Roman Ampitheatre that seated 20,000 people - still in good enough condition that it is still used today. The added aluminium framework of seats and stairs  are amazing. It staggers me to watch young kids kick a soccer ball against 2000 year old walls."

I don't know if it was the time of the year or the time of the day but we had Arles to ouselves. Our friends of commented after seeing our photos, "where are the people". It's true, except for the really big tourist attractions, we seem to be on our own - how good is that. As we walked up from the ampitheatre, our next port of call was the Roman Theatre where again it is also in use today. We couldn't believe that we had this piece of ancient history to ourselves. Well that is until a swarm of Japanese tourists arrived with cameras clicking. Prior to their arrival, the solitude of the place was good for the soul and so peaceful.

Diary insert. "We were the only people inside the Roman Theatre - really well preserved - again with a wooden stage and electric exit (sortie) signs added for todays modern events. Wandering around, it was easy to imagine it being used to stage Greek tragedies all that time ago."
Arles deserved more than just an overnight stay and we promised ourselves that we would return sometime again (and we did but more about that in a future installment).

We had booked a villa in the Languedoc in a village called Saint Chinian. How and why you might ask. OK, I'll tell you since you did ask. Sue's sister Judy and her husband Ken stayed there in the past and loved the place. And so did we.
But first, another driving tragedy.
"Driving is still a bit of a nightmare. not so bad on the open roads, but turning corners and roundabouts needs lots of concentration. I'm too scared to try - I've watched it turn Leon to a glibbering wreck. We decided to be brave and stop for coffee in Beziers. Leon still not sure of the car's dimensions passed 2 cm away from a parked car - whew just missed and then straight into the huge stone gutter - the tyre went POP! Wasn't yesterday enough drama?
Leon's confidence was somewhat eroded, yet he changed the wheel after a good strong coffee and we continued on to Saint Chinian."

Two weeks in a stone villa at Saint Chinian

Thursday, June 17, 2010


A very innovative and simple, oh and clever piece of graffiti.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


The long weekend is now over
We celebrated Queen Lizzie's non-birthday. The long weekend gave me an opportunity to catch up on a few odd jobs around the house. The limbs from the Gum tree were cut up and await next weekend's skip along with a big cleanout of the garage.

Sue kept me to my promise to take her to Mediterranean Wholesalers, one of her fave foodie shops on the other side of Melbourne. I don't mind going there but getting there is a chore with Saturday morning traffic.
Anyway I'm always rewarded with a great meal that night when Sue experiments with the produce purchased that day.

A great place to shop

Sydney Road Brunswick got its name as being the road out of Melbourne that took you to Sydney in the early 1800s - being as busy as it is these days, you can take in some of the great architecture spanning from the 1850s.

Trams battle the traffic of Sydney Road daily.

Leon's right, Mediteranean Wholesalers is certainly one of my favourite shops. It's just a shame that it's on the other side of town.
Next to that shop is a packed, little kitchenware shop that sells everything at very low prices. A couple of weeks ago, I did a cooking class with one of the chef's from my favourite Italian restaurant, Amiconi's in North Melbourne. The day was about making sausages and also about making that authentic Italian cakey thing, cannoli. I was pretty inspired, but needed specialised equipment before I could start. Mostly not available on this side of town. MW is in Brunswick, which has a large Italian population, and all the sorts of things I wanted are easy to get over there.

This is my favorite pasta, then most pasta is!!!

Some of what we purchased on the day.

In order to make cannoli from scratch I needed to buy cannoli tubes on which to form the pastry to deep fry it. I knew I would be able to get them at this kitchenware shop. And I did.
The recipe needs to be started the day before for both the pastry and the ricotta  filling. I began on Saturday and took them out as a dessert to friends on Sunday. They were fairly involved to make but  yummy, but I forgot to take a photo, sorry.
We bought some great food from Meditteranean Wholesalers, and I set some of it out on our family room table to show you.

I filled the big pasta shells with a red capsicum meaty sauce, and covered it with a cheesy sauce made from pecorino cheese. The pics you can see are of the plates ready to pop in the oven to brown up. It was very good.