Sunday, November 20, 2011

parc national regional des causse de quercy

I have just returned from a wonderful, action packed, though slightly short visit to France.  I am back in England to dogsit for my brother for a few days, then visit the rest of my family and some London based friends before heading to the mountains again for winter.

My visit was to Marcilhac-sur-célé, a tiny village that nestles in a gorge valley deep in the Parc National regional des Causses de Quercy.  The scenery there is absolutely stunning and the weather was impeccable for November, if I had packed shorts, they would have been well worn.

looking down on Marcilhac-sur-célé from the top of the gorge
I stayed with Brigitte, a wonderful helpX host whose ancient stone house overlooks the valley whilst nestling into the sparse woodland that reflects the barren nature of the limestone region.  A calm and tranquil location with great views and hardly a passing car.
terrace with potager and formal garden area beyond
My morning tasks mainly involved chasing well rooted weeds in the potager and garden areas and using my technical knowledge to bring into line a collection of roses, some of which hadn’t been dramatically pruned for a number of years.  Neither task was particularly hard work, as extracting the roots of perennial weeds takes time and concentration, else fragments get left behind to grow again and if you go at a climbing rose bush with too much vigour you tend to become hooked up, tangled and trapped far too easily, so a steady, paced approach tends to work best.  The results were excellent, possibly a bit more severe than expected, but next year will definitely show results.

Brigitte in the traditional gardener pose
the river Célé passing through Marcilhac

In return, I was incredibly well fed with delicious meals, great conversations and encouragement in my french language skills, which is always appreciated.  Brigitte did more than enough to keep me occupied and amused throughout my visit.   So much so that I feel as if we hardly ever stopped.
November light over Figeac

We visited Figeac, the largest local town in the area, where Brigitte takes accordion lessons and then plays with a group of musicians, a double treat as I got to have a good look round the quaint old town whilst she was taking her lessons and then sat in to enjoy some great practice music.  It was almost like having a private concert, although they did repeat some pieces several times to get it right.  It has made me want to find an instrument to play!

 We visited friends for meals and evenings out so frequently that it felt as if we never stopped.  A great rural community of similarly minded folk that make sure that a good time is had without too much expense.  Family popped in and Timon, the two year old grand son was looked after on several occasions, he was great fun and his books proved to be excellent help filling in some of my vocabulary gaps.  

the garden of Stephan and his family, they are hoping to become self sufficient and autonomous 

It was a shame that I had to leave so soon, as I was beginning to get somewhat settled and could easily have spent another few weeks enjoying my visit.  Alas, plans were already made, I have four great dogs to walk twice a day, the chance to enjoy a bit of city life, some time completely on my own, which is a rare occurrence whilst helpXing the whole time and the opportunity to catch up well on all sorts of things that pass me by on my trips away.  

Sunday, November 13, 2011

beauregard ruin

After a brief interlude back home I am again in France, this time more seriously searching for somewhere to settle down.
Before I left, back in October, I was staying at Nicholas’ in Ruffepeyre, and visited a ruin on the outskirts of a village some 60 km away.  
A small building with solid walls built out of the most beautiful stone, with a tumble down roof in need of complete replacement.  It stands adjacent to a communal track, a field away from the village overlooking its land.
There was no running water on site or electricity, but I was promised that both were available and that the ‘house’ had renovation permission that included a small extension.  Its terrain faces south, about an acre of pasture in total which I dream of turning into a productive vegetable garden with fruit trees in the boundary hedgerows and perhaps a tiny camping site somewhere shady for the walkers that pass by in the summer time.  
I have just been for a second visit with my current HelpX host.  Brigitte kindly drove me there, she was excited to see the project too.  We visited Limogne market en route, picking up bits and pieces for a lunchtime picnic and I had the opportunity to explore the local region a bit further.
The site is more amazing than when I saw it the first time.  I had braced myself for a disappointment as I thought that my imagination may have run wild and created some fantasy place in my head, but it hadn’t.  It was almost exactly as I remembered.  The land is slightly more sloping, which is excellent news, almost completely secluded from passers by at the lowest point.  The funny barn structure is bigger and more solidly constructed, 10 m by 12 m, with an additional 5 m of hardstanding at the front which will make an excellent workshop and storage shed, not to mention immediate chicken enclosure and sunbathing terrace (for my visitors of course).  There are still the most tasty of apples on some of the trees, and in the weak November sun, one can see that a good proportion of the land gets plenty of sunlight throughout the year.
The biggest excitement and discovery is on a small, oddly shaped patch of adjoining land.  I didn’t get chance to explore during my last visit with the agent, but this time, without any time constraints, my expectations have been verified.  After looking at the plans on line, something told me that there was a  source of water there.  My thoughts proved to be true.  A well with an almost complete hand pump, almost completely full to the brim.  I reckon the water level to be at about 2 m, so an excavation on ‘my’ side of the fence should reveal similar.  My beans and tomatoes will be happy after all.
We lunched in the corner of the land, enjoying the sunshine and the view, my head racing, not really knowing what to think or do.  Several hours later, back at the house, I am still a little stunned, in a good way, perhaps it is the excitement of taking this project one step further, or maybe the fear of taking such a large step into the unknown.  I am contented to know that my second visit has made the project one step closer and that with good news from the agent next week, I may well be in a position to proceed with the purchase.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

what do you think?

in need of renovation, it could make a beautiful home

south facing, off the beaten track, although one of 
the GR walks passes along this route.

October sunshine illuminates this exciting proposition,
an acre of slightly sloping fertile land awaits cultivation and a new venture.

a lick of paint and some new carpet, it'll be fine.
anyone know how to rebuild ceilings, plaster and install a kitchen?

the old owners have even left the tiles to put back on the roof.
All I need to do now is learn the necessary skills.

Images of the second plot of land that I have viewed on my quest to settle down again after four years on the road.  My plan is to find somewhere small and affordable with a decent amount of land.  I want to produce enough fruit and veg to feed myself year round, hopefully provide courses, or at least an insight into productive gardening and for those in need of a bit of guidance. Host helpX helpers to share the bounty of knowledge that I have accumulated over the years and to live more simply with less demands on the excesses of modern consumerism.

Your comments please....

Thursday, October 20, 2011

home alone

Nic has business to attend to back in London, so I offer to dog/house sit
for ten days and keep myself occupied.

After a few days on my own, the kitchen began to look like an old time grocers store, with jars of preserved fruits, vegetables and a selection of jams for the winter months.

outside in the sunshine beans and walnuts dry 
in the heat of the autumn rays

Dolly pretends to keep guard, but she is really waiting for someone to
throw her toy again.  She never tires of fetching things.

as I leave the walnut harvest begins to swell, this is probably a third 
of what will fall from the trees in the garden this autumn.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

fat hen

Chenopodium album is the botanical name, in england we call it ‘fat hen”, there are probably numerous other local names, but this is the most common.    The reason being that it was used to fatten hens for the table.  In france it is known as “chenopode” and is used just the same.

young Fat Hen leaves

A combination of prior knowledge, a handy reference book that Aimee and Marc had with them and some of Marc’s archaeological facts have been combined to tell you these facts.

Fat hen plants love colonising disturbed soil, so since civilisations began, this plant has been growing close to humans.  It grows quickly, providing plentiful fresh green leaves that are rich in vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus, they are also a good source of protein, trace minerals, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C,  iron, and fiber. These have been harvested, eaten raw and cooked, until recent times, when larger leafed spinaches and leaf beets became more popular and stole the show.  After many centuries of culinary participation, fat hen became a weed.

close up stems of drying seed
A resurgence in foraging and eating the free bounty that nature provides has us (well some of us) leaving this delicious plant to grow amongst the vegetables and around the the garden for later use.  It can be harvested from spring through to the first frosts and eaten raw in mixed leaf salads or prepared in a similar fashion to spinach, steamed or sauteed and served hot with butter and salt.  By harvesting the younger leaves, the plant then shoots again to produce more tender growing tips again and again and again.  Stopped only by drought, frost or being weeded out completely. Even then, it goes to make good compost.

The leaves of fat hen are not the only part of the plant that is eaten.  The seeds too, were eaten fresh from the plant and also dried and stored for use throughout the leaner winter months.  Archaeological evidence shows that an early settler of the British Isles, perfectly preserved in a peat bog, had been fed a meal of fat hen seeds amongst other things before he was sacrificed all those years ago.

a large clump with new seed forming

There is ample fat hen going to seed around the garden at Nicolas’ so we have been harvesting it by the handful, dry roasting it in a frying pan to remove any residual moisture before storing it away in sealable glass jars for the winter.  Aimee has been adding plenty to the bread that she bakes every morning, giving it a good nutty crunch.  It also finds itself in the homemade salad dressing, which goes very nicely with a bitter leaf salad and any other dish that we see fit.  It seems a shame to let such a flavoursome and nutritious freebie go to waste when it is so easy to use.

Monday, October 10, 2011

blogger stats and stuff

Well, I've just been having a bit of an explore with this new look blogger and all the bits and pieces that go on behind the scenes and it can supply an amazing amount of information on who looks at what and from where.

From the photograph of my screen, above, I am surprised to see where my viewers are coming from around the world and even what type of computers and software they are using.

Finland and Argentina, I wonder who logged on and what they searched for to find my blog.  Hopefully they found what they were looking for.  I expect, if I look further it can tell me how long they spent looking at each page and what they searched for to get there.

If the new layout persists on being unpopular, I can probably change it back, though out of the choice of seven, it's the one I prefer at present.  Specifically liking the sidebar as it gives an immediate reference back in time rather than a list of dates with no clue of what the posting was about.

young archaeologists find

Marc looking for treasure
Still at Nicolas’.  Marc phoned to see if he and his wife could come and have a look round the tower and possibly stay for a night or two.  They have just set off on a trip walking to Milan, Italy, then on to Georgia, after an interlude in India (from Milan) for some archaeological work that Marc has already lined up.  

Aimee, Marcs’ wife, a trained ceramic artist, now prefers to pot and is hugely interested in herbalism and has a fantastic knowledge of plants, both cultivated and wild, that are of use in nourishment and healthcare.  We got on like a house on fire, sharing knowledge by the bucketload.

shiny new steps and excavation holes
We got through so many tasks, refurbishing the chicken run in its entirety, varnishing steps, harvesting more garden produce, collecting sand from the quarry - no mean feat as the red sandstone rock has to be hacked from a small cliff and loaded into a trailer before being carted back to the tower.  It is later reduced to sand with the use of a   sledgehammer and more brute force.  

Marc was challenged to use his archaelolgical skills to find the corner of an old building that once stood on the site.  It started with a small trench, that got larger and substantially deeper than I had expected.  A second trench was later started in the same location that I had discovered the foundation of the wall two summers ago.  Marc dug and scraped for several days whilst Amiee and I got on with our respective tasks.  My quest with brambles and nettles is truly never ending.

siesta time
The young couple fitted in wonderfully, both at ease with the rustic living.  It was probably much easier here than their last place of work, an educational centre in Devon that demonstrated life during Anglo Saxon times.  

been shelling
Escot Village   LINK    is a village built in the style of, with the tools available at the time, in an effort to demonstrate how life was back in the day.  It’s impressive hearing the stories of what life was like and how our ancestors coped with day to day life, not only before electricity and running water, but before potatoes, tomatoes and many of the foodstuffs that we now take for granted.  Who knows how long our current, privileged way of live will last and what will take its place.  Evolution is an amazing energy.

A week passes before the two of them decide to move on.  Marc has made some amazing finds, including plenty of Roman tile pieces, although no definite corner to the building.  We have eaten our fill of fat hen, harvested apples, pears and blackberries galore from the countryside.  Had a couple of great cycle ride excursions and many interesting discussions.  Long live the village people.
impressive menu options

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

domaine laurens

where the fermentation takes place

Slightly different from my last vineyard tour, that was at a high tech mega winery in Napa Valley, California, domaine Chandon if I am not mistaken.  Here, in the sleepy little village of Clairvaux, just down in the valley, about half an hour by bike, is a tiny wine shop.  

bottle, cork, cap, label and box, all in this tiny space
We, we being Nicolas, Anthony and I, called in to buy a bottle or two on our way to Agnés’ for dinner just as a group arrived for a tour, the lady vintner encouraged us to join the group.  We had a wonderful explanation of how the valley comes to be such a good place to grow grapes and a very interesting look around a highly acclaimed wine producers premises.  It was all in french so my mental vocab was woefully inadequate but I got the gist.  

ready for shipping
The tasting that followed was generous to say the least, both on wines and aperitifs (also produced on site), and so we continued to our evening out somewhat prepared on the alcohol front and equipped with more bottles than we had originally anticipated.  I was glad not to have been driving for sure.

tasting anyone?

Nicolas explaining the valley
 It was lovely to see Angés as always, and great to be in french speaking company.  I am always relieved when the words arrive and my ears can decypher the conversations, well, at least in part.  The evening was wonderful, some familiar faces and several new ones, especially the helpXers, the most delicious food and more of that wonderful wine.  Santé!

Monday, October 03, 2011

ruffepeyre once more

the tower of Ruffepeyre
 It’s great being back at Nicholas’ tower.  I just fit back in and get on with stuff now, without any fuss or bother.  We get along well and have huge discussions about all sorts of things, the future of civilisation as we know it, healthy living, how to cook decent food, what is important in life how to live more simply.  Nic always has a huge list of tasks that need doing so I pick out the ones that I fancy, plus a few that he persuades me to attempt and life goes on.  

shelling beans for storage
I love that he doesn’t really like cooking as I get to take over the catering for a while.  It’s always a bonus at this time of year when there is a huge abundance of things in the garden and plenty of weeds and hedgerow plants to put together delicious meals.  We have been ploughing through giant marrows, although many have been transformed into delicious marrow and quince jam, liberally spiced with ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.  I’ve also been creating Ratatouilles for canning along with green beans, carrots, windfall apple and blackberry compote, pear compote and am tempted to try caramelised onion jam, although onions do store exceedingly well without any help whatsoever.

harvest time

Hazel nuts are falling again, they are left out to dry for as long as possible in the sun before being transferred to the loft to continue their drying until at least April.  Hopefully there will be enough to this year to take to the press to produce some oil.  The nuts have to be picked up every day which gets a bit tiresome, so I am hoping on a big storm to bring them all down at once.  Possibly the end of this week.

blighted tomatoes
The damp spring has caused chaos with just about every tomato plant that I have seen.  Blight everywhere, it seems to be growing through and nearly every garden that I have seen is clinging onto the hope that they will get some ripe fruit.  I would be worried that the plants will harbour spores and the longer they are left the more spores there will be to overwinter and attack next year.  The easiest way of knowing how the locals deal with such problems is to watch and learn.  If the village elders were concerned, they would have rooted out their plants months ago, but to reduce the risk here a large bonfire is planned and the whole garden will have a different location in the field next year. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

2Ha Tarn Valley

Just a few photos to show you what the ruin and land looked like.  I have decided that there were just too many challenges and I am not going for it. The main and unalterable one being that the whole site is on a north facing slope fairly low in a valley, with high sides that would obscure the sun for far too long during the winter months, probably leaving the whole site in shade for quite a while.  That with the lack of electricity (solar wouldn’t work well in the shade), water, phone line and mobile phone coverage, I think, is too much to be going on with.  Not to mention the lack of habitation license.
Other than that the site was just about perfect. 1 Hectare of woodland and another hectare made up of three parcels, the main one being half a hectare of pasture.   A great size, gently sloping with stream and woodland, I said that there was a catch and I think that orientation is just that.  I would have been very tempted to overcome the other challenges if it had been south facing.  Still, not bad for a first attempt. It has concentrated my thoughts and made me really consider what it is I am looking for and what is important both for successful growing and also personally for successful living, my list is now long and varied, with plenty of scope for modification.  For now, I’ll just keep on looking.

Friday, September 23, 2011

hosting hosts

 John and Julie were my first ever helpX hosts back in December 2006.  I spent a very enjoyable Christmas with them and great selection of helpers, harvesting flowers and enjoying the summer sunshine in New Zealand.  It was so good, in fact, that I returned for a second December the following year.
This time I was closer to home territory than they were, having flown half way round the world for a family wedding and to explore a corner of europe.  They had done a fair bit by the time we met up, an impressive tour of  the  westerly part of the Pyrenees and Bordeaux with two french helpers who had also visited NZ and then circumnavigating Spain and Portugal in a matter of days on their own.  I was charged with showing them as much of the rest of the Pyrenees as possible during their last few days on mainland europe.  
We met up in Ceret as the market was packing up and had a coffee and chat with Susan and Geoff whom I had just spent a great ten days with.  Grabbed some food at the supermarket as it closed and headed off.  John chucked me the car keys, he had had enough of driving in europe and was happy to be chauffeured for the rest of their stay.  Managed to find a sport/camping shop that was open and I grabbed a sleep mat for a bit of comfort as I knew that I’d be under the awning of their tent.  (Trust the Kiwis, they had brought all their camping gear over and were almost fully equipped for three.)
It was going to be inland to valleys and mountains as the two of them were through with the mediterranean coast as it was all high rise, touristy and spoiled.  I disagreed, having just spent the most amazing day the previous week at Colliure and knew that there was at least one unspoiled spot not that far from where we were.  We headed inland to a campsite destination and my first night under canvas in a long time.
Setting up camp
The campsite was great, as was our evening and a huge catch up on all the news that had gone on since I was last in NZ.  Scary stories about the earthquake and its continuing aftershocks.  Yes, it’s still going on to this day.  What other helpers have gotten up to, their two sons and their friends and folk that I got to know whilst I was staying. The catch up didn’t end, it continued throughout our time together and was wonderful, almost as if I have another life somewhere else that I hadn’t quite thought about enough.     It brought back the most amazing memories and reminded me how much I loved my time down under.  A band played outside reception, way into the night, Julie and I went to watch for a while but retired to bed long before they finished.  It was great to drift off to sleep listening to them play.

Port Vendres, neighbouring Colliure

After an uncomfortable night, the sleep mat did little to soften the lumpy ground, with less sleep than I had hoped for, we breakfasted and discussed  a plan for the day.  My enthusiasm for Colliure hadn’t gone unnoticed and we backtracked slightly to a beautiful stretch of unmodernised French mediterranean coastline, John and Julie were suitably impressed and I finally got the swim that I had missed on my previous visit.  We dined alfresco, overlooking the fishing port, a local dog doing two circuits for scraps by the time we had finished, before getting back on track.
Wine country, almost all the way.  It petered out when we hit the mountains, but continued a good way.  John being an ex vineyard owner and wine maker , amongst other things, was fascinated by the passing countryside and I made several unauthorised excursions onto dirt roads to get a better look.  Sharon, our sat nav lady was totally unimpressed by my lack of obedience when it came to taking her directions.  She insisted that I make a U turn at the next available opportunity on several occasions, otherwise went quiet for a while whilst calculating a new route after my ‘mistake’.  Thankfully I had half an idea of where we were supposed to be heading as the mountains didn’t half play tricks on her navigational skills later on.  We put it down to an insufficient view of satellites, obscured by solid rock and the amazingly windy roads that we took.

We managed Cos by evening, just up the road from Foix, a town I have passed through on several occasions.  Another beautiful, secluded, municipal campsite at an extraordinarily good price.  Municipal being the key word, we decided.  Sharon had just taken us up the most amazingly steep and narrow road, a short cut that was very impressive even though we were sure that she had gone off on one again.  So we were happy to arrive and set up camp again for the night.  My morning mattress find was a most welcome sight, not only did it make the night more comfortable, it provided us with seating for our evening meal.  I had pulled it from the bins outside the campsite as we left in the morning, managing to squeeze it into the already packed vehicle.  Thanks John for putting up with it in the back, it was most comfortable.

Day two was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me.  Back to Foix and then Tarascon sur Ariege, where I had stayed with Donna.  I pointed out her house on the way up the valley to Col de Port, a saddle that took us over, deep into the mountains.  We stopped off for a bit to head further up the hill on foot to enjoy the view.  I knew it was there after doing the same with Martin, Virginie, Cat, Freddie and Felix last summer on our way to Andorra.  It was as stunning as ever, I love nearing a crest and a wonderful view unfolding in front of you step by step until you reach the top and can see right down the other side as well.  The climb was much easier this time, probably fitter but the lack of smoking makes a huge difference too.
Onwards, back to the car and down towards Massat.  I pointed out Justin and Emily’s as we dropped down into the valley, no time to stop and I would have feared for the car on their steep, unmade track if we had. I hope they are doing well with their pigs and the twins that were born whilst I was staying.  An odd mix, but that’s how it sometimes is in the mountains.
A little stroll round the sleepy little town and on to find a picnic spot for lunch.  We made the only shop in town with minutes to spare before it closed for the obligatory hour and a half for lunch.  I recalled a raucous evening at the local bar last summer, where the locals were out in force and the music played way into the night.  We enjoyed the timelessness of the old town with buildings that had been there long before New Zealand had even been discovered by Captain Cook,  their hand hewn roof tiles and shuttered windows aged by centuries of exposure to the elements.  
Our route continued down the valley to St Girons, Totnes of the Ariege, with much a similar feel.  Either you know it or not, I shan’t be trying to explain it here.  But we stopped en route, a quiet patch of grass by the river for lunch, the mattress was invaluable again, I even saw Virginies’ crazy painted car whizz by.  Its a small world we live in, or is it just that valley?
Back out of the mountains and across the plains between St Girons and Lannemezan before heading up another valley.  The expansive sunflower and maize fields stop as soon as the land starts to rise and land use changes to smaller pastures and woodland, further up the valleys as the mountains rise, the fields are forced to the flatter areas, forests clinging to the steeper terrain, colonised by differing species depending on orientation.  
I had forgotten how picturesque this particular valley looks in summer as I have usually visited during the winter months when it is dank, damp and grey.    Talk turned to skiing as I set the scene for where we were heading and explained how I had come to spend the last two winters at Chalet Lou Rider.  Saint Lary Soulan was beautiful in the sunshine, a ghost town compared to mid winter, but still with plenty going on and a good feel to it.  We headed up the steep mountain access road into very familiar territory.  It seemed strange to be there in the hot sunshine, to see the ski fields lush with pasture and cows grazing under the lift lines.
Clare greeted us from the balcony with news that the kettle was on for a cup of tea.  She had guessed it was our car heading up the hill and was prepared.    Clare had one helpXer, Tom, who was staying for a couple of weeks and doing some amazing painting work round the property.  Chester went mad with excitement, bouncing, barking and leaping about when he realised that I was someone he already knew, but soon quietened down with the sight of John and Julie, though he did become more sociable later in the evening.

Julie, John, Me (Sam), Clare and Tom
We all chatted in the sunshine on the terrace, prepared dinner and dined with two french guests who were staying for a few days.  It sounds as if the chalet is going to be busy next season, with Christmas and the New Year almost completely booked already.  It was great that John and Julie had run a vineyard restaurant in the past, as they could appreciate the challenges of catering for a seasonal trade and were fascinated by the set up and how it all worked.
I slept in a regular guest bedroom upstairs and was woken to the smell of croissants wafting up from the kitchen.  I imagined momentarily that it was cold and snowy outside and I was about to head off for a day skiing, it wasn’t about to happen with the twenty or so degrees and bright sunshine, but we did head up the mountain for a quick stroll and to explain the extent of the domaine that was used in the winter.  Julie, I know, was most tempted to keep her bag packed when she got back to new Zealand and return to helpX and ski through the winter, she’d love it.  John, being less sporty was not so keen.

Julie checking out the ski fields and being very impressed

Being a whistle stop tour, we were off the mountain by midday and stopped to eat lunch in a sleepy little village on the way on to the plains.  A local chicken joined us almost immediately, determined to be fed.  John fed it most half a baguette in the hope that it would leave us alone, but it persisted until we were almost done, then a man from the fruit and veg stall by the road came and claimed her back.  We weren’t sure whether he was happy that we had fed his chicken or not.
The afternoon continued hot outside as we headed north east towards Toulouse and our final nighttime destination.  The roads were long and straight, passing through still more familiar territory, Vanessa and Lisa’s, Cherry and Chris’, Pascale and Christian’s, all not that far from the route that we took, through fields of maize and sunflowers and sleepy villages enjoying the late summer sunshine.  
We hit Toulouse just before rush hour, with the help of Sharon, found our hotel, a tiny 36 euros for a room for three just down the road for the airport. Handy for the following morning and the eight a.m. car drop off, the most compact room I have ever seen, a double bed with a single ‘bunked’ overhead, just enough room for a table, chair and preformed en suite shower room rammed into the corner.  It did the job, and for the price, we were happy.
A final meal in the centre of town, reminiscing about the action packed few days that we had spent together and of John and Julies’ whole French, Spanish and Portuguese whistle-stop tour.  We sat outside on a terrace enjoying the warm evening air just opposite the restaurant that they had eaten their first meal in France just over three weeks before.  I had thoroughly enjoyed myself and feel proud to have been able to share my knowledge and experiences of this corner of the world with two very dear friends.
Sharon gave us one last treat whilst returning to the hotel.  She got mightily confused and navigated us five times over the same roundabout, including a detour of more than half an hour.  Don’t you just love sat navs.  
We slept soundly, returned the car and said our good byes at the airport before continued on our separate journeys.  John and Julie to London, Edinburgh and then back to New Zealand.  Me, northwards to revisit Nicolas and to see my first possible plot of land.