Canberra: Lots to see lots to do.

Our last morning in Canberra was a little lazy. We enjoyed the hotel: the quiet room, the breakfast and the coffee in the sun reading the papers.

The Kurrajong Hotel is old but is an institution in Canberra. It was home to politicians over the years.

We stayed here two years ago when our nephew was married. It was good then and once again we enjoyed it.

You probably want a car if staying here as it’s not in the city. But Canberra is quite spread out and you need a car or you need to love cycling. It’s a city for cyclists.

I always get a bit lost here. Everything is spread out. The blocks are long, are tree lined and have 2 story block type buildings. All the main attractions tend to be along the lake and today we were going to visit a few.

First stop was Old Parliament House. Last time I was here it was with a group of Year 7 students on a school trip from Brisbane. This time we arrived in time to join a tour with Sergio. He was a volunteer guide but had worked for many years at Old Parliament House. He was so informative. And funny in a sage kind of way. He had opinions on Pauline Hanson and other Senators who despite having low numbers of votes were now holding the balance of power.

We toured the old building and heard some anecdotes about Whitlam, Hawke and Howard. Sergio had worked there in their days. It must have been interesting especially the stories involving Hawke!

Some of the items spotted in Old Parliament House

We continued on and decided to separate. I went to the Art Gallery and Steve to the National Museum. I’d been there a few times when on tour with my school. So I passed on that. I love the Art Gallery.

I spent a few hours in the large spaces of the Gallery. There was an exhibition on California Cool , Art Deco and Art Nouveau.

I left the Gallery and walked along to Questicon further along the lake. Steve had arrived and was having a great time interacting with the exhibits , primarily science based. It’s such a great place. Don’t miss it on a trip to Canberra.

The afternoon passed and before long we were flying to Adelaide to stay with Steve’s sister in Fullerton.

Adelaide is the city of festivals so I’m keen to see what’s on.

Discovering New York

Today we visited the WTC with Galapagos Bill. The site of the worst attack of terrorism in American history. Known simply as 9-11

Bill had pre-bought tickets to avoid the queue and that worked well.

It’s well organised and everyone working there was so helpful.

We started with the half hour movie which brought it all back. It’s one of those events that you say ‘where were you?’. It’s something Americans living here, particularly in NY, will never forget.

Our friends Lois and Lynn were in their apartments near the United Nations and after the first plane hit were on their roof top and actually saw the second one hit. How could you forget something so terrible?

The centre tells the story and our guide was informative and a good storyteller. I heard recounts of incidents from the day I’ve never heard before.

The displays were moving. I really can’t say much about these pictures. Each one tells it’s own story.

We left in a sombre mood and made our way to the National Museum of the American Indian. Our friend Lois Dubin, the landscape architect, is also an expert on glass beading. She wrote a book:

‘Since its publication in 1987, The History of Beads has become the world’s definitive guide for bead lovers, collectors, and scholars. In her new edition, Lois updates all chapters with the latest archeological discoveries. ‘

Lois is particularly interested in American Indians – their culture and in particular their beading.

She is on the board at this Museum, which is part of the Smithsonian group.

So we were very fortunate to have her guide us through the Museum. It’s in a restored building, that is just so beautiful. It was previously the Port of NY Customs House, was going to be pulled down but has been saved and restored.

The collection is wonderful, the beading exquisite.

We were able to visit the newly opened Children’s centre, a very interactive display which aims to make information about the American Indian accessible to all.

Me in the canoe trying to stay afloat!

We moved on from the museum to have a few drinks and particularly liked the jazz trio at the Lovelace Gin Bar near Wall St. [Trombone and vocals, bass and vocals, guitar]

We moved on to Wall Street to check out the bank our son works in. It’s not a big street but has some grand buildings particularly the Stock Exchange. The security in the area is amazing. No cars are allowed near the Stock Exchange so it feels a little like a movie set.

Rob is not the Wolf of Wall Street like in the movie! More the Lion ūü¶Ā !

Rob’s work place.

The Stock Exchange

Some of the heavy duty security!

We made it back to our perfect little apartment and tried to have an early night after the three previous nights out.

Monday at Lynn Sherr’s home

Tuesday at Carbone

Wednesday at Blue Hill Farm.

Tonight at Olio e Pui

So much eating. So little exercise! Walking yes. Swimming will be suffering.

Last Day in the Village. 

Woke late to the sounds in the Mairie outside my window. Today was spring cleaning day in the Place.

The Council were having their meeting today at 11 and there was action in the space in front. This happens to be the space in front of the Brannock’ s house.

There were sweepers sweeping and waterers watering and Policemen coming and going from the Council Offices in the Mairie.


I took the opportunity to put my head inside this Council  building that always seems so closed up. It was rather lovely.

 

Staircase inside the Council’s Mairie building.

Susanna, the fun lady who manages the Brannocks house for the group of owners, happens to be on the council, so had asked could she call in for a chat before the meeting.

Margaret and I went for coffee beforehand at the lovely cafe opposite. It’s such a special little place and holds special memories as I’ve eaten there each visit I’ve had and love the little outdoor terrace.


It’s the cafe behind the flags!

I wanted to wander the streets of the village one last ( well almost last) time.

I saw so many things this morning , afternoon and evening. You would love it.

We walked down past Bar Marigny and  saw the crowd that hang out there. They nodded. Or called Bojour as  we we passed by.  We went to a little shop at the end  of town near the Happy Tree Рwhich has the cutest felt stars hanging in it.

More stalls appeared. Different every evening.


The little boutique has lot of clothes and there was ¬†a mother with three daughters trying things on and looking great in everything. There are quite a few Norwegians and Swedish staying in the area. In fact someone commented that they are ‘very big and take up lots of space in the cafes in their big groups ¬†with lots ¬†of children!’

Margaret and I descended to the cave below with its cushions,  lamps,, bolts of fabric,  glassware, beads and a cupboard of clothes, Tout Р 50%.  That sounded good. So after much wriggling in the little dressing room I bought a lovely mustard  linen top.


Back out side we walked along the Grand Rue,  past Mirabeau where I bought some wine to thank John  and Margaret for  having me and to wish them a happy joint70. They have friends arriving in Sept for a cruise then a stay in Cotignac to celebrate.

Then it was a general wander and observation of the locals and the tourists. This village is beautiful and it’s becoming a little seasonal with the tourists. It’s a shame for the locals if they find the work so seasonal they have to move away in winter.


We sat in a  cafe by the four seasons fountain and watched a drama  unfold.

A young woman driving a small car suddenly stopped and jumped out. Her large dong sitting on the front seat saw a likely playmate. Another big dog. So he leapt out of the window.

She left the car, ¬†with about 5 people waiting patiently behind ¬†her and took off after the dog. He was in dog heaven. Now he had two playmates. He chased the dog and she chased him. There were calls from the crowds , waves from all, ¬† until a young man grabbed her dog. She carried him back to her car – now really blocking the narrow street and dumped him in the front seat. She hurried around to the drivers side to calls of ‘ wind your window up!’ She did, she waved and drove off with the dog looking out from his view on the front seat. Drama over.

 

Sitting by the 4 seasons fountain

We saw tables being put along on the road then realised the road was to be closed. There must be a party tonight. We’ll have to come back.

After siesta we moved our aperitif hour to outside the house. It’s a great spot to watch the world go by or to catch up with neighbours as we did.

 

NEGHBOURS,, English couple Peter and Lyn

We just had to go back to the Grand Rue later that evening to check out the events. And there  they were,  dancing in the streets. There was a disc jockey spinning lots of favourites and the dances moved from line dancing to waltzing to swing to modern bopping and the old favourite YMCA. Young, old, big and small. All together. It was such a festive occasion.

Even the gorgeous dark haired girl from the cafe Рwith the  amazing smile , got up and danced with her mum between serving drinks.


It gave a taste of summer in a village. It was great fun.

Try and get here I can promise you’d love it.

Exploring  French Villages. 

My journey through some more of the villages of this Var region continues with my No 1 driver Margaret.

This time we headed north and then west. Check it out on the map from the last blog.

I’m always excited to be heading to new villages. Will they contain a surprise? Will they move me in some way? Or will they be too touristy?

So as we drove along I thought of the features that make these villages so………French.

We headed out on road D 22 toward Sillans. Or it’s full name Sillans la Cascade. It’s a pretty drive and you come upon it quite quickly, ¬†around a bend and you have to stop at the traffic light. These lights only allow one way traffic through the narrow part of the village. This is where we came for the Saffron Festival. It’s reached by walking up a little hill which circles the area containing the cafes. It’s not a ‘Place’ like the ones found in many other villages, ¬†so this one is slightly different.

Sillans has little winding streets, a bell tower and some colourful pots on doorstepS and at windows. And lots of stone walls.


Further down the D22 we reached Aups. I’ve been here before. It has a lovely entrance and lots of winding ¬†streets and it has the beautiful clock tower with its campanile. It has a rather large memorial to those lost in the war. It was a stronghold of the French resistance. It is also well known as a truffle centre.

On we went along the D9 to Moissac- Bellevue, a hill town. There aren’t as many hill towns in this area so this stands out. It’s beautiful colours – all muted pinks and terracotta and as you wind up you arrive at a little Place ( or piazza as they are called in Italy). It has a very large fountain, another feature of all French villages.

 

This fountain dominates the small Place

It’s clock tower and campanile is once again beautiful and as we sat we heard its bells.

 

The bell tower in Moissac

I’m becoming a little addicted to the iron work on these bell towers. Such a feature in each village as we arrive. This village is small and very well looked after. There would only be about 200 occupants and they look after it well. It was very quiet as we walked the few little streets that make up the village.

 

Only the birds to keep us company in Moissac

We had a cafe creme  in the only little restaurant in the village and there was only one other little business which was also the Office de Tourism.

The view from the lookout near the fountain across the bouleadrome, was wonderful

image

The War Memorial,  with its small list of names,  sat proudly with a bird sitting on the cock at the top. Quite a sight.

Along the D271 and five km later we entered Regusse. It’s little Grand Rue was lined with about 4 cafes. There were shady trees and a great view of the church, the Notre Dame de la Misericorde with its glazed bell tower.


Once again the clock tower and its iron work bell tower is lovely.

We wandered the streets and saw some children enjoying a game.


We saw a man working on his jeep and it reminded me of Steve and his jeep.


We continued west and drove slowly through Tavernes. Not the prettiest of villages but it had the features I’ve been talking about.

The campanile was lovely.


We arrived at Varages and parked  near the Domaine Huile which we visited and spoke to the beautiful young girl who was reading an English book. The olive oil products were many and varied and showed how important olive trees are in this area.

This village is not  touristy,  so it had a very local feel. People stopping for their bread Рdouble parking,  while they run returning with a baguette under their arm. Waving to or double kissing their friends in greeting.

Another thing  that distinguishes a French village. The boulangerie.

Off to the Cafe for a cool drink and to watch the locals interact. The campanile rang out 12 bells and the businesses started to close.

The florist came over to the fountain and submerged a big potted fern and carried it back to his shop.

The memorial stood tall and acted as a roundabout. Part of everyday life. Yet a constant reminder.


The heat of the day slowed people down.

What would they be doing during the siesta?

So ….. What are the features that are common to all the villages I have been:

A campanile with beautiful iron work

A main fountain and lots of little fountains.

A war Memorial

Blue shutters

Colourful potted plants

A boulangerie – often with a queue.

Pretty cafes with coloured umbrellas.

A bouleadrome

What makes a Village French?

Leisurely exploring the countryside is a treat especially when you have a driver who is

1. A friend 2.Patient 3. Knowledgable !

My driver Margaret is all 3!

 

Driver Margaret stops at the prettiest place to fill up the tank!

Yesterday we explored east of Cotignac finishing at Le Thoronet Abbey near the village of the same name.

But before ¬†Le Thoronet we drove through lovely French landscapes. Around each corner is another beautiful scene. There are vineyards, pale ochre coloured houses, dressed with blue shuttered, pencil pines, tractors and hill top towns – that’s if you can stop looking along the curving, ¬†narrow roads hoping nothing will come round them!


The views are restful and inspiring at the same time. I feel all creative, like I want to become an artist or writer to capture it all.

We passed through Entrecasteaux with its little one way street with lights telling you wait before proceeding through the town,  around the corner and coming across the beautiful big Chateaux.

Then past the little Saint Antonin Du Var , it’s name almost bigger than itself.

Onto Lorgues. We stopped here in this small fortified village – town with its ‘portes’ , ancients stairs, vaulted passages, St Martins church and pretty one way Grand Rue lined with cafes. Coffee creme and a sit in the shade of the lime green umbrella was all we needed.

Past another lovely small village. I blinked and missed its name and its not on the map. But it had a very nice stone bridge over a lovely creek.

Finally to Thoronet and the Abbey on the outskirts of town, beside a small river. A group of monks settled here and in  1170 started work on this abbey. Less than 2 centuries later it had fallen into decline until restoration started in 1841 and continues today.



The large church is big with a vaulted ceiling and its sparse lack of any decoration highlights it’s beautiful shape. The acoustics must be wonderful. They regularly have concerts here and it would be beautiful.


We drove back to Cotignac through Carces, a favourite village visited last time we were here. There are wonderful murals painted on the walls and many little tiles used on the pointed roofs of the old village Churches and buildings.

Back home Margaret and John had a French lesson with Lauren so I went for a walk through the village stopping for a cool drink by the four seasons fountain. It’s a gorgeous fountain and is often used by little and not so little children to splash away the heat of the day.


It’s easy to relax into life in these French Villages. Especially at Rose time. I’ve already mentioned that they drink it like cordial. Perhaps the English describe it well when they say they come to Provence and have to be careful not have ‘death by Rose!’

We visited Mirabeau,  a winery started by Stephen and Jeany Cronk.  Watch this short Video for mirabeau wines.  http://www.mirabeauwine.com/

If this link doesn’t work just google it and it comes as a short you tube

 

Lizzie, the lovely Irish girl working at Mirabeau


From wine tasting  we went to dinner.

 

I had a beautiful duck with fig sauce

But still the night continued Р onto the terrace at the top of the Brannocks house. We soaked up:  both the wine from Carpe Diem,  another very good local winery and the sounds of the Opera singing at the out door theatre just behind the clock tower.

 

View from the terrace up 5 flights to the top!

At midnight I lay in bed listening the people walking through the Marie in front of the house on the way home from the concert.

What adventures are in store tomorrow?  Keep reading friends.

Morning Ramble through the Village

The lifestyle here is very different to home. In many ways.

The most noticeable, ¬†are the hours everyone keeps. It’s not just a holiday thing. It’s life.

People get up later, break for siesta, everything closes and then opens again at 5, dinner is always late.

So the early mornings ¬†we seem to have in Australia, stop here and we enthusiastically join in. Up at the crack of 8, out for when things open at 10. Lunch when they close at 1pm. Siesta until 5. Out for passeggiata, shopping, aperitif until dinner after 8. And that’s considered early by restaurants that only open again at 8! Bed around 11.30.

But staying with John and Margaret and eating in most nights,  we have slipped into our own earlier time frame. Bed earlier. So this morning that led to a walk at 6.30 am.

Even John was having a morning off his usual run or ride,  so I was out the door,  as quiet as one of the little cats that slink around the little streets of the village.


I was the only one out! Truely. I didn’t see anyone else until I walked back up the Grand Rue at 7.45 where a few people sat in cafes smoking and drinking coffee.

It was so quiet I could hear fans inside open windows whirling. And my footsteps until the cobbles gave way to pebble paths. Then I crunched a little!
 Cotignac is a small village built into the rocky side of an outlook. It is famous for its troglodyte caves. So the streets wind up from the Marie, where the Brannock house sits tall,  looking towards the sheer rock cliffs with caves built into its face.


I followed the small winding paths past houses with shutters mostly closed, keeping morning sun out. Behind all those closed shutters people are sleeping or reading or making coffee or perhaps doing something more exotic? There are always rumours in small villages about what people get up to!

I decided to keep as quiet as a cat and take pictures. Particularly of the fountains and taps spurting or trickling water into stone basins. Apparently there are 15 such water features around the village. How many would I spy?


The path wound up. I looked over little fences, I came to a lookout,  back to the village, I wound up some more, I found a sign to a little appartment build into the rock wall. I walked on to the start of the route towards the cliff.


I kept looking at the view back to the village trying to spot the Brannocks house. It’s right on the Marie ( town hall place) and opposite the clock tower with the exquisite wrought iron bell tower.


The council have built a paved arcade in front of the rock wall. There are stairs you can climb to go higher up the wall. I tried the big iron gate but it was still locked.


I walked into the little garden with its lookout. Th only thing moving were the cats as they became wary of my footsteps. The view back was lovely especially as the morning was becoming lighter.


I felt so peaceful and alone but not lonely. It was gorgeous.


I made my way back to the village and saw the ¬†bakery. First signs of life. It was still quiet. People were standing in a line outside, in silence. Not an unfriendly silence. – more an ‘ I’m still waking up silence’.


Then I passed a few people walking dogs or heading to their cars parked around the village. Without fail everyone wished me ‘ Bonjour Madame’.

Back to the house. I climbed the winding staircase to the kitchen.


I joined  Margaret for a cup of tea and to plan our day to another village, Lorgue where no doubt the routine of the morning would be the same as here.

We planned to arrive at 10 in time for cafe.

To Market. To Market. French style

If there are any better markets than a French one,  I have yet to see and visit it.

I’ve been to markets all over the world, but I do think there is something special ¬†about a French Market. I really love them.

Is the basket that everyone seems to carry? Including me. Thank you Margaret.


If you don’t own one you can quickly buy one.


Perhaps it’s the colourful umbrellas providing shade as you move around.


Or the cafes to help rehydrate?  People drink Rose here like its a soft drink!


Perhaps it’s the stall owners? They are busy but friendly.

 

Carpe Diem

Or maybe it’s ¬†the music wafting around as you browse the stalls.


Or the fruit and veg ? That rockmelon smells fresh and delicious. And tastes so sweet and juicy.

Or the heavenly  smelling fresh bread.

Or the beautiful French girls waiting on the thirsty.


There is something for everyone. This man was showing the young girl how to use the bow and arrow!


The variety of stalls gets me in every time


I think it’s a combination of all the above, plus the personalities of those selling their goods.

Whatever it is, it works. The markets were packed but there was room for all and lots of smiles.

Perfect to buy all your ingredients for a beautiful salad lunch washed down with a Provence Rose.

Life is sweet.

Village Life in France

A storm last night cooled things down. Rain was needed in the area after some fires last week so we couldn’t complain about the heavy rain yesterday afternoon.

But would it stop today’s activities ?

Up earlier to prepare for Boules. This game is loved by the French. It’s also know as P√©tanque or as Bocce in Italy. Each little village has its own boulodrome and you often see groups of French men playing quietly on the rough pebbly surfaces.


We drove to nearby village of Salernes but were early so had coffee in the main shady Place. The village is known as a ‘crafty’ village and the mosaic planters and crocheted posts through the village support this.


Boules started at 10 and today’s games were organised by the local British Association. John and Margaret have joined this group to give a network of friends when visiting their house for longer periods of time. Getting into a social scene can be difficult in a village particularly if your French is not fluent. The French are friendly but difficult to break into socially.


Most of the people playing this morning are retirees from England. Two are married to French women and the others have all bought homes in the area. They all now speak French. Quite an assorted group!

We got underway after lobbing our boule towards the little white ball known as the cochonnet or jack and being given a partner depending on our lob. Poor ¬†John got me ! and I’m sure he though I’d be hopeless.

But he was surprised (and I)  when it turned out I could actually lob my boule in general direction of the cochonnet, sometimes right next to it! . We were on a winning streak! Until our very last game when local Englishman Michael, definitely not a sporting figure, managed to out boule us.


Then off to lunch in a local restaurant. A long table set on a shady terrace looked innocent enough until the fun began. Most of the crowd were great company but there was an undertone that wouldn’t have been out of place in a John Motimer novel similar to ‘Summers Lease.’

It seems one gentleman (parked by his glamorous French wife, Marie Franc,  who headed for the other end of the table) is known for his over indulgence of the local wine and then upsetting other people. And today he was seated next to  me and I was able to observe some insults being hurled in a similar fashion to the boules earlier in the morning.

Such fun at lunch!

Margaret was offering to swap seats but I was thoroughly enjoying myself and then the main protagonist started to fall asleep. The wine was working.

We finished up at 3 after sorting out a few problems over ‘L’addition’ ¬†where a few seated near the trouble maker didn’t want to pay for his overindulgence of wine. Oh the intrigues of life in a French ¬†village!

After lunch Bill, ¬†one of the very friendly chaps invited us into his house nearby. They built it about 7 years ago but look like selling and returning to England. His wife doesn’t attend the boules so it was nice to meet her.

Back to Cotignac for siesta and then a walk through the little streets ¬†finishing with a Rose under the shady trees. I love this place. It’s a really beautiful village and has a great feeling.

The end of another beautiful day. Market day tomorrow.

St Emilion

After arriving back in St Emilion we took a tour of the underground church. It brought to life the story of St Emilion, a monk with a vision. He gathered a few thousand workmen and dug an underground cavernous monolithic church apparently modelled on  one he saw in Cappadoccia. This was when he wasn’t meditating in his small Chapel where he lived in solitude for several years. I love these stories. It’s amazing what one shy monk can do. 

 

the undergound Church of St Emilion

 
The hour long tour keep us cool and the history lesson was great as well. All English speakers and it’s funny how you can identify other Australians in a group. The older ones all have a “Chips Rafferty” look of weathered skin and dry humour and the younger ones look like they would rather be back on the beach in Biarritz. The English are easy to see in their socks and sandals, and the Americans…….. Well we didn’t have any on tour , so I don’t have to be careful about what I say  John Donati!  

 

I know I’m not in Italy but i couldn’t resist!

 
Following that tour we visited our bar with the fan misters for a quick beer then headed off for an hour in the vineyards. The area is very pretty with vines growing in neat even rows with large chateaux sitting in the middle of the vineyards making everything look like a fairytale. Even the Chanel family own a property here. One of the owners came over to our group ( not Mr Chanel I would have recognised the loafers) and on hearing we were from Australia said ” very good Shiraz from there” We felt quite patriotic! 

 

Looking back across rhe vineyards towards St Emilion.

 
 

Neat even rows.

 

At Emilion. Sunday 

After a slightly slower start we headed off this morning when most the town were still asleep. We had another lovely walk and swim  and the weather just keeps getting better. In sure now we are heading away from the sea it will get hot!

I did a quick pack – funny how I start to just throw things in the case as opposed to the careful rolling I did before I left.

Then off we went towards Bordeaux. First stop Bergerac,  a small town I had been keen to check out. I’ve read a few books set  in this area and really enjoyed poking around the ancient streets.

Sundays  in these villages have a different atmosphere. They are slow and lazy with groups sitting at long tables enjoying a slow lunch. Most shops were closed so it was all about the food and the wine. And this is a wine area. The Bordeaux wines are well known and we were keen to sample a few. Though with the warm weather all we managed in Bergerac was an icy granita!

On to St Emilion which is a picturesque town on a small hill. Colours are muted – pale honey colours dominate. Not the white with grey slate of the Loire or the blue shutters of Provence.

The town was stuffed full of tourists and we felt quite smug to be staying in a really nice B&B at the entrance to the town. Doing my homework when it comes to finding accomodation really pays off. So far really good places.

We walked up and around the cobbled streets working up a thirst until we reached a quaint square with tables surrounded by fans blowing misted cool air. Sold ! A beer and vino later – accompanied by foie gras a little  a local specialty, we were feeling more human and rested.

We found a good place for dinner and  I promise myself each day that I will not eat too much. But I’m not very strong over here when  confronted with delicious food. Mind you I’m still staying away from gluten, so no bread or pastries for me. It’s SO hard.

Lovely B&B St Emilion. les Chambre d’Ovaline

 
 

Sitting in the pink. at our B&B