30/04/2022 …. Au revoir la Belle France

I am writing this back in our flat in Carlisle today, but we have had a really good month away in our little flat in St Aygulf. The month seemed to go by very quickly, but boy did we cram a lot into it. Sadly, the weather didn`t improve to the extent we had hoped and although we did have lots of sunny days, the cold Mistral wind kept temperatures down to much lower levels than we had expected. The locals reckoned that it was the worst April they had experienced for over 40 years and most of them did not relinquish their doudouns (quilted coats) all the time we were there! I have to say that I was extremely pleased I bought a fleece jacket, as it was very well used throughout the month! We quickly decided that we were not going to be spending much time on the beach this visit, and even less time in the sea, which was freezing! I did go in the sea once, Geoff twice and we did get a nice swim in the indoor pool at one of the hotels we stayed in…but seriously, sea swimming was not at all a pleasant experience this trip. The water temperature was 15c!!

Having decided that we needed to find other things to do, we set about organising trips out in the car (we did get her lid down too on a couple of days, but not much!) to explore the region a bit more. We had day trips to lots of places, mainly inland to get away from the wind on the coast. We enjoyed some good drives up into the hills visiting nice little villages such as Ampus where there was a very interesting ancient water supply system, Chateaudouble, Callian, Chabis and St Vallier and Ramatuelle which we really liked very much. We also visited the Abbeye de Thonoret, which we would recommend to anyone for a visit. We do like this region very much and as it is still new to us, these hill drives on small country roads, all with quite impressive and scary at times, hair pin bends have kept us enthralled all month. Mind you I`m not sure Sylvie car agreed with us at times!

We treat ourselves to two overnight trips away too this time, as we wanted to visit places a bit further afield. The first of these was to Menton, a place which I have always loved and we stayed there in a nice hotel right in the centre of the old town, but which was also right on the sea front too. We drove there via a detour into the prealps behind Nice and visited Sospel…another first for us. It had the most enormous, highly decorated “cathedral” Ive ever seen in such a small town. Menton was lovely and we thoroughly enjoyed strolling through the town and doing a bit of shopping there too. Our ride home was via the lower corniche, visiting other lovely towns such as Beaulieu sur Mer, where we paid a visit to the Greek style Villa Kerylos, that a friend of ours had recommended, and Villefranche before driving back to St Aygulf via the beautiful Esterel corniche road. Our second overnight trip was in the other direction, as we drove down to Hyeres, again via some pretty country roads. Hyeres itself was again a lovely place, with a very nice interesting old town which to Geoffs delight, had an “artisanal trail” in situ! I thoroughly enjoyed all the art and craft shops! We also visited another villa, Villa Noailles, here perched up high above the town which had amazing views. from the pretty gardens. We stayed at a very swish hotel/resort in Hyeres Plage, where we were delighted to have a nice swim in the pool and Geoff was able to use the spa facilities for a sauna visit. Our room was lovely with a fabulous view over the lake to the sea. We felt very spoilt …and it didnt cost us that much either as we got a very good deal. We drove back the next day via the coast and I got the chance to visit the beautiful Bomes Les Mimosas, which I loved. The mimosa had of course, finished flowering by now, but the village had beautiful flowers everywhere. Again, we drove back via the Corniche des Maures and called in to Port Grimaud, somewhere wed passed many times but never visited, before we eventually got home.

We took the chance, as the weather was not brilliant, to sort more things out in the flat. Trips to some of our well-loved French shops such as GiFi and Welldom resulted in the purchase of a new floor rug, a stool for me to put my feet up in the evenings, coat rack, knife rack for the kitchen, some filler to fill in all those little holes kindly left when the previous owners took down curtain rails etc and some paint to paint over the filler and the kitchen drawer unit we bought last autumn. After a couple of particularly wet days all these little DIY jobs are now complete! We managed to get our lovely friendly plumber to come and replace the tap in the bathroom basin and fix the little leak we had in there too. Unfortunately, although we had a visit from a nice electrician early in the month, neither his devis (estimate) or himself arrived to sort out all the little electrical problems we have in the flat. The main problem for us is to get the tableau delectrics (fuse box) which is a bit ancient, changed for a more modern one and to get some more plug points in the kitchen. Nothing dangerous, but all not very convenien.t. But it seems that these electricians have enough work and dont really want to do these little jobs. Its all a bit annoying, but hopefully we will make progress in September.

We seemed to slip back into French life with ease! We loved shopping in the supermarkets again…although the big Carrefour was only visited once as it was great, but expensive, and there was temptation everywhere! The markets too were great and we visited them as much as we could. However, again we found them a bit expensive and that we had to be very careful to stipulate exactly how much we wanted to buy. I got done at Frejus market the first visit we made there and ended up paying a lot of money for 2 slices of very nice, but very expensive ham, by not paying attention! I rediscovered a lovely lady on the market at St Aygulf who sells the most delicious prunes…yes, I know! I love them and they provided me with many happy breakfasts along with my allowed yoghurt! The markets are great fun though, and we both loved mooching around them.

On Easter Sunday we drove along to Cannes and went to the Easter service in the Anglican church there. It was the first time in many years that I have been able to attend a service on Easter Sunday and we enjoyed it very much. The church was well attended and there were lots of children too. We stayed for coffee afterwards and Geoff had his first chocolate biscuit since giving up chocolate for Lent! We were made very welcome and we could well return some time in the future.

We rediscovered French TV again too. Now, we like French TV which we watch with French subtitles on to help us keep up with the plots. Old favourites such as Cassandre, Camping Paradis, and my particular love, the soap opera Plus Belle La Vie have been watched and enjoyed thoroughly. I took a while to get back into PBLV as there seemed to be a lot of unknown faces, but I got there in the end. I am very sad that I have probably watched my last episode, as they are due to axe the soap soon due to falling (and aging) audience numbers. I owe a lot to that programme, as I learned most of my spoken French by watching it and I will miss it very much if the axe does fall and it is no longer there when we come back in the Autumn.

We have noticed that other things have changed in France since we left it. French public loos were always things to be visited as a very last and desperate resort! But every loo I went to, public or in cafes and restaurants, has been squeaky clean, most with loo paper (again not in my memory), soap and hand driers. The other thing I appreciated a lot this visit, was drinkable coffee. I hate strong coffee and trying to explain (or obtain) a weak milky, coffee has always been a struggle for me in France. Pre diet days I used to resort to chocolate chaud, rather than try to get a drinkable coffee. But wow! All but one coffee I had during this visit, was great…the servers actually listened to my “odd” requests and came up trumps. Miracles do happen then :blush:

We met up with Gisele, Geoffs pickle ball playing friend, who was delighted to see him again and he returned to play pickleball with his friends throughout the month. Gisele also invited us to eat with her and her friends one evening at her home, which was nice. The conversation was good…until Geoff mentioned the French presidential election! After that, it got very difficult as it was clear that the three ladies had radically different views! We followed the election with interest, although we couldn’t face the 2 hour TV debate between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen! We did (as did many others Im sure) breathe a sigh of relief when Manu was re-elected, but having listened to lots of folk talking about the election during our stay, we realised just how divided and acrimonious the views are here. The number of abstentions recorded during the final vote, reflects this very well.

As you can tell, we did have a good month really. We did get a few chances to sit on our little balcony watching the boats sail by, getting a bit of sun (if we kept out of the wind, knitting (me) and ploughing through Ulysses -goodness know why - (Geoff). We have made progress with the flat and feel very relaxed there. Our trip to and from France went very smoothly and we have definitely decided that flying from Edinburgh is much more relaxing than going to Manchester and the train rides to and from Edinburgh all went well too. We are now adjusting to life in Carlisle again, trying to get used to the time change and the cold here too. We had to put on the heating in the flat when we got back on Wednesday and somehow haven’t really managed to turn it off yet! We came back to some very good family news too, which means that we will be in for an interesting, busy and happy May, one way and another. I`ll leave it there then…

A bientot mes amis…