mardi 18 décembre 2012

week 15 and 16 - visitors and Noel approaches

Weekly blogs are hard to manage when you have visitors and fun and preparations - catching up on the last two weeks here and admitting I'll surely be sporadic over the next two weeks as well.
Let's get to the highlights.
We were thrilled to have Claire come to visit to celebrate her birthday with us. Her arrival on Friday was greeted with a farmer protest down the main street on which her shuttle was due to arrive. Many tractors and chanting farmers and little firecrackers. Think this is what prompted the bus driver to take an alternate route. Luckily he was kind enough to drop Claire near the stop and point the direction out so I was able to see her and her suitcase in tow.
We indulged in a home picnic with supplies from our local Marche de Carmes - there was a bit of a moment when we were buying the brie and as the cheesemonger cut it for us, it oozed out the sides causing Claire and I to swoon and make happy noises. Yes, he thought us odd but that's what they think about all Americans (!) here so c'est la vie.
Saturday brought the most fantastic day - if not freezing with a sharp wind - as we drove to Carcassone - 1 hr east of Toulouse and a World UNESCO Heritage site as it's one of the biggest, mostly original medieval villages with surrounding wall in the old section. Very cool to see. Add to this their Marche de Noel and this weekend specifically, for charity, all the locals were dressed in fantastic medieval costumes and marching around the cite all day.
We met our Irish/Spanish friends there which added to the fun and historical context.
In the afternoon when we needed a warm up, we popped into the Hotel de Cite, which was an original stop on the Orient Express - and it looked the part. We sat in the bar area which was a snug, floor-to-ceiling library with leather wingback chairs and tapestries on the wall. So decadent. At one point, the kids had sidled up to the bar and installed themselves on the barstools, chatting to the bartender who found it quite amusing.
The piece de resistance was the 7 p.m. torchlit march from the castle down to the newer part of town. We joined in and it was quite magical.
Sunday, Claire and I ventured out on our own to find St Cirque Lapopie in the daylight, as this prettiest village in France had previously eluded us in the daytime. One wrong exit off the highway (though not really clear that it was a wrong turn), meant we tried our hand at tracking through secondary highways for the second half of the journey. Though a beautiful sunny day for a drive and lots of interesting sights on the way - including a paraglider, group of girls on horseback, and many pretty rural villages - the scenic route made a 1 1/2 hr drive into 3 hrs and alas, arrived at St Cirque Lapopie at 4:30 when the sun was starting to go down. No matter as when we arrived, we found that all the town was closed for 1 month before Christmas - wow, can I pick them?!
Regardless, it was beautiful, hushed, even a bit mysterious and maybe kind of mystical. Lovely walk about and many pictures had.
Monday was full on shopping and Tuesday - birthday day - brought bright sunshine and a great day for bikes. We rented and saw much of the sites along with having a lovely time together.
An evening stroll through the Marche de Noel in the Capitole distracted us from making the necessary dinner reservations (which I didn't know I needed on Tuesday for 2 people - it's a dinner out kinda town, clearly!). Sadly, the second choice resto did not fully deliver but Claire made the best of it and all in all - lovely day had by all.
We said "a la prochaine" on Wednesday and then I crashed with the girls for their afternoon off. What I haven't mentioned earlier is that Elena has managed to sprain her ankle running on the cobblestones in her school courtyard - happened on the Monday - so I've been spending the time carting her around - first on my back then smartly pointed out by Claire - on a rental bike, to and from school plus up and down our 3 flights of stairs. Not worrying whether I'm getting my daily exercise right now.
Thursday was a rush around prep day for Noel and arrival of Marco's parents on Friday night.
We found them a lovely apt which we'd considered renting for us but was not quite going to work for the year. However, it's perfect for two for the month, lovely inside, on a quiet side street but right off the action and centrally located - plus only about 10 minutes from us.
The first night, Mom said she fell asleep to the most beautiful music - the Ostal d'Occitan which is the traditional cultural centre next door had a concert which could clearly be heard from one courtyard over.
Saturday was market seeing and catching up and Sunday we took Marco's parents to mass at the Eglise St Etienne which the girls visit with their school - it's stunning - original part built in the 13th or 14th century and massive ornate addition in the 16th century. We were shushed by the lady in front of us (I'm sure she thought we were American so was in her right) as I tried to translate. Oh well.
Lovely sunny weather and warm days for the last few.
Yesterday, I joined Geneva's class on her field trip to the Musee Saint Raymond, with Greek antiquities and Marco's parents met us there, to hear about the metamorphysis of Ovid (in French) which Geneva will be reading in French class after the holidays.
Sidebar - Elena had xrays yesterday and nothing broken so now just using her crutches and waiting to heal - hoping before we hit Barcelona on the 27th!
4 more days of school - breathing, breathing, breathing.
Thinking of you in Toronto as you struggle through your school issues - meilleurs souhaits!
Gotta get going for more fun as more visitors arriving on Thursday - yay for Bobbi, Marcello and Dylan.
Hope you received my electronic holiday greetings this year - have to play it on the cheap but the heartfelt wishes remain just as true.
Bisous to all as the holidays are upon us - best to you and yours and will check back in as soon as I can.
Meantime, Joyeux Noel - Merry Christmas - Buon Natale.
a la prochaine,

mardi 4 décembre 2012

week fourteen - rain leads to December

We passed last week with not a lot of fanfare and a fair amount of rain.
Monday began with the departure of Ken to Paris by train in the rain and the clouds continued through the week.
We spent much of the week in clouds and catching up.
Marco had a bit of a tough go with less than stellar instructors which meant for a frustrating week.
The girls and I felt a bit under the weather and keep our heads down.
I mustered the energy to get through Elena's English class on Thursday, where we talked about money with the handmade versions I brought to play a bit of our own monopoly while the kids pretended to buy things from each other. Think they were more impressed with the various currencies I was able to bring in to share - Irish pounds, British pounds, US dollars and even a 2 dollar coin from Cuba. Sadly, as we've divested most of our Canadian currency, the most I could muster was 2 twoonies and some caribou quarters. Allowed for some discussion of animals on Canadian currency.
By Friday, we were feeling a bit down for the count. However, we hosted Marco's new climbing buddy, J-C (Jean-Christophe) for pizza and beer/wine, following their climb. Felt a bit like an old Friday night with friends over - a time I do sorely miss.
Saturday turn brighter, though cold for Toulouse (3 degrees) and the sun lighten our spirits along with heralding in of December, advent calendars, the opening of the traditional wooden hut Christmas market in the Capitole square and the beginning of the Christmas lights at night.
We did some wandering through the edges of the market, starting to get into the spirit and anticipating our coming visitors. We indulged in some holiday treats - churros and then aligote (think I've mentioned before about the best version of whipped potatoes and tomme cheese - mmmmm).
The season upon us, we picked up some carefully selected Christmas decorations and the girls went to town with the apartment while I sorted out a Christmas music playlist on my iphone. We're getting to it.
I also got to partake in a degustation de Champagne at my local Nicolas wine store - did my part and brought several bottles home too.
Sunday morning was my big anticipation. I'd been invited to meet with a Montreal wine association businessman who I'd met before in Toronto. His business is to help small wine producers, mostly in France and many in the south, to find importers to represent them in North America. My hope was that this could bring me some small work opportunities here.
I picked up my trusty Chevy Spark and drove the two and a half hours north west to Bordeaux in the varying levels of misty rain, fog, clouds and occassional breaks of sun. Lesson learned: Sunday morning radio in the south west of France sucks!! As there was a port for my iphone, I wished desperately I'd brought my USB cord. Oh well.
Made it to Bordeaux in time - sort of - as this isn't a great city for driving in as there seems to be one main route in, right along the left bank of the Gironde and sadly, everyone was driving along the quais with me. Adding to the fun was the fact that the city had decided to close many streets turning into the city from the quais on the first Sunday of every month to make it more pedestrian friendly.
With only 1 wrong turn when I finally got into centreville, I was only 10 minutes late.
Not to fear, as it turned out that I would spend an hour having lunch on my quiet own and then 2 hours sitting in his meetings with local Bordeaux vignerons. Very informative and very taxing on my English head as I tried to keep track of/keep up with several intense French conversations going on at the same time. It's been a very long time since someone has commented that I'm very quiet ! :)
The end left me with 10 minutes to discuss business - which seems like maybe all needed as it looks like there could be opportunity for me to adapt French winery marketing materials into English - yayy! Working through the details now so will update on this. Oh and also was presented with 2 bottles of lovely 2009 Graves Merlot/Cab Sauv from the sweet couple of a chateau who'd intended to send it along but realized that it wouldn't be possible to travel back to Montreal. So goes my good fortune.
We are now in grand anticipation as our holiday visitors are imminent.
And on that note, look for our holiday picture and greetings coming electronically this year and shortly.
The season is now - hold on for all the fun.
Hoping all is well with you as you rush into it to. Keep the spirit of peace and good tidings with you.
A la prochaine semaine,