With the weather continuing in its clouds and rain, the girls and I are starting to count down to vacance d'hiver for some (hopefully) sunny time in Provence in early March.
The winter viruses are circulating and many coughs, colds, fevers and aches are around. The girls have each had bouts of sore throats and slight fevers and bits of days off from school to recoup.
Last week, there was some reprieve as they had the full day of Wednesday off for Journee Pedagogique (PA day). I had bold plans but the weather didn't cooperate and the girls needed just to chill so we had a relaxing morning and then went to find a movie at the local cinema.
What was intended to be Le Cinq Legends (Rise of the Guardians) ended up settling on Gambit - appropriate (luckily for me) and reasonably entertaining - and in English with French subtitles.
We had a quick dinner so that I could attend a reception at la Salle des Illustres - a beautiful room, not quite of Sistine Chapel proportions but in similar style, at the Capitole. The newcomers association I've joined, along with the Maire (Mayor's office) hosted and the Maire himself was there to speak - with less engaging English interpretation - as well as the President of the Association. Felt like a very long Air Canada flight with two speeches delivered in parts of French then English, touting the good things happening in Toulouse as well as the value of the newcomers association.
Then a glass of sparkling (cider, I'm certain) and a quick chat with my new friends group and my reason for putting on some fancies was complete.
The following night, we had Geneva's big night to accept her prize. Not being certain what to expect, we all hurried home to get out to the 18h (6 p.m.) meeting at the office.
Admittedly, it was an odd bit as we arrived at the office of the insurance agency who sponsored the contest and doors were locked - as it was 6. The young man who had contacted us to organize was awaiting inside and buzzed us in. He then greeted us and said he would call le Directeur for the presentation. So we stood making small talk in the reception area. Le Directeur arrived along with a woman (not sure her role but she was nice) and another guy who would be photographer. Formal greetings and introductions all around and then we stood looking at each other.
You all know how well I do with silence so I started chatting up about being Canadian, having been in Toulouse for 6 months, Marco's program, about the lovely the city and surrounding area, and such. Then we got into a chat about what we'd seen and visited - I starting listing our travels - and there was a quick exchange between le Directeur and the woman, and she excused herself.
We chatted on a bit more and she popped back in with a lovely large photo book on the Grand Sites of the Midi Pyrenees in French, English and Spanish to offer us. What a treat!
So with small talk almost used up, le Directeur became formal again to do the officially hand shake and presentation of the Wii. Then there were pictures in front of the big decorated Cow they have sitting in their office and the confirmation that Geneva's picture would be in their newsletter along with the copy of her picture hanging in the office window, along with the other finalists.
As we were now all looking at each other again, I suggested we didn't want to take up more time of their evening (we seem to have covered all the bases) so we were all given our leavings and we were off. Nice people, just a bit awkward. Now, what to do with the Wii.
Friday morning brought my second visit to French conversation group which was again enjoyable and we all smiled at the round about conversations and topics we could cover in the hour and a half. The afternoon was again cold, grey and rainy so I installed myself at my girlfriend's, as she is around the corner from the school, and she built us a fire so we could chat.
Saturday plans were again bound for skiing and this time, we opted for Pyrenees still in France. Up and early to the rental at the train station, we were on the road in good time. Driving was clear and comfortable to Ax les Thermes just until we came within 5 km of the town and then the conga line inching along began. Next was the hunt for a parking spot as clearly everyone in the environs had decided today was a day to ski. We learned after at the rental place that all the rain we saw that week in Toulouse translated into heaps of snow in the mountains so they were all prepared for the hoards.
We're learning each outing about how best these skiing plans might be completed. Thinking for next time, I might investigate taking the train as this is a potential option.
The skiing was fantastic and the loads of snow made for lovely runs. We again met Marco's Brazilian friend (first timer) and his Chilean buddy who was quite practised.
It took two gondola rides - one from the town up to the ski resort then another up to the runs - to get us to the starting point. We made 4 runs total from top (almost) to bottom and by the last, the wind at the top was getting very strong + cold. We felt we'd really made the best of the afternoon and called it. On seeing the line to get back down on the gondola, we paused for a wee tipple at the resort.
The icing on the cake was a stop at the thermal baths which also abound in the Pyrenees and we'd parked in the lot right beside so all was set - except we'd spent too much time up top and only had an hour for taking the water. No matter, all felt fine.
Until we went to get out of the parking lot and our mistake in forgetting to bring the chains for the car tires became a more pressing problem. As booking driver, I was behind the wheel as our little Ford Fiesta slide and spun - one time gently sliding into the parked car beside us - YIKES - and no damage done, big WHEW!! However, the serious task of getting us out was at hand. Marco's calm guidance and several other locals' help to push us out of the lot to less icy roads was the trick - not without the locals' admonations for not bringing chains ("stupid Americans" was certainly what they were thinking).
The relaxation of the water was fully drained with a bit of white knuckled driving in hard snow for the first 30 km out. Thank goodness the roads were only snowy, not icy and the snow switched to rain in time to have to drive up hills and around round abouts to get us home. Again, Marco coached supportively and I kept it together.
Again as before - skiing in the Pyrenees - fantastic! Driving to/from skiing in the Pyreness - less so.
Sunday brought mild warmth and sunshine in the morning which buoyed me to get the gang moving again to take advantage of our rental car.
As our Irish/Spanish friends mentioned Carnival in Limoux as an option, I was game for the 1 hour drive to somewhere we haven't yet seen. And Carnival is definitely celebrated here.
We set off later than planned in the early afternoon, after trying to reach our friends with no luck. This should have been a tip off. No matter, the website said celebrations from 11h to 16h30 (11 to 4) so we were game for a Sunday drive.
We arriving in Limoux to find the central square covered in spent confetti and hardly a soul about, except for the final boisterous cheers from the last celebratory song at the local brasserie.
We wandered a bit and as it didn't seem as any dregs of the party remained, we laughed at ourselves and moved on.
What this did allow us time to do was to drive to - wait for it - Montreal! We'd seen the signs on the highway to the south several times and as we were only 16 kms away, we had to give it a go.
It is much its descriptor - a pretty, old village on the top of a hill with a lovely old church in the centre and gorgeous views down around to the valleys (though getting more blustery and cold that late afternoon so we hopped out only for quick pics).The old guys playing boules in the square beside the church completed the vignette.
On to the next stop which I'd spotted in the vicinity - Fanjeau. I'd read somewhere something about it having some significance so we drove on. Another lovely hilltop town, equally as aged in beauty. And arrived to find it's the hometown of St Domenic, the order of the girls' school. Again, a few quick photos as we hopped out of the car and back again. A final stop at the old abbey of his namesake in the valley below and we were back on our way from our Sunday drive in the country.
Wishing you best for Carnival, Martedi Grosso (Pancake Tuesday), Valentine's, trailing Lunar New Year's celebrations and any other events you're looking forward to.
A la prochaine,