Thursday, May 21, 2009

Assault on Western Europe: Part IV. The French Revolution


Monday, April 13th: Today we drove. It is a long trek from Roubaix to Sanvensa, and just when you think you are almost there, you hop off of the highways and onto country roads. Country roads in France rarely point the direction you need them too and always come in quadruplets (meaning: you’ve got to take at least four of them a long way before you get to where you are going). It is a lovely way to see France though, and Bruce and Alisa sure found themselves a perfectly charming home in the French countryside for their sabbatical. Solid rock, lavender shutters, wood-burning stove, a little bit of rangeland, and a swimming pool. It was so nice of them to share it with us!
Les Costes - Bruce and Alisa's sabbatical home.

Tuesday, April 14th: On the menu for our trip to France turned out to be sleep and food. These are two of my favorite things, particularly when I don’t have to feel guilty for enjoying them. Before we left, I did have dreams about waking up in the morning, hopping on a bike, and riding to the village for bread and flowers. Unfortunately, my sleep patterns were not synching with the French lunch hour (when everything closes), and the weather didn’t want to cooperate either. Never has the adage been truer… “April Showers Bring May Flowers.” Too bad we didn’t get to stay long enough to enjoy the blossoms.

Some shots from a rainy'ish day

Today, after some morning rain, things dried up enough to go explore some climbing areas in the region. First we stopped in Saint Antonin, Bruce and Alisa’s favorite village, and walked around a bit. I, of course, got some Haribo gummy candies at the shop, and we both fell in love with this little town. We approve of the “favorite village” choice!

After St. Antonin, we stopped at a few walls, until Edwards happily found one with a ridiculous approach that he said was perfect… just like a climber would make. At this cliff we met Paul and Lisa, and their German Shepard. Paul and Lisa are two ex-pats who had moved to the area for the climbing. It was excellent to talk to them about their experiences moving to France from Britain. It seems that the language is the first hurdle and then finding work in a country that aggressively protects the jobs of citizens is the second. They were very nice to visit with us for so long, but they clearly wanted to get back to climbing and we hadn’t come prepared so we headed off.
Color-coded routes at Bor et Bar climbing area

Hungry by now, we went back to Saint Antonin and ate at the pizza counter. Really: a window/counter that opens to the sidewalk. I had to muddle through some language barriers having to do with cutting the pizza, how many times to cut the pizza, and whether or not my husband had already paid, but that was fun. The pizza was, of course, delicious. We considered our pizza an aperitif and were already thinking ahead to dinner… Alisa was cooking.

Bruce and Alisa had a marvelous idea to have the couples take turns cooking each night. This is a splendid idea for any kind, hardworking, and unselfish set of couples. Unfortunately, not knowing me, they couldn’t factor in my fear and loathing of the kitchen. Instead of taking turns cooking… we took turns providing meals. Alisa is a wonderful cook and made us amazing dinners. On our nights to cook… we ate out. Fairish, no? Also, we wanted to see and experience French culture and some of the best places to do so are in the restaurants. It was very nice of them to take nights out on the village as a reasonable trade for a home cooked meal (which would have been TERRIBLE if I had cooked it).
Something that doesn't hate rain.

Wednesday, April 15th: Arg, wet again. I think we slept in and went climbing. All the rain was making me disoriented. Of course, finding a dry cliff in the afternoon was a bit of a challenge. When we thought we had, we found wet pockets all over the place. The climbing area was pretty interesting though. Hard and moderate routes that were immediately off the road, behind a bunch of trees, and next to the river. Really not too shabby.
The roadside climbing area

One thing I discovered more fully about myself while we were in France is that unless it is coming down as snow, I really dislike precipitation. Nothing is more depressing to me than rain. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for an afternoon thundershower that dries right up like in the Rocky Mountain West, but the desert in me doesn’t like for things to be soggy.
Penne from the Amiel climbing area.

After climbing a bit, we went to Penne. This hamlet has a medieval castle perched high on the hill. We decided we very much loved Penne, it is so beautiful how could you not? We had un café’ and un the’ au lait at the little lunch place in Penne and met a most friendly German Shepard. He again belonged to some ex-pats. Maybe the only dog they allow to go back and forth between Britain and France is the German Shepard? I’m still bitter that you can’t take a dog with a drop of pit bull blood onto British soil. Poor little Beata, she’ll never see London Bridge!
Edwards' buddy in Penne

After the café’ stop, we went to Amiel, a little cliff that Paul and Lisa had told us about. We only had time for a few climbs, but it quickly became my favorite cliff in the world (this opinion would be amended later).

For dinner, we again found much joy in French cuisine! We had a most fabulous pizza dinner in Villefranche. I had a goat cheese and honey pizza… unbelievably good. (In fact, it inspires me to go get a pizza crust, some goat cheese, and apply some of my raw honey. I think I can do this at home…). Also, we had some lettuce that was out of this world. If anyone knows where to locate tasty butter leaf lettuce in Utah, we are in the market!
Funny climbing area at Bor et Bar

Thursday, April 16th: The weather looked like I might stay dry and while Edwards desperately wanted to get some climbing in, it was market morning in Villefranche. Not to mention, we needed to swing by a sports store and get Bruce some shoes so he could come climbing at Amiel with us.

Oh, the market! Beautiful and crowded. We had a little shopping list and a map for the vendors we needed. With very, very little French in our verbal arsenal, we needed that map to be correct. We found everything we came for (plus some gummy candies) and after perusing just a few shops on the square, and stopping for un café’ and the’ au lait, we headed to Les Costes to round up Bruce and Alisa for some climbing at my “favorite cliff in the world.”
Market Day in Villefranche

That day Amiel was sitting in a banana belt for weather. The hours we were there, we watch countless rain storms wrap around us but leave us dry. Blessed location. The climbing at Amiel is mostly really brilliant. Edwards, of course, found some weird route that was super sharp and ultra un-classic, but called it a classic and made everyone get on it. I don’t know how Bruce endured it with such a huge smile, when I would climb it the next Sunday, I would not be smiling. No matter… this day, everyone had fun.

Friday, April 17th: There was probably more climbing this day, but mostly, there was Cordes. Cordes and Gaillac Wine. If Cordes wasn’t a tourist destination it would beat Saint Antonin for “favorite village”. However, it is certainly up there on the list. French Winery in the Gaillac Region

Before we saw Cordes we went wine tasting, we didn’t do the big tour from place to place, but just went one place and sampled from several wineries. I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of Gaillac wines, but Edwards like them and now has a red Gaillac shirt that I can rarely get him to take off… he’s such a little boy. Despite my not loving the wines, we purchased a couple of bottles to have on hand. You can never have too much wine on hand when you are in France.

After wine tasting it was off to Cordes for dinner. Cordes is picturesque. Lovely, quaint, and French in every way. Not to mention, Edwards was in absolute wonder at the steep, steep cobbles. Belgium has nothing on Cordes! It was at the bottom of town that we found our magnet from France… a tiny toy bottle of Pastis. My well traveled little sister has taught me that magnets are the perfect souvenirs: small and fun to look at. Our magnet collection is growing fast! We ate up at the top of town (one of our few meals we have pictures of). Of course, again, it was delicious! Superb!
Restaurant at the top of Cordes

Saturday, April 18th: “THE SUN CAME OUT FOR REAL!” (This is the only note I wrote for the 18th. I don’t think the sun stuck around, but I must have been pretty excited to see it!)
Obviously, somewhere cool.

We went climbing at Amiel again. I only did 3 climbs, but they were all 5.10s. Later, we went back to the cliff that was sorta dry and right off the road. Here, I got on a 5.12, but it was too hard and I stuck my finger in a hole that was already occupied by something slimy (small frog, slug, deadly eel?). Gross. Let me down! I do not like slimy 5.12s!

That night we had dinner with three of Bruce and Alisa’s closest French friends. Ben, the ex-pat; Ahnka, the German; and Alan, the original Beatnik. Not to mention Alan’s dog, Fenwick! Fenwick was awesome! So much like Ratso, but all black and about a third the size. The company was amazing, the food and ice-cream couldn’t be beat, and the whole evening made me wish two things very much: that we could stay, and that we could speak French!
The Rosetta Stone Monument to help me decipher French!

Sunday, April 19th: Today the rain was back, so Bruce and Alisa took us sightseeing. I honestly must admit to not having any idea where we were. I recognized some of the rock from photos I had seen of them cycling, but other than that… no clue. We saw lots of beautiful country, learned about “plague houses”, and bought our way into the Museum of the Absurd! The pictures speak volumes, but kudos to Bruce and Alisa for being able to speak both French and ART! They gained themselves an invite back in the summer for dinner. Way to win over the “outside artists.” The artist is the man holding his dogs’ butt… again… volumes!

I’m not sure what we ate or did after that. We were all still pretty wrapped up in the Museum. What a tremendous amount of creative energy to walk through and explore.

Because the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain… we decided the next day it would be time to check out the Spanish side of the Pyrenees Mountains.
I know it is sad, but gummy candies really are just my favorite!

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