Doors and more

I was having a look through my photos, especially those taken since we bought our house in France. I have quite a collection of photos of doors and door knockers. Why you might ask?  I think it is probably because when I am here, I take more time to look at my surroundings and appreciate the smaller details.

 

This is one of the first photos I took in Castelnaudary.  

We were staying in a rented house and getting to know the area.

I was fascinated by this old house, the imposing front door and the amazing statues.

 

This door is less ancient and not as visually striking as the previous front door …

 

…but it’s ours!

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This is the door to the local lock-keepers house, on the Canal du Midi.

Another ancient and imposing door in the old town in Castelnaudary.

Take a look at the door knocker!

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This door belongs to another old house in Castelnaudary. It stands alongside the Canal du Midi port.

You may have noticed a similarity among the door knockers. The first one, in the photo below, was taken in Barcelona, the rest in France. They all represent ‘la main de Fatima’ or ‘Fatima’s hand’. Fatima was the daughter of the Prophet Mohammed. Door knockers shaped like her hand were believed to protect the inhabitants from the ‘Evil Eye’. Originally, they also indicated that someone of the Muslim faith lived in the house. The traditional design of the Fatima’s hand door knocker may have the added detail of a a ring, lace cuff or a bracelet. I really like them!

With thanks to one of my favourite bloggers: francetaste who inspired this post!

6 delights to experience in Castres

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Castres is a large town in the Tarn department which is part of Occitanie. It is about 48 kilometres from Castelnaudary where we have our house.

We are fortunate that there are so many interesting and attractive towns and villages in the vicinity. The only problem is finding the time to see them all!

Castres is not as well known as some other places and is probably not on the main tourist route. We knew that it would take under an hour to drive there and after wasting time on the internet some research decided that it would be worth a visit.

You can see from the first photo that we had amazing weather. Look at the colour of the sky! It was the last Friday in September but the temperature was at least 30 degrees.

When we came out of the underground car park, our first view was of the River Agout which flows through the centre of Castres.

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I was delighted to spot one of the Miredames boats that will take you on a 45 minute trip (1)  down the Agout, as I had set my heart on experiencing a ‘voyage’ in one of these. These boats were traditionally used to transport people and goods. They were built to be able to cope with the very shallow waters.

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Imagine my disappointment when I came across this note; there were to be no boats trips at all. A tree was blocking the river… Best laid plans and all that.

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Instead we strolled around Castres and admired these stunning houses (2). They originally belonged to the textile dyers who needed the water for their trade.

Our arrival in Castres coincided with the end of the market – unintentionally! This is held in the town square ‘Place Jean-Jaures’ (3) and takes place on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Apparently, an excellent Christmas market is also held here.

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As it was such a hot day, we took the opportunity to sit a while and enjoy a cold Belgian beer! This was a new beer to me but the name of the brewery – ‘Sudden Death’ was as appealing as the taste!

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We continued our wanderings beneath these pink umbrellas which were there to mark Breast Cancer Awareness month.

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Heading for the Goya Museum (4) our walk took us through Le jardin de l’Evêché (5). This was designed by André Le Nôtre who was the principal landscape gardener of Louis X1Vth and who designed the gardens at Versailles. We lingered a while by the fountain, in the garden. Can you spot the rainbow? The Goya Museum is in the background. You can probably spot the theatre, too.

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The rest of our time was spent wandering around the old town and through the medieval streets. We  visited the Church of Saint-Benoit (6) which was built in the 17th century and was originally a cathedral. The Church interior is undoubtedly Baroque with soaring marble columns and high windows. It was built on the site of a Benedictine abbey-church founded in the ninth century. I forgot to take any photos of the church but here’s a selection I took while strolling through the narrow streets of the old town.

I do hope you enjoyed the mini-tour of Castres! Have you ever visited this small town? Do you have recommendations for other places we should visit in the local area? I’d love to read your comments.

La rentrée

September has always been a significant month for me. I think this is because my career has been based in education. I see September, and the start of the new academic year, as an opportunity for a fresh start. I used to look forward to a new timetable, new classes and new stationery! As a pupil, a student and a teacher, I always loved getting new pens, folders and pencil cases. I still enjoy going into Paperchase now!

This September has meant a return to Castelnaudary after two months in the UK, catching up with friends and family. Our French house hasn’t been empty, our eldest son and seven friends spent a week there, before travelling on to Barcelona. It was an international gathering as there were four English guys and four Brazilian girls!

Then our youngest son and five friends were the next to have a holiday here. As they are all students, it was great for them to be able to have a break in the sun without breaking the bank! They were able to relax and enjoy the pool and, by the look of our cellar, have the odd bottle of wine … or six!

As a result, we have also ‘inherited’ a rather nice barbecue and an interesting selection of inflatables, plus a variety of footballs, basketballs and rugby balls!

When we returned to Castelnaudary, we found our garden had morphed – yet again – into a field! Truly, I’m not complaining, although it might sound like it. It’s just one of those things that happens when you are lucky enough to have a second home. When we left our home in the UK, our garden was looking so tidy and well cared for. We were even complimented by our neighbours! Yet, we know, by the time we get back, it will be back to square one. Still, gardening is a brilliant form of exercise…

We’ve had some gorgeous weather since we returned. Look at those blue skies!

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You can just catch a glimpse of the pool. The water temperature is a very pleasant 25 degrees! The shrubs in the foreground are oleanders. I was delighted that they survived being hacked pruned by Mr FF.

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One of the first things I like to do, on our return, is check the Canal du Midi is still at the end of our garden and then visit the port. This rather moody looking shot, was taken while eating breakfast outside a new boulangerie that has recently opened. The colour is really quite odd and, yet, I like it!
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Of course, la rentrée is really all about the return after the long, summer holidays. This could be a return to school, university or even work. In my case, I was delighted to return to teaching my English conversation classes. These take place in the rather grand (from the outside) Palais de Justice.

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I often think that September is the perfect time for me to make some blogging resolutions. I’ve been meaning to update my blog for some time. I need to update my profile and photo. However, my main aim is to change to a self-hosted blog and I think it’s time I changed the appearance of my blog, too. Watch this space!

 

 

 

La fête du cassoulet

Last weekend was the annual ‘fête du cassoulet’, in Castelnaudary. This year, we weren’t able to go as we were back in the UK, avoiding the heat – haha! Epic fail…

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Castelnaudary is known as the capital of cassoulet and credited with inventing this dish. However, Toulouse and Carcassonne may well dispute this fact! I’ve written previously about this French style ‘sausage and beans’

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The cassoulet festival takes place during the last weekend of August. Not the ideal time for eating a hearty casserole containing duck, goose, sausage and beans, in my opinion! I do love a cassoulet, and cook them myself, I just prefer eating this dish when it’s cold and I need comfort food.

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We have attended the fête du cassoulet before and it was great fun! The sleepy, little town of Castelnaudary really comes alive. Of course, it’s full on holiday season and the Canal du Midi is awash with tourists.

The festival is organised by the ‘Grand Confrérie du Cassoulet de Castelnaudary’. Confrérie translates as ‘Brotherhood’ but probably equates more with a guild. The Castelnaudary Cassoulet Brotherhood was founded in 1970 to protect the quality and standard of cassoulet.  I hasten to add that there are also women in this Brotherhood! They all wear special robes and a hat which is shaped like a ‘cassole’, the dish in which Cassoulet is cooked and served. They even have a hymn to praise cassoulet which is sung in the local Occitan language.

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This is a screenshot of their website. Do go and have a look if you want to find out more and even listen to the Cassoulet hymn!

Although we didn’t make it to the ‘fête’ this year, we were able to glimpse the essence of the celebrations through this video:

Have you ever eaten Cassoulet?

If you do happen to be anywhere near Castelnaudary, next summer, I recommend that you go along to celebrate the twentieth Fête du Cassoulet!

 

Leading a double life

This might sound more interesting than it actually is in reality. I’m not a secret spy, nor do I have a second Mr FancyingFrance tucked away somewhere!

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I am a Gemini so that might have something to do with any duality I may have, if I was totally convinced by signs of the zodiac.

On the other hand, I am lucky enough to have two homes and divide my time between S.E. England and S.W. France. I do consider our French house to be a second home rather than purely a holiday house but there are distinct positives and  challenges to maintaining and travelling between properties.

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Our French house

I’m also mindful of the fact that there are people who don’t have a home at all and that I was fortunate to have inheritances which financed the French property. Although it is never truly fortunate when a family member or friend is no longer with us.

What’s it like to lead a double life?

  • It means travelling quite a lot. Sometimes by car, sometimes by plane. If we fly it’s between  Toulouse and Gatwick. I’ve become a truly light flier as I don’t have to transport any toiletries or clothes as I have some in each place. If we drive, we allow two days and have a found the ideal hotel, for a one night stop over, outside Tours.
  • It involves adapting to a different pace of life, according to where I am.  In France, I feel more as if I’m on holiday. I don’t rush around as much as I do in the UK as I don’t have the same extensive network of family and friends.
  • It necessitates switching between languages. I believe this is very good for my aging brain! There was a time when my French was fluent. I even used to dream in French! This isn’t the case anymore but I’m working on it.
  • It entails adapting to cultural differences in terms of food, shopping, etiquette and more besides. We eat out more frequently in France and always buy food from the local market.
  • It results in us modifying our behaviour. In France, I am even more polite. I do have a bee in my bonnet about saying please, thank you, holding doors open for people and so forth. I have been told that I am too polite. How is that even possible?! When I meet people in France, we always shake hands or kiss on the cheek, depending on how well I know them. When I go into a shop, I always say ‘Bonjour Monsieur, Madame,’ etc. This is the norm. I wrote about the ‘kissing dilemma’ here: https://fancyingfrance.wordpress.com/2015/07/08/faire-la-bise-to-kiss-or-not-to-kiss/

These are just some of the aspects of my double life. I’ve read somewhere that everyone leads a double life to some extent, that we all have a public and personal persona. This was certainly the case when I was a teacher!

Do you lead any kind of a double life? I’d love to know!

 

Lurking in my cupboard…

I’m talking about one of the cupboards, in our kitchen, in France.

I was surprised to find this:

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Possibly not the most glamorous piece of kitchen equipment I have ever seen. A Moulinex and not modern by any stretch of the imagination. But do you know what it is?

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I think in modern terminology this is called a citrus juicer but, as you can see from the photo, this piece of equipment is far from modern!

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It does produce excellent fresh orange juice and it very easy to clean. Always a bonus, I reckon.

My family tease me about my love for a gadget. This is true. In the past, I have had a juicer and, more recently, I bought one of these all singing, all dancing ‘nutrient extractors’. I made smoothies and juices and a lot of mess. Some were lovely, some made me feel like vomiting. Apologies if you are of a sensitive nature. I know I should worship at the altar of kale but it just doesn’t do it for me.

My nutrient extractor is languishing in the UK. I’m sure I’ll pass it on to a family member or friend as soon as I can find someone who would like it.

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I also found these bits and pieces…  My research – via EBay – tells me that I might have the remains of a Charlotte 3 or 4.

Are you a fan of gadgets? Do you have a favourite? I’d be interested to know!

Wind…

Our French house is in the Aude. Aude is one of the windiest regions in France. Some say the windiest. We didn’t know this at the time we bought our house. Maybe all the windmills should have given us a clue! If we had known about the winds would we have changed our minds? I don’t think so.

Depending on what you read, you will be told that the Aude has about 300 days of wind a year. This is because the region is affected by an amazing variety of winds from all points of the compass.

Winds, in France, are given names. The most famous one is the Mistral. This particular wind doesn’t affect us, it is more prevalent in Provence.

However, the wind that dominates the most, in our area, is called the Tramontane. It blows from the north-west and is a powerful, cold wind. It channels through the narrow corridor between the Pyrenees and the Massif Central. It is created when high pressure from the Atlantic meets the low pressure of the Mediterranean. (I knew my geography ‘O’ level  would come in useful one day!)

The Marin is another prevailing wind which blows from the south-east  and the Mediterranean. The clue is in the name. It brings damp and wet conditions.

My research has led me to discover another wind called the Cers. It is dry and cold in the winter but hot and dry in the summer. It is created by the cool, damp air of the Atlantic being forced down from Toulouse as it heads for the sea. I could be wrong but having typed this, it’s sounding remarkably like the Tramontane… Maybe someone will enlighten me!

The Sirocco – the wind, not the car – blows from the south and brings hot, dry and dusty air from Africa. This wind can leave a fine layer of sand in its wake. This has been carried from the Sahara.

The impact of the winds is evident in our local town. Castelnaudary once had numerous windmills. In the seventeenth century there were 32 windmills in the town. After the Canal du Midi was constructed there was a growth in the number of flour mills. Castelnaudary, being the main port between Toulouse and Sete, exported wheat and flour. One can still see evidence of this as one walks around the town. The most ‘famous’ windmill is ‘Le moulin du Caugerel which has been fully restored.

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You can see others that have fallen into disrepair.

 

 

Or have been converted into homes.

 

 

Aude is now an important centre for wind produced energy using wind turbines.

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I’ve got used to the wind – mostly. It’s useful when you want to dry clothes quickly and can help to fan the air when it’s blistering hot.

Rumour has it that the wind can affect people and animals in many strange ways, similar to the impact of the moon.  This may or may not be the case but as a former teacher, I do remember our pupils would always be very excitable, noisy and jumpy  on a windy day! A bit like horses, really.