Heatwave

It is very hot here in SW France. Temperatures are currently 38C. We were in the UK when the previous heatwave hit France. Not this time.

I follow the official Castelnaudary Facebook page. It has all sorts of useful information. Like this:
IMG_0425Luckily, at our house we have these:

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Shutters. These are invaluable when it comes to hot weather. We keep our bedroom shutters closed as soon as the sun is on the front of the house. They stay closed all day and help to keep the room as cool as possible. They are so effective that we are considering investing in some internal shutters for our bedroom in the UK. We do have blackout blinds but they don’t seem to work as well. Or perhaps we should go back to good old fashioned curtains!

We also have fans. Not quite like the one below but very efficient, just the same.

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Last but not least.

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When we were looking for our French home, a swimming pool was never a priority for me. But it’s given such pleasure to our sons, their friends and other guests that I’m pleased we do have one. In this very hot weather when I can’t do my usual amount of walking, I’m very pleased to be able to swim a few lengths and get my exercise that way.

I can remember when sunbathing was something that most people did. At the time we weren’t aware of the risks. As a hard up student in France, I can remember when we bought cooking oil and covered ourselves. The result being that we ‘fried’ and a fair skinned friend ended up in hospital with sunstroke.

Now I am careful. I’m fortunate to be olive skinned but I’m much more aware of the damage the sun can do. I wear a moisturiser with a high SP factor, every day, even in the winter and I always carry sunscreen in my bag.

Currently, the advice here is to stay out of the sun between 11.00 and 21.00h.

I still love sunlight but I find I just can’t take the sun and the heat the way I once could. Is it part of the ageing process, global warning or a combination?

Early in June, when we were back in the UK, there was a cold spell and we resorted to putting the heating on in the evenings. I did mention to Mr FF that if I ever say I’m too hot, just shoot me. Oops!

Are you a sun worshipper? Do you love the heat? I’d love to know!

 

Monday market, Castelnaudary.

I love wandering around a French market. I always have! You might be wondering why? To me French markets are a symbol of  French life and tradition. Not to mention that they are colourful, lively and full of tempting goods and interesting characters.

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Photo by Dennis Dude: freeimages.com

Our local market takes place on a Monday morning and I would say it’s fairly typical of a small French town market. It has local produce as well as products bought in from further afield. You can buy fruit, veg, wine, cheese, meat, bread, eggs and many other food items.

You can see, in the photo below, that the school holidays have already begun in France!

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There are also stalls selling clothes, shoes, belts and other accessories. Not forgetting tools, kitchen items and baskets. Here is the basket I bought a couple of years ago. I mainly use it for transporting all the materials I need for my English lessons but I do take it to the market as well.

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Markets are not necessarily cheaper than supermarkets and you are likely to pay extra for quality and freshness but you can’t put a price on the atmosphere!

When I first visited the market in Castelnaudary, I was overwhelmed by the choice. Although I knew it would be a useful indication to look out for the stalls that have queues.

Luckily one of my English students, who is very much a local resident and has been for many years, offered to give me an insiders guide to the market. We met up bright and early and she introduced me to the stalls that offered the best local produce (in her opinion!) and also to some of the stall holders. Very useful!img_0174.jpeg

The stall pictured below has local produce. One of the clues is in the sign. Castelnaudary is in the Aude department of the Occitanie region. This was formerly known as Languedoc Roussillon. This area is well known for its link to the Cathars. I am fascinated by the history of the Cathars. Perhaps a future blog post?

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The stall above only sold two products: apricots and nectarines. It was very popular and had a long queue. As Brits, we are stereotypically known for our queuing abilities. I have to confess that I find it hard to accept the inability of some nationalities to queue ‘properly’!!

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I was most impressed by the person in front of me. She took out her brown paper bags for reuse.

The original market was, and still is, held in the Place de Verdun. It has recently been renovated but remains a shady square edged with shops and cafés .  This is just one part of the market which extends into the Place de La République.

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The square and surrounding streets also have  some interesting and decorative 18th – 19th century grand townhouses. Not in these photos, however!

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As we walked from Place Verdun, we looked up to see these colourful kites.

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To make the most of the market, we had got up early and going from stall to stall is hungry work. We decided a pain aux raisins and a strong coffee was needed.

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It was now time to make our final purchases, a jar of honey and a rotisserie chicken.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed a brief glimpse of our local market.

Who pulled the plug out?

 

These are the photos I took before returning to the UK earlier in December. Not particularly Christmassy but very surprising… to me. It’s a bit of a joke but I always like to check that the Canal du Midi is still at the end of our garden, particularly if we have been away. Imagine my surprise when I looked over the garden gate to see that most of the Canal water had disappeared!

I know that the Canal is closed from about the first week in November until March, so that routine maintenance and cleaning can be carried out. This is the first time I’ve seen evidence of this happening. We decided to walk into Castelnaudary, along the tow path, to give us a clearer understanding of what happens to the Canal in winter. We were pleased to see that the ducks were unperturbed and actually seemed delighted by the delicacies they were finding on the Canal bed. We were less pleased to see a mud covered moped that had found its way into the Canal.

We just missed seeing Castelnaudary illuminated for Christmas. I would have liked to catch a glimpse of all the boats, in the port, lit up – perhaps another time.

I hope you all have a wonderful, happy, Christmas.

Joyeux Noël!

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.

This is a post I originally published last September but I have decided to link it with #AllAboutFrance. This is a very brilliant linky if you want to read a wide range of blog posts all with a French/France theme. Highly recommended!

All About France linky

 

 

 

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!