Monaco Yacht Show 2016

It’s not often that you get to Monaco. Maybe three or four times a year? And it is always an experience, one way or another… This time it was for a delivery of Mirabeau wine for Edmiston Yacht Management during the twentieth Monaco Yacht Show. Yes, I know, a delivery is normally not a big deal, right? But if you get offered a free pass to the biggest yacht show in Europe, what would you do…? Perhaps spend an hour in search of parking?

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Provence sabbatical day 27 – Christmas Day 2013

Wow. You wait 365 days a year for it, and then suddenly it’s here. Christmas Day. And here we are in the South of France, with our great buddies, celebrating Yuletide.

We wanted to give Mila as good a run as possible, so she’d be knackered and not miss us while we were enjoying a Christmas celebration. Rob and I hopped into the Mudster and drove down the little (off)road path Marcel and I discovered a last week.

On our way back, we drove through the village. The Cours has never been quiet … in Dutch they say, “geen kip op straat” [not one chicken on the street]. I guess in this instance, a chicken could be likened to a tumbleweed? Back home, we all walked up an appetite to Patricia’s place.

Christmas at Patricia’s – Thank YOU xxx

Over the last 4 or 5 years, we’ve been introducing Rob & Diana to an English Xmas dinner – magic to have experienced it with English Roses. In France. With an extremely international guest list. Simply fabulous!!

A whisky and cigar …

Let’s face it … we’ve experienced much colder Christmases with Rob and Diana over the last few years. Especially the Crouching Man Christmas dinner in Lelystad. This evening was particularly mild. Not South Africa (evening in summer) mild, but Winter mild. We closed off the evening with a whiskey outside, and the chaps enjoyed a cigar. Thanks everyone, it was “heel gezellig”.

Merry Christmas 2013!!

Provence sabbatical day 26 – the day before Christmas

Marcel and Rob made an early start by organising some croissants from the village for breakfast 🙂 Then we all took a leisurely stroll around the shrinking market that has fewer and fewer stall holders, the more Winter sets in.

This afternoon Diana and I packed Mila into the car and popped past Patricia’s place to chat about plans for tomorrow. And then took the back roads to Carcés, via Entrecasteux to get some chewy things for our young charge a.k.a. “the Shredder”.

Mila is loving the back garden, and runs around with the youthful exuberance that only a year-old dog can. We’re doing our best to keep Mado unstressed and keeping them apart. Don’t think the ol’ chap would appreciate it much, considering how he reacted last week when a little fuzzy white dog unexpectedly popped in for a visit. As Queen Vic used to say, “We are not amused!”

Marcel got the lamp chops in the oven while we were away. Kudos man, your dad would be proud! While Naomi watched a movie, I got introduced to Yahtzee, and Rob’s excellent tips. Or not?? An excellent way to brush up your sums without a calculator. How’d it go again?

What a lovely way to enjoy Christmas? Cozy and warm with candles and a lovely fire, amazing smells emanating from the kitchen and a relaxed vibe. Life is Good!!

Merry Christmas! Hope your day is filled with much love, laughter and joy.

Provence sabbatical day 25 – Christmas madness and fabulous friends

We thought we’d get in some last minute shopping before our fab friends arrived from Holland. As we drove towards Brignoles, the mist (or low clouds) set in over the hills. Stunning. After all the rain we were welcomed with streaks of sunshine. Like those depicted in Sunday School stories, where God speaks to mortals. There must have been a huge influx of Dutchies, because the shops … they were CRAZY!! Everyone had the same idea.

Having survived the last-minute shopping at L.Eclerc, we found a lovely little greenlaning route on the way home. Via the Olive Oil press. Up to the Abbey and then down the hill on washed-away gravel roads. Later we decided to get some dried wood and chips to help the fires get going, and took a little sight-seeing drive to Carces. Another helpful lady at the garden store near Intermarché!

Bienvenue chers amis!

It was after 5pm when Rob, Diana and Naomi trundled into town. We just missed their arrival down the main street. I was seriously hoping to capture the look of disbelief on people’s faces as they witnessed the stunning Volvo TGB 6-wheeler squeezing between these narrow alleys. Enfin. We had a welcome drink at Brasserie Phils. And then got them settled in and had dinner, albeit late, even by French standards. I’m still getting to grips with Pen’s oven that doesn’t have any markings anymore … someone had removed them in an over-eager cleaning spree.

Provence sabbatical day 24 – Christmas cat in a hat

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” ~ Dr. Seuss, author of Cat in the Hat

We woke up even later today … around noon! Wow. Guessing the sleep is needed? After a quick bite to eat, we got stuck into the house getting it ready for Rob, Diana and Naomi who are driving down from the Netherlands and arrive tomorrow.

Because we’ve been building up trust with Mado, we figured now’s the best time to ask him if we can take his photo with a Christmas hat on. Just like I do with people, I believe in asking an animal’s permission before taking their photo. If they’re keen, you get much better photos. We weren’t sure how Mado would react, but to our great surprise, he posed with his crown; turning his head this way and that, and then looking straight on, and blinking his eyes.

He then allowed me to scratch his chin to say thanks. Cuuuuute. But, having said that, this boy has the most incredible gaze. He could easily stare a skeleton out of its corpse! Letting “the Don” (as Marcel calls him) settle back into a snooze, I made a yummy soup – with chicken wings and loads of veggies. As a base, I used one of the tins from the larder we brought with us – Peri-Peri chicken. It almost had a Thai taste. Perhaps some fresh coriander, or black beans would have tipped it?

Perhaps because we don’t have children, or maybe because it’s easier for us, but we don’t believe in the whole commercial aspect of Christmas. Buying “stuff” so we can use it for a moment in time, and then to discard it along with the rest of the pile? Hmmm. We just don’t see the point. I see it more like a day of thanksgiving:

* tomorrow our good friends arrive, and we have family and loved ones around the world
* we have food and warmth, a comfy bed to sleep on, clothes and other essentials
* we’re in good health
* and most importantly, Marcel and I cherish our relationship that we’ve worked so damn hard on over the last 14 years!!

That’s a whole bunch to be grateful for. This festive season, what are you thankful for?

Provence sabbatical day 23 – Cotignac tourist office

It’s been raining solid for 2 days. I’m not complaining. We’ve had amazing sunny weather, and the land needs rain. But when it stopped today, Patricia and I hopped and skipped our way down to the village. I wanted to pop into the tourism office to find out things to do for when Rob, Diana and Naomi visit us next week.

The lady in the tourism office was extremely helpful and friendly. Handing me brochures for horse-riding, walking routes, the local monthly programme and she also included a map showing the general regions where a 4×4 is recommended. Or in our case next week, a 6×6. They’re driving down in their Volvo TGB camper.

On the way back to the village, I was able to take “THE SHOT” … of the swimming pools hugging the cliff side. You can’t really see them in a normal car. And taking this shot during a drive-by just didn’t work. I precariously balanced myself on the wall, and hoped a truck wouldn’t drive by and blow me off. It looks like it could be a painful drop.

Cotignac in winter is very quiet, but you still see people around. If it’s raining, the awnings come out, and when it’s cold, the outdoor heaters are turned on and we happily accept blankies from the cafés for our knees.

Provence sabbatical day 22 – Breaking Bad and mince pies

After writing last night’s blog, and watching a couple of stand-up comedians, we decided to start watching “Breaking Bad” – Pen has been raving about it, so we figured, “Why not?” So far, it’s really gritty. But the characters are very believable. So we watched about 5 episodes after each other. As the night grew thin, Marcel got a little peckish and had a “midnight snack”; or was that 2am picnic? We don’t have a clue what time we got to bed. 3ish? Half-past-3ish? I was just starting to think about waking up when Patricia phoned around 11:30am!

Meeting a 90-year old legend … Over the past few weeks, Patricia and I have shared many a story, and I’ve been very intrigued to meet her Mom. This amazing lady is 90. Yes, you read that right. She is turning 91 on the 1st of March. My birthday. And that of my granny’s (hence my middle name, Margaret).

We had a lovely time chatting about life and experiences; first with a warming cup of tea (my hands were frozen) and then with a glass of bubbly and a hot mince pie, flown in from England. I just cannot believe how alive and full of zest this lovely lady is. 90. Really? I find it very difficult to believe. Wow. What an inspiration.

All I can say is … I reckon Christmas Day is going to be epic 😉

Provence sabbatical day 21 – baubles and lamb curry

Drawing back the curtain, I saw the mist clinging to the hills and figured … what the hell. The white cotton fell back into place and I rolled over and snuggled back under the duvet. I think it was around 10ish when we stirred. Luverly. The relaxing has begun!!

After doing a “dry fit” of the tiles, which I must say had been beautifully cleaned (thanks honey), Marcel mixed some mortar and we creatively fitted the honeycomb to take up the centimetre height difference. The floor is nice and stable, and Pen will be happy it hasn’t lost its character 😉

A hostess of note, Pen has the most gorgeous plates and platters. I found a festive silver platter in the cellar and proceeded with a table decoration from the bits of Nordman I took off the tree yesterday. This always makes me think of my very talented Mum. She’s got such a knack with making things look beautiful. I’m grateful I’ve learned a thing or two along the way.

After the platter, I started the lamb curry. Nice and slowly .. it’s been simmering on the stove since 3pm. The meat is just falling off the bones … think it’s a good ‘un. We’d invited Christiane; a small way to say thanks for all her help. The Christmas tree was crying out for bling, and I unpacked our decorations, and those that Pen/Christiane had supplied. I swear I saw a couple of magpies on the windowsill, eyeing it out – our shiny bauble delight.

Unfortunately Christiane couldn’t make it as she wasn’t feeling too good. Well, unfortunately for her. My honey was real happy with the extra portion of what has turned out to be THE curry of my life. OMG … it could have rivalled the best curry in London!! My taste buds were yelling, “More, more, more …” and my tummy … “sorry dude, no more!”. How could I ever recreate that? Yum. Yum. Yum.

Provence sabbatical day 20 – fire nooks and e-cards

If this post is a blurred mess, please forgive me. I think we got about half an hour’s sleep last night. Don’t ask me why. Just couldn’t sleep. Eventually I gave up trying and came downstairs to a bewilderd Mado … “What? It’s breakfast time already?” He thought it was Christmas. Peeking through the windows, I rubbed my eyes extra hard because I couldn’t figure out whether it was just overcast and misty in the hills, or if the villagers were setting fire to their piles of leaves and other autumn debris. Makes for a pretty photo anyway!

I touched up the ceiling in the fire nook again, and despite the paint being half a centimetre thick, the water stain stubbornly shines through. Argh!! Finally, another couple of licks of paint seemed to have helped! I finally rinsed off and hung up my paintbrush until the new year. Marcel was treating the loo upstairs and I noticed a big leak in the cellar. We suspect the piping is too narrow to accommodate the loo, shower and washing machine. But it’ll have to do for now – we’ve just got to make sure everything is used separately. I scrubbed the tiled floor and got rid of the paint splatters that slipped past my plastic sheeting. And even tried to remove splatters from years gone by. They weren’t having any of it. “I’m staying right here, thank you very much!” So I let them. The newly dripped blotches relented a lot more easily.

My darling … eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow, we decorate 😉

The tree fits it’s little nook perfectly, thanks to a couple of branches I removed from the back. They’re going to become some sort of table decoration. Mado was very happy to have the place back to normal. And even allowed me to take his pic!

Late this afternoon I popped around to Kirsten to show her the pics we’d taken during the Cotignac Christmas Market and how to edit a picture and send it as an e-card. It’s one of those things … if you don’t do it often, it’s damn confusing if your instructions are missing a vital step. Like “Double click on the name” or “single click on the name and then on CC”.

After successfully sending cards, we had a glass of wine in her lovely kitchen; chatting about life, relationships and travelling. And also how it’s difficult to fit into a “close-knit community” after you’ve moved around extensively. I have to admit, there are times when I’m jealous of the the apparent simplicity of a life where you’ve lived in one place, with the same people, same work, same everything. But when I weigh it up against an international, broad-minded approach to life … and all things being equal, I’m glad I was born to travel.

Provence sabbatical day 19 – caves and pain

Sounds weird doesn’t it? But it’s not got anything to do with painful cave exploring. It’s cellars along the wine route and stocking up on bread … don’t you love the French?

We woke up with sunlight pouring into the room from the passage. Delightful. Full of energy, I was more than ready to tackle the last task for a while. The room downstairs. So we can enjoy a cosy, comfy Christmas. Before I knew it, the ceiling was grey. And honey was ready for a drive to Brignoles.

We missed the market in the village, to swing past Derek to borrow his axe, and then decided to carry on via Carcès. Part of the wine route … what a gorgeous road. And we had it pretty much to ourselves. Can imagine how different it must be in the summer. A lot of the vignerons are open from Wednesday to Sunday – excluding siesta, of course.

We haven’t had a real Christmas tree for many years. The last one was a little conifer that we planted in the garden afterwards. But after helping Patricia with her monster tree, we figured we gotta do it. It’s really funky in Brignoles, just outside the L.Eclerc, how you choose your tree, and then they squish it into a sausage machine, and hey presto! It’s ready for transportation.

We got cement from Mr. Bricolage to fix the gaping hole in the bedroom floor, and checked with them if the colour of paint we needed was available. Apparently they can mix it at will. Takes two minutes. I’m amazed at how many Frenchies speak English. Trying to put us out of our misery with our limited French?

It’s such a tough call … which is the prettier road? From Cotignac to Entrecasteux to Carcès? Or from Le Val to Châteauvert to Barjols? Both are simply stunning. What a nice way to do the shopping!! We even made a quick detour through Pontevès. Apparently an ancient village … will have to come back and sink ourselves into the history.

Back at the farmhouse, Marcel tackled the gaping hole in the bedroom floor. First with a rougher concrete mixture, to take up the bigger holes. And then with a second batch to make it smooth. I really expected everything to disappear between the logs (don’t tell him).

I’m working on the little room near the fireplace. It’s white again, but needs another coat. And then we can set up our Christmas tree, put our feet up and relax into 2014. Yeah man!!

Provence sabbatical day 18 – we’re finally unpacked!

Gosh, we’re in week 4! Time is flying by. And finally we’ve managed to move into Pen’s room and unpack!! We gathered all of our belongings from the various rooms around the house, and have managed to fit them into one room, rather comfortably. Fabulous.

As a DIY-er, I find it very difficult to ignore peeling paint. Or a stain-tinted ceiling. Or floor tiles that creak and crack under your feet. I just love fixing things. I am however, restraining myself to be sympathetic with auntie’s wish of it not being too neat. It’s working out really well for us. According to our deal, Marcel’s using this time to relax and unwind. It’s uber-cute … he and Mado hang out together next to the heater.

There are some lovely people are expressing all sorts of concern that I’m working too hard. And I really appreciate it. But, if this was at home, I would have finished this muuuuch sooner. I mean, it’s day 18 and we’re finally moving in 😉

Having said that, today was more like what I’m used to … a good productive number of hours after each other. But the effort is worth it. It feels great to have all our stuff in one place. We’re gonna sleep well tonight! Tomorrow I’ll get two coats of paint on the ceiling in the fireplace nook, and that should be it until after the festive season … got some decorating to do!

Provence sabbatical day 17 – Cotignac Christmas market

It’s a little weird not joining other Landy owners for the annual LRCH Christmas drive. I’m wishing them well. Thinking of my bruv and Kinga too. Can you believe it’s been a year already? Love you guys!!

We were only planning on going to the village after 2pm, so I tackled the bedroom corner; trying the grey paint on the leak stain to see if it’s easier to paint over. I’m sure Christiane meant for it to be painted evenly, but I was kinda digging the abstract coloration. Funny how the leak part was a completely different colour?

It was lovely being in the village with my honey. Nice showing him the little places I’d discovered, and he discovered a few of his own. Why did I decide to wear boots with a heel? Hello?!? It seriously hampers my sense of adventure 😉

Not much text today, I’m going to let the photos speak for themselves. And get back to the crackling, sizzling fire. Not all the logs of wood are dry, methinks?

Provence sabbatical day 16 – green gold

Today’s the day for Patricia. We collect the olive oil that’s been pressed from her grove. It’s rather impressive, the trees yielded 287,5 kgs and after tallying it up, we counted 37,5 litres of olive oil.

The Mudster is behaving surprisingly well, despite us not having done anything to the clutch. It still takes lower than it should, but he’s allowing us to change gears with relative ease. Patricia is very sporting, and hops up into our chariot. In these winding roads, it’s lovely having a passenger who also enjoys driving slowly. And not getting glowered at because you’re driving like a snail. It’s too beautiful a countryside to speed!!
The process of pressing oil at Le Moulin de Pascaline

Le Moulin de Pascaline is a delightful little drive into the countryside, and I could even engage low gear! Yeah baby. The proprietor was exceptionally helpful, considering they’re closed on Saturday mornings. He and Patricia handled the nitty gritty, and we loaded up the olive oil. As Patricia is of Greek descent, I can only imagine how much this must mean to her. In fact, all olive oil in France originates from Greece …
In the village … a celebratory drink

Naturally we popped into the village to celebrate! Before we made it to du Cours, Patricia knows the owner of the little antique store, whose trinkets catch my eye every time I walk past. A lovely reason to make our acquaintance. Ooh, this is a dangerous place … my magpie eye landed on a number of things. Sidsel, Kirsten and Maggie were at the usual table, this time with Jean-Michel. Nice to hear more French being spoken. Slowly it’s getting absorbed.

“Honey, could you have a look?”
Marcel comes upstairs and is surprised at what the tiles have revealed. What was left of the flooring support, has crumbled away. No wonder it was so wonky!! And it was only going to get worse.
So on Monday, we’re going to get some reinforcing gauze and concrete. I’ve got to say that I’m enjoying expanding my repertoire as a DIY-er. And having a live-in building foreman is priceless!

Provence sabbatical day 15 – festive season creeping in

Got some lovely sleep in last night, and only stirred after 10am! Mado was happy with the late morning too. He’s eating well, and doing fine. As if the little blip on radar didn’t occur.

Installing a 4-metre tree into your lounge is a lot easier with more than two hands. Marcel and I lent ours. Even if I say so myself, it all ran very smoothly. Marcel used his laser metre to see how tall the ceiling was, we removed a ruler’s length off the bottom, popped the tree into an old tub, and wedged it straight with blocks of wood. Quite simple really. And it’s going to look amazing when it’s decorated. Afterwards, we enjoyed the gluhwein Patricia made – with her own herbs and spices – and the “olive picker’s lunch”. Poppy tried to join in, but was shooed off the table.

Talk about arguing with the Tom-Tom! Our GPS stubbornly refused to let us follow an alternate route to Brignoles. Finally, after figuring it out ourselves for about 10km’s it relented. And our route was fabulous. Through Barjols and Chateauvert. WOW. What beautiful countryside!

Mr. Bricolage cut a few more window panes for us, and we got some grey paint to cover the roof leak stains; a handy tip from Christiane. It’s apparently easier to paint it white afterwards. We visited our first local CAVE, a co-op wine cellar. Nice to be supporting locals. We’re starting to feel more settled. These things take time. Especially when you’re thrown the curve balls that we’ve recently faced. But hey, it’s all part of the experience. C’est la vie!

Provence sabbatical day 14 – what’s for dinner?

My deepest respect to the night-staffers among us. As expected, I didn’t get much sleep last night. Worrying about Mado, I got up at 3am to check that he was okay. He asked for some food 🙂 I got up again at 5am, and again he asked for food. An excellent sign. Sick animals don’t want food. We spent the morning keeping an eye on him.

And trying to figure out the loo. Zucht. Another challenge. The last couple of days, the flushing has been slow to respond. Adding more activator and pots of boiling water made me think of Mike Rowe. This has GOT to be one of THE dirtiest jobs. Umska!! Christiane tried phoning a plumber to no avail. We took the A-Z list from Pen with us to Maggie & Derek, to make use of their French.

Derek and Maggi lived in their smaller home, down the hill, whilst building their home. It’s impressive how much detail and consideration has gone into the build. They’ve done their very best to recreate an “vieille maison” using Provencal features and techniques. The result is gorgeous!

But not without modern comforts. Their heating system is really cool. Piping was installed a metre under the ground, where the temperature is a constant 12 deg C. In Winter, they can heat the water. In summer, the home is kept an even, cool temperature. And it’s very well insulated. We’ll be coming back to make a video of the how’s and what’s.

A huge thanks for a delicious lunch, and it was fabulous spending time together 🙂
We really enjoyed the pumpkin soup doggy bag too.

Also thanks for the magic muti for the loo. It’s worked a treat!!!

We saw a shadow flitting across the room, and thought it was a moth. But it was a butterfly attracted to the light. It kept still long enough for me to pick it up, and take it to the front door. When I put my hand in the kitty porthole, it’s legs started trembling big time. I couldn’t force it to go into the cold. It flew off and found another light, and I figured it would need the warmth. But after a while, fluttering shadows again. I caught it again, and this time released the little beauty. J’adore les papillons!

Mado seems to be doing okay today. YIPPEEEEEEEEEE.
He’s definitely getting used to us brushing, stroking and cuddling him. Precious boy xxx
P.S. If anyone asks, no he’s not spoiled, I was warming my back against the heater 😉

It’s 11 pm. Honey’s just asked, “What’s for dinner?”.
Sorry dude, you’re on your own. I’m off to bed. Bon appetite.

Provence sabbatical day 13 – reflections and panes

I adore mirrors. Not because I enjoy spending hours looking into them. But because of reflections are like memories. What you see when you look into one, isn’t necessarily what others would see. And just like memories, some reflections are crisp and sharp, and others are mottled and jaded. I particularly love the bathroom mirror, and think it fits the house perfectly; showing it’s age, oozing character, and a whole bunch of fairy tale magic. Mado kept me company this morning while I figured out how the panel pins work, to keep the mirror in place.

Marcel got the washing machine installed in no time, and even did two loads of washing! It works great 🙂 He also tackled some of the lighting upstairs, where the fittings had come apart. After bravely repairing the mirror, I got hold of the bedroom windows and spent pretty much the whole day sculpting putty around the edges. “Don’t make it too neat” I interpreted Pen’s wish to mean she doesn’t want it looking like it was machine-made. So, the window panes have a pretty organic feel about them.

I took a break to make a lasagne, and to stir up the compost heap. I’m delighted to say that there is some action happening at the bottom. We’ve got the fork at the ready and will pitch it every now and then.

Talk about a scare … Mado was a little uneasy this evening, suddenly looking old. Staring into space and not lying down as much as he was. Then as I started on the blog, he started moving in a very strange way. As if his brain wasn’t working with his body. My first thought was some sort of stroke. No! You can’t do this to us, Mado!!

I phoned Christiane, who in spite of being knackered from a long day, agreed to come and see him. I fetched her, and by the time we got back, Mado was moving normally again. Phewie!! So she enjoyed a glass of wine with Marcel, and we shared some of our blog photos. She told us some stories about the house – great stuff. Mado seems to be doing okay. Hope I get some sleep … xxx

Provence sabbatical day 12 – a drive to Darty in Frejus

One of the best things about this part of France, is that it’s an hour and a half from the Med, and a couple of hours from the Alps. Marcel was itching to get closer to the coast, so a little drive to Fréjus was on the cards, some 60 kms away. But first, market day. Patricia and I walk down. Marcel lugs the old washing machine into the van, and meets us there. Everyone kinda does their own thing and then meet up at Café du Cours for a “verre vin” (glass of wine). We had a brief chat with Philip about his work, and requested an interview. Hopefully we’ll be able to join him for a day to get a glimpse into “the life of a beekeeper”. Sidsel gave us a tip for the washing machine, Darty. And that you can order online. But we thought we’d go check it out in person.

Kirsten mentioned a sleeper couch that she’d chatted with Pen about, which we could use if it fitted. A comfy couch would be rather cool, so after the market, we swung past. The house used to be a restaurant. I love how we’ve been to a couple of different homes, and they’re all so different! We took measurements, and headed off towards Carcès.

D562: Cotignac, Carcès, Lorgues, Les Arc, Les Muy, Fréjus

Instead of buying wood at Mr. Bricolage, and not wanting to order a year’s worth for EUR 300, we found a great solution enroute at a “bois de chauffage” where we loaded a cube of wood into the van for EUR 82. Hopefully it’ll last us a good part of the Winter.  I’d love to yammer on about the scenery … but the photo’s aren’t doing it justice. You’ve got to do more than a drive-by shooting. So, we’ll have to come back. The most important thing right now, is a washing machine. We went into a huuuuuge hardware store, and saw the cutest mosaic tiles, but no washing machines. Then around the corner, we found a Darty, which Sidsel had tipped us off about. Great stuff. A bright, sparkly store – we found the “laves” straight away. A very friendly saleslady helped us seal the deal, and organised to have the old machine swapped with the new one. Amazing what you can do with a couple of choice words.

The sun sets around 5 / 5:30 pm. Peak hour traffic. It didn’t take long before the engine wasn’t the only thing making loud noises. I dozed off big time. Too much excitement in one day!! Ha ha ha.

We’ll unload the washing machine and wood in the morning. I’m going to call it a night. Gosh, it’s getting close to pumpkin time … á bientot!

Provence sabbatical day 11 – back to the future

Last night’s carol service took me back 3 decades to watching my parents sing in Pretoria. One of my proudest moments, they have both got such beautiful voices. And it seems the local antique dealer is harbouring the voice of an angel! I had to close my eyes to fully absorb the nuances of tenors, altos and sopranos. When they dedicated the encore to Nelson Mandela, my eyes were not dry.

Really glad we met up with Patricia and Kirsten at the carol service, for we would never have found Sidsel’s place. An apartment in this amazing village, which is a lot bigger than it looks. With lots of hills and steps. I’m definitely going to get fit again 🙂

Sidsel prepared a delicious dish of red and white cabbage, spuddies and roast pork, with imported Norwegian berries. It was very “gezellig” … sorry, but I still haven’t found a better English word. The Dutch word is so descriptive. Cosy, fun, lovely ambience, relaxed, social, chilled, …. It was lovely meeting Joelle and hearing everyone speak French. Very exciting when you have an inkling of what they’re talking about.  I handed the camera over to Marcel and he went a little professional on us, “work with me … give me more …” Kirsten and I had a blast 🙂

A glimpse into the future?

Marcel’s brief for the sabbatical is to relax, take time out and feel no pressure. So he helps out when he feels like, or curls up with his tablet. Not a Prozac of any kind, but with an HTC. Does that make him an e-bookworm? I tackled Pen’s bedroom wall … again. For the 5th time!! I have a horrible suspicion that the bedroom wall suffers from boulimia … loving the taste of paint, but refusing to let it stay down. So, I figured let’s sand the hell out of it. And while I was at it, the bathroom ceiling too. What a laugh when I caught a glimpse in the mirror … and immediately showed my husband. An early promise of what’s to come?

I finished in time to attempt my cycle ride up the hill to visit Patricia. Marcel showed little effort. Me? My lungs and heart merged into one fiery ball. It’s only a kilometre!!! But it’s a start in the right direction. Patricia showed us her magnificent botantical art. My word, the detail was almost lost on my far-sighted eyes. She’s very talented.

Our challenge should we accept it …

Install a new washing machine. Actually, we have little choice – we need clean clothes, and buying new stuff every day is out of the question. And not just because of the sabbatical budget. Gasp, can you imagine it? I hate shopping! After checking with Pen about the age of the machine (warranty is up), and looking online for prices, it’s more feasible to buy a new one. Like a tank through an alley, we maneuvered the beast out of the cellar, onto a trolley and it’s ready for tomorrow. After the market, we’re heading back to Brignoles. L.Eclerc also has an appliance section. Not sure if it’s the same here as in Holland, where they take your old one in. So we’re going to take it along … what else would we do with it?

Provence sabbatical day 10 – freezing my socks off

I froze my socks off. And then my toes defrosted! It turns out that not all socks are equal … the fuzzy socks that I normally sleep in do wonders at keeping my toetsies warm, but get painful if you walk in them too long. And walking socks on the other hand, are pretty damn useless at warming your toes in Cotignac!!

A touch more DIY

According to a little French brochure, it’s a good idea to add linseed oil to the wood before adding the window panes back. At least, I hope my French has interpreted it correctly!! I carried on in Pen’s room. Tomorrow some panel pins, and then the window can go back 🙂

Muddy’s Bootcamp – final touches

When making videos, it’s much easier to do the major editing if you’ve done the filming because you know what footage is available. Marcel had done the major work a couple of days ago, and I’ve been meaning to do the final edit. But hadn’t had the time. Sharing our life with you takes at least 3 hours a night. C’mon honey. Gimme a break 😉 We have a lot of fun making these videos with Rob Stewart, our Land Rover guru, and it’s nice to see how we’re all relaxing more in front of the camera, and Marcel’s shots are great. The outtakes are getting funnier and funnier. Perhaps the best part of this video, is how I just don’t have a clue that there’s so much oil on my face. Uploading was fun … 387 minutes (in Holland it would take about 15 minutes). And we noticed that we’ve got over 6 million views on YouTube … DOUBLE YIPPEE!!!

Today’s post is very short … we’re about to go to the village church, who’s bells have been ringing loudly the whole day, for Christmas Carols, and then after that to Sidsel for dinner. Patricia warned us that the church gets really cold, so we much dress warm. “Get changed? What do you mean I can’t wear my snow boots and ski pants?!?

Provence sabbatical day 9 – la terrasse du soleil

I woke up early to get some bookkeeping done. What do you mean it’s Saturday? Really? Already? Patricia collected me around 11 am for our stroll down to the village, and said she was looking for a gift and wanted to visit a friend in an Antique store. They’re normally treasure troves for great photos, so I was happy to tag along. Browsing with a cup of coffee, served in an antique cup of course, Patricia didn’t find “that object” … you know the kind? You have no idea what it is, until you see it, and then it’s perfect. So we rushed off to the florist before it closed. It’s a lot of fun watching an English rose order flowers in French, using Latin names. Especially considering the said rose is a botanical artist. Her green fingers have done wonders in Pen’s magnificent garden. Further down the alley, Patricia bought her weekly paper and we joined Sidsel at Café du Cours.

Possibly the last warm day until March?

Marcel joined us by bicycle. I haven’t had the guts yet to try the hills. Don’t know what’s worse… 36km’s an hour downhill weaving around steep hairpin bends, and trusting drivers to leave the obligatory metre around you, or the 1/2 a kilometre per hour uphill – leaving my lungs on the curb side? Where are those lovely flat cycle paths we get in Holland? Maybe I’d start slowly and head up to the main road, which is one kilometre uphill(!) and see if I’d dare the route back down again. I could see Marcel strapping the GoPRO onto his bike to get the most excellent footage of me screaming my head off. Um, no thanks!

Marcel chose the steep inside road to cycle back, and Patricia and I walked. I’m very impressed. It usually takes her 45 minutes to walk back from the village … uphill all the way. And she does it a couple of times a week. After the sun escaped the terrace near the house, Marcel and I hopped aboard the Mudster. The views are even bigger, and we extended our dose of vitamin D. Our neighbour’s stereo continues to play the blues; reminiscent of Jazz in the Park … but without the crowds. Wow. Still can’t believe we get to enjoy this view alone – just the two of us. Priceless.

Provence sabbatical day 8 – the brightest star in the African sky

The alarm clock ensured we didn’t miss our event of the winter: the arrival of the chimney sweeps. And then on checking emails, we learned that Madiba, father of the Rainbow Nation, had passed away.

Life goes on. Stop the Clock.

There’s nothing like being welcomed by a room flooded with sunlight.
And then learning about the death of a beloved World Leader 🙁
Even when you want to stop the clock, life insists you carry on …

The chimney sweeps were prompt, courteous, professional and cleaned up after themselves. I thought our (screeding) vacumn cleaner had it tough, but with all that soot, theirs is far worse-off. Most importantly, they left us a little piece of paper giving us peace of mind to build fires.

I managed to clean up the window frames for Pen’s bedroom, thanks to the tips and chisels from my carpenter (he’s a man of many talents). Marcel planed the bedroom windows, so we can close them at night, and hopefully stop that icy chill down our necks. He also got the guest bathroom shutter prepped for my green paintbrush – with some pretty spectacular flying sparks.

A visit to Mr. Bricolage was necessary … to get replacement window panes. One was broken, and then I broke another two!! 🙁 Argh. Lessons learned. Luckily it cost less than a tenner, including a spare. The photo of the Lada is for my brother-in-law, Dave. He owned one of the beauties for a while and loved it. Dude, I get it!

Waiting for the the chicken curry to simmer it’s magic, I settled in to read online tributes and pay my own farewell to the great man.

I remember watching a video of my favourite South African legend, Johnny Clegg a.k.a. the “White Zulu” singing his tribute song about Madiba, when Tata appeared on staged and danced along. Smiling and full of cheer he said, “It is music and dancing, that makes me at peace with the world. And at peace with myself” and then teased the audience for not dancing along. Another favourite quote, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

I was in South Africa when Nelson Mandela was set free. The racial tension was incredible, but it never lead to civil war. We didn’t know how much he was doing … my favourite moment of “Madiba Magic” was during the 1995 World Cup. As good as they are, the All Blacks never stood a chance; not when Madiba stunned everyone by wearing the green-and-gold jersey to welcome the teams. Unheard of in the country’s white-dominated sport. If you haven’t seen Invictus, do yourself a favour. When he and Pienaar lifted the trophy, my heart couldn’t contain my pride, affection, love and compassion. I hyperventilated for the first time in my life. Wow, what a combination of emotions.

Madiba, thank you for your ability to unite and inspire people of all walks of life, regardless of colour, creed, status or intention. And not just in South Africa but around the world.

My prayer is that South Africa can look to the brightest star in the African sky to see clearly, live compassionately, and follow in the footsteps of one of life’s greatest humanitarians.

Provence sabbatical day 7 – mon roi et un petit gâteau

“Is it 12 o’clock yet?” Marcel was trying to read himself to sleep, and I kept asking until he said yes. “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday my darling Marceeeeeel, happy birthday to you” … and then five minutes later in Dutch, and five minutes after that in Afrikaans …we won’t even go down the route of what the French sounded like.

YES, I ADORE BIRTHDAYS!!! Especially when it’s my honey’s.

We had planned on taking a drive to the coast, but only got up at 11am. Woah, Mado … you didn’t even moan? Perhaps that midnight snack helped? Yes Pen, I can hear you say it 🙂

Instead I fried up some bacon, onion and tomatoe; chiselled a frozen baguette; added a layer of cheese and popped it in the oven. Topped off with a fried egg. And freshly squeezed orange juice. Not with a juicer. No sirree. With a manual lemon squeezer! Paps would be proud. Marcel spent the day working on the latest “Muddy’s Bootcamp” video and using his kitty GPS for warmth, Mado followed every ray of sun.

I cooked and cleaned and felt like a slave. Albeit a willing, bouncy Tigger kind of slave. Around 4pm I’d finished doing the dinner prep, and had vacuumed and mopped the floors. I have to say it, “laminate flooring is way easier to maintain than ceramic tiles!!” After my shower, I decided to walk down to the village. Marcel didn’t have any beers, and more importantly, we needed candles for dinner! With all this R&R my pants have become inexplicably tighter, so a little bit of “fresh air” wouldn’t do ANY harm!!

I bumped into Sidsel … it’s so nice knowing people, and fabulous people at that. We confirmed plans for Sunday and parted ways. I popped into the Spar and got a six-pack of Kronenbourg, dinner candles and tealights – turns out they’re very handy for starting fires! Further up the road, the bakery was still open. What’s a birthday celebration without a little cake? Forgetting the pressure on my waist line, I boldly walked in, smiled, said “Bonjour” and then asked, “avez vous un petit gâteau”? Huh? Was that me? Those online lessons in Holland have helped!!! “Biensûr!” I bought two tartlets and walked out grinning like a Cheshire cat.

On the way back up the hill, I found a little path to get me closer to the waterfall. Wearing a Provencal poncho is not ideal for bundu-bashing. It got caught in every “wag ‘n bietjie” [wait a bit] vine. No wonder I normally wear simple, practical clothes … it served me well in the Croatian forests during the 4×4 trophies.

Slow roast and champagne … hmmm. Okay, a sparkling rosé – but a local Carpe Diem bubbly. A welcome gift from Derek and Maggie (thanks, again). In Pen’s lovely champagne glasses. With dinner candles. The tartlets, when compared to supermarket prices, were pricey … but considering the taste, the flavours, the nuances .. isn’t it better to pay for quality than for quantity? Eat less, appreciate more 🙂 Vive la France!

ps. did you know that our surname “Koning” is Dutch for king, like roi in French?