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 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?

Provence sabbatical day 6 – sparky and the rocking pot

Maybe it was all the fresh air, olives and excitement, or maybe it was sheer exhaustion, but I slept like a baby. We woke up late 🙂 Even Mado seemed to understand and only meowed once. Our first task of the day was a semi-panic SOS call to Christiane … during the evening, we sniffed out and traced a dreaded burning plastic smell to the main’s fuse box (of all places). Christiane has looked after and worked on the farmhouse for 8 years, and knows its deepest secrets. The stories she can tell …

Christiane came around as soon as she could, and we showed her the problem, and what we’d done. Nothing out of the ordinary really; plug out the washing machine and plug in a little blower heater to help dry the washing. She phoned Bruno, the local sparky, who said he was working in Brignoles and could only come around after 5pm. Because the trouble came from the fuse box, Christiane prepared us for the possibility of it only getting fixed in the morning. Gulp. It’s pretty damn freezing without any heating. And the chimney sweep only arrives on Friday, so any fires made would have to be small. She showed us secret wood stacks in the garden, and we saw the old donkey shed. COOL!!

Marcel then helped me coax the sun-battered shutters and window frames from their slots, and I started removing the window panes. It went really well. Until I got to the cracked pane, and nicked the corner. It spread like a spider’s web. I hoped superglue would work, but managed to glue my fingers to the glass instead. Luckily the Terps was at hand. Think we’ll be getting a couple of spare panes just in case …

It seemed like DIY was in the air. Our neighbour was tinkering outside the whole day, and sharing his penchant for the Blues with everyone. Further down the hill, someone else was going wild with chain saws and drills. Marcel even got the ol’ sander out and tackled the shutter door sides – taking off just enough so they close again. Every bit helps when you don’t have heating inside! He also secured the wood panelling back on the bath and replaced the leaky shower hose with one that we found in the bathroom cabinet. He also installed a little shower hook so we can use both hands when soaping up.

It was still light when Bruno arrived. With our broken French, and his broken English, and Christiane on the phone we managed to find out that the fuse box had “fondued” (melted). It was just too old. Nothing that we’d done. PHEW! He phoned EDF and asked them to replace it. They said they’d come around this evening. Really? Wow. Bruno smiled contentedly. Christiane phoned to make sure everything went okay. We feel so lucky to have such excellent help. We started a fire, and got the camping gas light and burner at the ready. Around 7pm the electrician arrived, switched off the mains, replaced the box, was bemused by my request to take a photo, and hey presto. Before we knew it, a sparkling new fuse box!!

Turning on the heaters, we phoned Christiane with the great news. She was as relieved as we are that the farmhouse is safe. It gets under your skin … you can’t help but love this old dame. Hell, even the “Snert” was rocking on the stove!! It could be that the pot holding the Dutch pea soup had a round bottom, and the thick bubbles caused it to go off balance, but we believe it was just as happy as were are.

Provence sabbatical day 5 – beekeepers and olive groves

Back in ’99 when Marcel and I first started getting to know each other, we discussed a gazillion things, like the things we’d love to do. On my list, was the romantic notion of picking olives and grapes in France or Italy. So when Patricia told me about hoping to achieve 300kgs to have her own pressing, I couldn’t resist offering my help. She’d organise the picnic, and I’d get fresh bread in the morning.

The alarm clock went off far too early after another night of insomnia. But I thought of the day ahead and got up, splashed my face with icy water, grabbed one of Pen’s hats (she wears them so well) and trundled down the lane.

I couldn’t get over the light. It was all sparkly as sunshine mingled with frosty air. The Pentax worked overtime, as I stopped every two seconds in my attempt to do this magical place justice. I took “the other route” Pen showed me, and got myself a little “lost” – best way to discover a place – and then found my way to the market. A bunch of organic veggies … for EUR 8! Wow. Locally grown, and yummy (writing this after dinner).

A beekeeper asks me something in French. I apologise and say I’m learning French. He says, “which language do you speak?” A British expat who’s been living here for decades. He was a mechanic and gave that up 6 years ago. His story gets interesting, when another client rocks up. Turns out she also speaks English. I giggle for ages at the number of expats; and trudge back up the hill … I wanted to get fit again 😉

I dropped off the veggies and went for my bicycle. Flat front wheel!! Argh. Pump doesn’t work. Try the new one we got yesterday. Helps a bit, but as soon as there’s weight on the wheel … flat! Argh!! I leave the bike out for later and start walking. The roads can be very narrow. When we arrived last week, getting the big Renault van (and trailer) past this farmhouse was quite tricky. I considered myself lucky to be in Muddy Boots with his gammy clutch. Ha ha.

By the time I arrive, Patricia and Phillipe have already started. Being used to manual labour (installing laminate flooring with my honey) I expected a tough day ahead; seeing the electric fork, I almost felt cheated.It took longer to set out the sheets than to get the olives on the ground. So to make me feel better, I tried the little plastic forks that are used for manual picking. Bah, didn’t work for me. Hand picking was better. We took stragglers off the trees, and from a small olive tree on a big hill. That made me appreciate the fork a whole bunch more.

We worked really well as a team. I was expecting netting, but apparently the plastic sheets work better … guessing they don’t get caught in the underbrush. Handling them is like volumes of tulle on an over-sized wedding dress. We giggled a lot as we disappeared under them to funnel the olives. We managed to collect 4x 25kg buckets!! Great feeling. The olive trees have done their bit, and we’ve done ours.

Around 1-ish Patricia and I fetched the lunch goodes. Her home is gorgeous; something Hollywood would ADORE to get their hands on. But then again, this whole valley is so inspiring. It’s very difficult not to fall hopelessly in love. We felt very privileged with short-sleeve weather, fresh bread, camembert, pate. A lovely, lovely experience. But it didn’t end there … and got back into moving sheets and gathering olives. I left around 4-ish before it got too cold or dark.

Patricia, thank you for helping me cross off this bucket list item in such style and fun. But I suspect this won’t be the last day of picking olives?!?

Provence sabbatical day 4 – taking care of the supplies

3am and I can’t sleep. Wide awake and thinking about everything and nothing at all. A little blue light on the screen casts a lovely shadow of Marcel on the wall. He looks like a reclining Moore sculpture. Tossing this way, turning that way, I eventually nod off again. Mwaauwwww. It’s late-o’clock and Mado, the cat, reminds us of our obligations.”Hey, I’m here. Feed me.” First time he’s reminded me.

Feeling ever so groggy, I decide a bath in the Hobbit’s cove is just what I need. The plug system is the same as ours at home. Some stupid knob you turn to lift the plug in/out of the water. And just like ours at home, the mechanics have rusted away. A great idea … on paper. Only, I realise this after the bath is full. And I can no longer get the plug out of the bath!! Much swilling later, the plug finally lets itself loose 🙂

Feeling out of it, I move from one thing to the next. And finally, Pen’s brass candlesticks can taunt me no more. The one sits perfectly taught, and the other is like me after an evening of too many rosés – way too wonky for it to be safe. They’re dismantled, old wax removed, and soaked in boiling water. Marcel helps out with a particularly sticky stick and we manage to reassemble them tight and proud. Hoorah. A SEAL team would be proud.

“How will we know which shade of green to use?” “I have no doubt you’ll be fine.” Aunty Pen has full faith in us. Nothing like a bit of pressure then. Trying to match a piece of heaven? Marcel and I looked around for an easy-to-loosten piece of painted green. The flaking pieces in the front are sun-bleached and have gone yellow, and the garage door looks decidely blue. The bath panelling has come loose, and I’d made a note to fasten it down, but then we figured .. that’s got to be perfect!! Marcel expertly wiggled it out, and we had at least something to go by. And what a choice. At Mr. Bricolage in Brignoles, about 20 kms away, I was happy to settle for “Verte Provence” but comparing it to the slat … way too blue. Hoo boy!! We organised a whole bunch of other stuff, like window putty for the bedroom windows where the glass panes are “hanging in there” and even found a universal plug with a little loop handle thingy for bath time bliss.

After 14 years, I know the secret to shopping with you is to keep moving. If you spend too long in one place, you zone out … so c’mon …” I’ve said it before, shopping is not my thing. Especially on a few hours of sleep. Thanks honey, for knowing me so well 🙂 The drive home was pretty fabulous. In the dark, no street lights, no protective barriers and windy bends.

Provence sabbatical day 3 – watch paint dry or visit the village?

After the gentle rain yesterday, we woke up to sun dashing past the curtains and finding it’s way to our eyeballs. A day of rest! And it wasn’t from getting wrapped on the knuckles for working too hard, I had every intention on taking it easy today. The big question, however, was do I watch the paint in Pen’s room dry, or even more exhilarating, the washing in the basement? Or do I stroll down to the village?

Triiing triiing (the phone is only allowed to make that noise, even if it doesn’t) and Patricia said she was on her way to village … I didn’t hesitate and invited myself along. In Marcel’s words, “I’m on sabbatical from my sabbatical” so I comfortably left him here with his e-books.

Don’t know why I thought the shops were closed on Sundays?!? The Spar is open until noon. Check. We won’t starve. It’s one of the friendliest Spars I’ve seen, and stocks pretty much anything you might need. We met the rest of the gang for a “vin rouge” (or blanc or rosé). They are such nice people! Even after I informed them we’re keeping a photo blog of our sabbatical, they they agreed to being photographed for today’s entry. I tried setting the Pentax up on “auto shoot” but couldn’t get the right angle, and flailed a Scandanavian passerby to assist. The first photo took 12 seconds 🙂 Umm. I set it back and we got a lovely group shot. Everyone smiling, fantastic. Me looking like a Mexican, priceless.

After facing my level of (un)fitness climbing back up the hill, I opted for a cuppa coffee in the sunshine. This yellow tree against an azure sky is quickly becoming my shrine! I love the sound the leaves make when the breeze gently rubs them against each other … as if they’re saying “Good-bye” before shedding for Winter. Thinking of Uncle John in Barrydale, and how he named his dog “BE” to remind him to be in the moment, I found a deck chair in Pen’s shed, and christened it “BE” … it’s the perfect position to lie back and enjoy. Did I drool? My husband didn’t say anything, and I didn’t ask 🙂

Provence sabbatical day 2 – the sun has deserted us

It’s amazing the difference between being a guest and being a caretaker. Don’t think I got a wink of sleep last night. Where I’d rolled over and gone back to sleep the nights before, I was alert to every noise and non-sound. Madonna, the cat, is settling well with us, and was active last night, as Pen had said he would be. At one point I heard a doorbell .. and there isn’t one here! Okie dokie … 1 night in and I’m losing it!!!

Despite it being overcast, I grabbed a cuppa tea and some yoghurt and claimed Wolf’s special breakfast spot. Oui, I can understand. Determined sun beams find their way to flush your cheeks while your nose is protected from the oncoming winter breeze. I had no choice but to grab my camera and discover the garden. There are still loads of flowers and insects (I even got a mosquito bite!!) and buds on the bushes. Hello … don’t they feel the minus degrees we’ve been having?

Marcel spent most of the day reading … fab to see my guy relaxing!! I tackled the painting again, and this time with better luck. The paint was indeed better in a warmed room. Every now and then, however, I saw bubbles on the wall 🙁 arghh. With the slightest encouragement, the old paint just peeled away leaving a nasty bald spot. A little trick I hope will work … I scraped away as much as I could, and then sanded the spot and edges. The new paint seemed to stick better. I slowly built up levels of paint, so it kind of matches the rest. Another coat of paint will be needed.

By 2:30pm the light isn’t good enough to carry on … well, that’s my excuse. We’re still finding our feet in our “new home”. When you’re away for so long, you’re kind of between travelling and living somewhere. But one thing hasn’t changed, me … I’m still in my work clothes. My jersey is getting decidely more speckledy-white. I can only imagine the white band of paint on the back of my head from leaning too close to the wall. My husband hasn’t said anything and I haven’t asked.

On Monday, we’re going back to Mr. Bricolage to get green paint and other stuff for more reparations. We should have enough food until then … the shops are closed from Saturday morning. Á bientot!

Provence sabbatical day 1 – it officially begins

We’re looking at each other in bemused wonderment. Who would have thought that we’d be overwintering in the South of France? But here we are for much-needed R&R and to look after “Madonna” (an elderly, sometimes grumpy cat) in a gorgeous old farmhouse in a picturesque village?

Pinch me, I must be dreaming!

During our 4 months in Cotignac, we’ll be doing some TLC on this fab home in exchange for electricity, etc. So to make sure we’ve got the right tools, we drove down with “Smiley” (our Renault work van) and with “Muddy Boots” (Land Rover 90) for exciting adventures despite the wintery roads.

Enroute however, Muddy’s clutch decided to start packing up. What do you do? It’s Saturday afternoon and you’ve promised to be 1000km’s away by Monday. There’s no time to wait for a tow. So we figured leaving him in 5th gear was the best option and headed straight for the Autoroute du Soleil, instead of taking the back roads. We were handsomely rewarded with the first sunshine we’d seen in ages.

On our arrival, we couldn’t have asked for a better introduction. Auntie Penelope and Uncle Wolf introduced us to their friends and showed us the hows, wheres and whats. Pen had written a great A-Z of names, numbers, services, entertainment, and loads more. They want to make sure we enjoy our stay as much as possible, and that we don’t get cabin-fever. Actually, we get asked that a lot … 4 months of doing nothing??

Pen and Wolf left for Istanbul this morning, enroute to South Africa. It felt weird saying good-bye and walking back into their home … without them.

To thank Marcel for his humungous effort in Holland, I’ve insisted that he come here and do NOTHING. Okay, reading is allowed. And writing. But for the rest, I’ll do whatever I can to take the pressure off him so he can RELAX. Alongside Madonna, who has spent the whole day snuggled in Pen’s chair. He’s missing them already, but is allowing us to stroke him more and more. I’ve missed having a kitty to look after!

Sabbatical in Provence (day 1)
Sabbatical in Provence (day 1)

We will be moving from the guest room to Pen’s room, with it’s most fantabulous views across the valley, but it needs to be painted after the roof leak. So after a bunch of other “settling in” chores, I stripped the paint bubbles and started painting. But it didn’t go 100% to plan … it got all thick and chunky. Hmmm. My hubby gently reminded me that painters don’t usually work in Winter, and the room probably needs heating. C’est la vie! Tomorrow is another day. I’ll switch the heater on in the room first thing and make a fresh start.

My education with Pen’s stove continued as I set my attention to a yummy chicken and lentil soup; loosely based on Pen’s winner recipe with Balsamic vinegar that we enjoyed during the Apéro on Wednesday night … and of course, too many vins rouges.

Radio “France Bleu Provence” is playing in the background – nice combination of songs from all genres and a good balance of talking. It’s encouraging being able to recognise some French words, and get the ear in on those accents.

Not sure what tomorrow holds … but all we can say, is that it’s simply awesome to be here!! A huge thanks to auntie and uncle. And also to our good buds in Holland for handling our matters there xxx