Avignon 3

I should add that last night we attended the International Championship for the Card Game 500, which as it happened was held in Cabannes, outside Avignon, France.

Pat softened us up first by bringing out a bottle of herbal liqueur made by the monks of the local abbey — delicious and 43% alcohol.

Allison and I put up a fierce battle, but alas the title was won by Pat.

We had time for another game, where I was threatening to win with Eight Hearts.  Pat called Open Misere over that, which forced me to Ten No Trumps.  Which I won, which salved my pain.

Today we drove to Barcelona.  We called in at Carcassonne on the way, the mighty castle of the heretic Cathars.  Very big and impressive, but not much meat except a museum of some rather impressive stone carvings.

The road to Barcelona was great, but when we arrived in the city it was a maze of 1-way streets and our usually wonderful GPS lady got us badly tangled.  But we´re here now, and we´ve had tapas in an outdoors cafe. 

Owen is resisting bedtime and has an accumulated sleep debt, unavoidable but becoming a bit of a nuisance just recently.  He´s been pretty good with the unusual foods so far, but he really needs a play with somebody his own age.

We have already seen one house by the architect Antoni Gaudi, who operated on the edge between genius and insanity.  Tomorrow´s a big Gaudi day for us, plus hopefully the old city.

I picked up a bit of Spanish on my last visit four years ago, but it´s not working much as yet.  Hopefully it will come back a bit the way my French did.

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Avignon 2

Pat had to go out last night, but his parents had some English friends over to help with translation.  We had a very pleasant evening and some fine food — the highlight being the homemade walnut wine.

This morning we rested, blogged and booked our hotel in Barcelona.  We go there tomorrow.

This afternoon, we wanted to swim in the Mediterranean.  Pat took us to the Camargue, a semi-wild area with the fiercest bulls and the finest horses.  We saw hundreds of flamingos, and swam in the warm and somewhat still waters.

I could write a long article about each of these days, but truly it’s a struggle on a borrowed French keyboard.  Suffice it to say that we’re still having a really interesting time and meeting some great people.

Avignon 1

It was only 250 km from Le Puy to Avignon, which looked like an easy drive.  Alas, this turned out to be the Ardeche region, famous for a lovely chestnut spread, and some of the most precarious roads we had been on yet.  So we had a day of struggling through charming mountain village after charming mountain village.  Thank goodness for GPS.

So it took us basically a day to get to Avignon, the city where the popes were exiled under the thrall of the King of France.  It’s also the home of wwoofer Pat, who spent eight months under the thrall of Cockatrice Farm.

Pat is a larger-than-life character who stars in more than half of the colourful stories about our farm.  He destroyed the most tussocks, he caught the biggest fish, and won most of the ‘500’ card games we played, except the International Championship that was hosted at Cockatrice Farm.  He is much loved.

His parents, Didier and Marie-Francoise, speak little English, but fortunately Pat translates. His mother is an exceptional cook.  As always on this trip, we get to try local dishes and cheeses, which is just great.  I can often understand his Dad, but his Mum speaks too quickly.

Pat has shown us the huge ruined castle of Baux, some more castles mostly from the outside, and the old town of Avignon.  We still have another day to go here.

It has been extremely hot for our trip, but Pat has a pool.  Which is where I’m going now.

Into France

Actually it took a long time to get to France.  Zurich of course is up amongst the Swiss Alps, in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.  So we had to go to Geneva first, where they speak French.   This drive was incredibly beautiful.

We stopped along the way at the Castle of Chillon, jutting into Lake Geneva.   This is one of the most famous castles in the world, not really big but rather cute.  It has a bit of everything, including some original medieval wall paintings and some sensitive reconstructions.

Then through Geneva and into France.   The roads were now very small and hard going.  We made it into Saint Etienne about 8pm.

We were staying with the parents of our past wwoofer The Marvellous Miss Maud, who is still in Australia working at a truckstop north of Cairns.  Maud was absolutely wonderful during our preparations for our enormous medieval event last January.  Maud’s parents loved the stories of her adventures at the farm, and invited us to stay.

Maud’s mum Chantel has some English, but her father Gaetan has none.  Fortunately he speaks very clear French, and I was able to resurrect my schoolboy French and we got by quite well.  As long as we both stayed in the present or past tense.

The next day, we took them to the Chateau de Chalencon, a small mountain castle where I had stayed eight years ago.  Our host last time died two years ago.  The castle was closed, but I convinced a local (in French) to lend me the keys of the castle for a look.  Owen had been there before, aged three, but could not remember it.  Allison thought it a most lovely village.

Then Chantel and Gaetan took us to Le Puy, the starting place for the famous Compostella pilgrimage.  The town has a cathedral at the top of a pinnacle.  We visited that — very beautiful.  My best memory is the priest racing up the steep cobbled streets on a motorbike.

We had lunch in the old town, where Gaetan suggested I try the local delicacy, andoulliete.  Sounds delicieux.  When in France, do as the French do, and I had been telling Owen that he had to be open to new tastes.  In the event, it turned out to be a rather chewy sausage of gizzards, and I don’t recommend it.

We watched some lace-making, then we were off to Avignon.

Switzerland

The scenery on the way to Switzerland is just amazing.  We were sitting on 120 kmh in the slow lane, and the cars on the autobahn were flashing past us.

We have been staying with Silvan’s parents, Harry and Christa.  Silvan himself is gallavanting around North America, but his parents were keen for us to visit anyway.  They are very proud of their country and love showing it off to their friends.

We arrived about 6pm and had conversation then dinner in their lovely garden.  Harry designed the house himself, and it’s fabulous.  We stayed in Silvan’s room, which has the most beautiful windows out over the garden.

The next morning, we had breakfast and headed out by ourselves to the local castle, the Kyborg.  It’s lovely, and we strolled around the village which was great: fantastic gardens.  Then we headed to one of the lakes, and Allison had a swim.  I snuck off for the best cherry tart I’ve ever had, by a long way. 

Harry and Christa took the afternoon off, and they took us for a driving tour of the Swiss mountains.  We started with a chairlift up to the highest mountain in the area, the Santis.  We took a cable-car to the top, with Allison hanging on for grim death.  We had lunch at the top, above the clouds.  Owen threw snowballs.

Then we headed down again and had a walk around the mountains.  Owen leapt from rock to rock, emulating the goats.  Lots of wildflowers.  Even their weeds are lovely flowers at present.

Then we toured the mountain village where Harry and Christa have a holiday cottage.  Harry bought Owen a real Swiss Army knife.  Some really unusual buildings there.

Then off to the city of St Gallen, and snuck into the amazing Cathedral when it was really closed.  Again, distinctive regional architecture.  Lots of fountains everywhere, that are all OK to drink from — very sweet mountain water.

Then home for a pasta dinner and a taste of all the local cheeses and wines.  Brilliant.  Harry and Christa  have been really wonderful hosts, and are so keen for us to come back so they can show us more of Switzerland.

Today we’re heading off through Geneva and into France.

Germany

Allison and Owen arrived in Frankfurt at 6am, and I was already there from the night before.

I’m pleased to have arrived earlier, as I was able to scout around first.  Frankfurt airport is enormous.  I had a hotel room, which meant that A and O could have a shower, then we picked up the car.

We hired an automatic BMW with GPS.  We love our GPS — she’s so helpful and calm, even when we’re struggling with being on the wrong side of the road.

We drove into Frankfurt city, and met with our past wwoofer Anna and her mum.  We did the tourist bus tour of Frankfurt and then had a very pleasant lunch then a stroll through the oldest part of the city.  The old buildings are just enormous compared with say London.

Then we headed off to Stuttgart.  This had been a very big day, so we looked for a hotel immediately.  We got lost and ended up in a back street, and stumbled across the tiny Hotel Killesberg, which is lost in the 1970s.  We had a (great) dinner at the nearby tennis club, then to bed.  The hotel did a great breakfast.

Then we met up with past wwoofers Hanna and Alissa and their families, and a delicious lunch in Hanna’s garden.  Everybody is giving us their local food specialities to taste, which is just fantastic.  I would tell you what we had, but couldn’t possibly spell it.  We did a walking tour of their historic town which is just out of Stuttgart itself.

Then off to Switzerland.  Allison comments that each day seems like a week at the current rate of activity.