15 December 2015

New blog!!

I have a new blog! I haven't posted on this blog for two and a half years, but I now have a new blog up and running which is all about my foodie explorations in London. So if you've missed me and are interested, here is the link to my new blog, entitled Gobble Guzzle London!

Hope to see you there, at gobbleguzzlelondon.wordpress.com/ !

A taster of the new blog...

14 June 2013

The craziness continues

I've upgraded. I now live in a caravan instead of a tent. The other WWOOFers sadly departed on Sunday afternoon, but with every cloud there is a silver lining, this time being that the caravan was therefore vacated, meaning that I now have it all to myself. It's nothing to get excited over, it's a revoltingly naff caravan with fake wood and tacky gold tassels hanging from the lampshades but it's a definite improvement on the tent.

Last meal together with the other WWOOFers, with our plates of boiled vegetables...

So what more weirdness have I witnessed from Matthias and Patricia over the past few days?

Firstly, on Sunday morning, just before breakfast is about to be served, Matthias clears one half of the table, arranges a series of cushions on top of it, then announces he needs to do his exercises for his back. He then lies on top of the table, Patricia crouches below holding his leg, and he spends 15 minutes doing weird stretches on top of the table that we then eat at 5 minutes later.

Yesterday morning was on another level though. I walk into the house at approximately 9.15 as I do every morning, only this time I’m greeted with Matthias in his underpants. Imagine the skinniest man you’ve never seen, plus long grey hair and fuzzy wuzzy beard in tight man briefs. Tasty. Not quite sure where to look, and feeling just a bit awkward, I tactfully move to the opposite side of the room, however he starts talking to me, so I am obliged to look at him. Nightmare! Thankfully the exchange of words lasted little over 10 seconds; nonetheless the image of a half-naked Matthias has pretty much scarred me for life.

On the subject of Matthias, he made me cry on Sunday. He’d given me the task of cutting back the tomato plants, but it was actually quite complicated, as there were certain branches you could/couldn’t cut, and having Matthias watch over you is extremely disconcerting. Anyway, I just couldn’t grasp it, and he was just getting more and more angry with me, so I cried. Which I’m really annoyed at myself about because I don’t usually let people get to me. But since then he’s actually been really nice to me, so perhaps it was a good thing. He obviously now thinks I’m totally fragile and insecure and need to be handled with care.

I know 3 weeks ago I was complaining about the rubbish weather, but I’m now going to say that it is TOO HOT. Seriously, 30 degrees is really uncomfortable when you’re planting basil / picking strawberries / twirling cucumber plants in an unbearable greenhouse. I’m just too English.

I took the afternoon off yesterday with the plan to walk into Aspiran, the nearest town, find the boulangerie, and buy a pain aux raisins which I was craving after not having had one for about a month and a half. So I walked to Aspiran, which is about 25 minutes away, found the pretty town centre, found the boulangerie….and it was shut. Disappointment of the year.

Sitting in this pretty park would have been so much better with a pain aux raisins in my mouth
Oh, and despite what I said in my last post, the farts do smell. Obviously I wasn't close enough before.

08 June 2013

Vegetables, farts, and more vegetables

As it's now my 4th day at the new farm, I reckon it's time to give you the lowdown on what it's like.

Where am I? I'm on an organic fruit and vegetable farm in the countryside about 40km from Montpellier. The landscape is gorgeous; fields stretching as far as the eye can see, hills in the distance, and a big river at the bottom of the 'garden'.

I wish this was at the bottom of my own garden

What's the weather been like so far? THERE IS SUN! And it is hot, and I have been working on my tan. Except today which is rainy, which is probably why I've chosen to blog since there is nothing else really to do in the rain.

Are there any other WWOOFers? Yes! There are 3 other girls about my age which is great, and something I certainly missed at the other place in the Pyrenees. There's Lily and Isabeau, who are Americans, and then there's Sonia, who's Swiss. However, they're leaving tomorrow which is sad, as there won't be another WWOOFer until next Saturday so I'll be on my own for basically a week.

What's the work like? The work's pretty easy, but can get a bit tiring under the sun. So far I've planted lettuces, picked hundreds of strawberries (eating as many at the same time, one of the perks of the job - they're literally the sweetest strawberries I've ever tasted), dug up onions, twirled tomato plants around string, watered trays of plants, put soil into trays, harvested cauliflowers, harvested cabbages, harvested fennel. Not rocket science, but it gives you back ache.

I've never seen so many wild poppies before

What are the family like? Haha. This is where it gets interesting. They are arguably the weirdest family I've ever met. To begin with, they're vegetarian, not that I have anything at all against vegetarians, but I didn't know it was possible to be so passionate about vegetables. We have grated vegetables for breakfast, a pile of boiled vegetables for lunch, and reheated boiled vegetables for dinner. Each vegetable has to be cut in a certain way, otherwise you'll get a lecture as to why they taste better this way and not that way. Matthias has compared a vegetable to a human being. The only topic of conversation they ever have is vegetables. As I write this, Matthias is snacking on raw vegetables, evidently on cloud nine.

Aside from the vegetarian issue, they're still weird. I'll start with Matthias, the weirdest. 

  • He's the skinniest man in the world. There's this guy that my sister and I call 'Lanky Man', and Matthias makes Lanky Man look like a beast. 
  • He has longish hair and a fuzzy grey beard which I had to encounter when kissing him hello for the first time. 
  • He is German, so pronounces the 'e's at the end of every French word which is annoying. 
  • He is very condescending when he speaks to you, and is extremely opinionated. Take this lunchtime, for example. Isabeau mentioned that she'd been to Rome last month, but that it rained most of the time, however the monuments are still interesting in the rain. Cue Matthias giving a 20 minute rant about how the Roman era doesn't interest him at all because it was full of massacres and unforgivable human behavior. I then open my mouth to say that this is why the era is very interesting in my opinion. He therefore thinks I agree with what happened all those thousands of years ago just because I find it interesting, and continues his monologue on his disgust for the history taught in schools, and the nature of human beings. I've now learnt not to disagree with Matthias.
  • He is rediculously particular about things. There are so many rules, I'm scared to walk across the room. I've been told off for using the wrong spoon for the jam.
  • He puts chocolate soya dessert on lettuce leaves for his breakfast.

There's Patricia, who is lovely, but also leans towards the 'crazy' end of the spectrum.

  • She too is as skinny as anything, but not quite to the extent of Matthias.
  • She eats lettuce like a rabbit; ie. she picks up a leaf with 2 hands, then stuffs it into her mouth and chews.
  • She lets Matthias speak to her in a way that I would slap him in the face if my partner spoke to me like that.
  • She farts openly throughout the day, as if to break wind publicly is as normal as saying please or thank you. Matthias does the same, but his are slightly lower in pitch. Neither have an odour, thank God.

And finally there's the daughter, Alice. Alice hates the WWOOFers, so eats lunch and dinner separately, and locks herself in her room when she's not at school. The fact that there's only one room in the downstairs of the house makes this very awkwards, because it means we have to vacate the house when Alice wants to eat or watch TV.

The little yellow house

I'm sleeping in a tent at the end of a field, which we put up at 1am on the first night I got there in the pitch black. For my first camping experience, it's not bad at all, apart from the bugs.

My house for 3 weeks, at the end of a field

I've made it all sound really bad, but it actually isn't. I can choose to work when I want, I can treat it like a holiday, the weather is amazing, and the food is healthy so hopefully I'm losing weight. When the other 3 have left I'll go and explore the area a bit more, and hopefully I'll go swimming in the river too at some point.

If I can survive Matthias, I'll be fine.

01 June 2013

Temps de merde

“Quel temps de merde!”, “Je vais manifester contre la neige”,”C’est une blague, ce temps!”. Never have I heard so much talk about the weather, not even in England. It is that bad. I don’t think I’ve properly seen the mountain on the opposite side of the valley for almost a week now. Practically everyday on the news there’s a headline about what a terrible May it’s been for the whole of France. However, there’s been a few nice days, which I made the most of, putting on my trainers and arming myself with a map to go and explore the area a bit more.

The first major walk I did was with Marianne, where we hiked across a couple peaks to reach the nearest mountain pass. Slightly awkward when a 21-year-old is struggling to keep up with a 45-year-old…

Marianne setting the pace. And the sun had now disappeared
So the next sunny day I decided to go it alone at my own pace, and I kept on going up and up, and then I got lost, and then I could see low clouds approaching, and then I got scared I was going to die. I found my way back and I am still alive.

And suddenly, last Sunday, I woke up to a completely cloudless sky. At the bottom of our valley is a lake, which I thought would be nice to walk to on such a glorious day. And it was absolutely stunning; with the bright turquoise water in front, snow-capped mountains in the background, and blue sky above. It was made even prettier with hundreds of para gliders scattered in the sky.

The 2-hour walk back up the mountain was much less fun though. For the second time in as many days I thought I was about to die.

Stupidly, as it was cooler higher up the mountain at the house when I left, I hadn’t thought to put suncream on, and 6 days on I’ve only recently stopped resembling a tomato.
Selfie, taken on Sunday evening
Otherwise, not much else has been going on. We’ve had a couple of school trips coming to watch the evening milking session, which means I take care of the sheep at the back so as to avoid excited French kids asking me questions which either I won’t understand or won’t know the answer to. I’ve learnt though that on average each sheep gives 1.5l per day, which means that with around 100 ewes, that’s over 1000 litres a week! And then there are the cows on top of that…

When Julie and Tom fancy a ‘night out’, we go to most probably the only drinking establishment within a 20 kilometre radius. There’s never anyone in there apart from us and a couple of their friends, but the fact that the bar has 30 different rums and 50 different beers makes it pretty cool. I didn’t even know 30 varieties of rum existed in the world!

I’ve decoded the enigma that was the two-name issue I was having with Tom/Yves. Apparently Yves is his real name, and Tom is a nickname for a variety of reasons: a) his surname is Giry, making him Tom Giry (which sounds like Tom & Gerry said in a French accent), b) he is short like Tom Thumb, c) because he makes Tomme cheese. Glad I no longer have that confusion to worry about.

And gaaaahhhh it’s so irritating. Marianne says “c’est fou quoi” at the the end of literally every sentence. How can everything be crazy?!

Lastly, I’ve only got 3 days left here, before I move on to the town of Aspiran, near to Montpellier, where I will be doing gardening or something. I don’t really know what it is, but the weather forecast is looking good, so I have high hopes whatever I end up doing there. Only downer is I have to sleep in a tent for 3 weeks as there’s no room left in the house. And the family are vegetarian which will be a shock to the system after having been fed meat for both lunch and dinner everyday for the previous 3 weeks.

Oo, lastly lastly, I have made a new best friend. She is called Bébé and is the most amazing dog ever. She’s probably what I’ll miss most about this place.

23 May 2013

Life after Melle

What on earth did people do before the days of internet? I literally cannot comprehend a world-wide-web-less world (say that 10 times as fast as you can). Here I am in a tiny village in the Pyrenees unable to Skype my parents, unable to Skype my boyfriend, unable to waste time on Facebook, unable to Google some really unimportant yet niggling question, unable to look up that French word that keeps appearing but I just can’t grasp the meaning of, unable to check the weather forecast to see if this depressing weather will ever transform into the sunny paradise I had envisaged, unable to catch up on Made In Chelsea to cure the Francis Boulle withdrawal symptoms I’m suffering, but most importantly, unable to recount the next chapter of my French adventure to my avid readers, who I imagine have been up in arms in their millions, distraught that I have been absent for the past fortnight. ;)

I am managing, however, to use the house computer every few days to do vital things like check emails. And now, after Rob had the ingenious idea of writing my blog on my laptop in my own time and then quickly uploading it online when I get the chance, I am hoping this will allow me to do fairly frequent updates.

Let’s begin. I’ve been back in France for over a week now. I’m WWOOFing (if you don't know what this is, see the end of my last post) here for 3 weeks, in a tiny village called Mont in the Haute-Pyrénées, on a cow and sheep farm where they make the cheese Tomme. I’m not going to lie, the first couple of days I was homesick, which rarely happens with me. The main contributing factors to this homesickness were:

- Obviously, lack of internet, about which I have already ranted.

- Suddenly going back to full French immersion after having spent a week back in England and the comfort of my mother tongue (yes, I am still rubbish at French after all these months, sob).

- The fact that I packed 5 pairs of shorts, about 10 vest tops, but only 1 pair of jeans and one long top....

....and the first day looked like this:

- I decided, being paranoid me, that the people here didn’t like me.

The shower is in the barn, and there are spiders and cobwebs EVERYWHERE. Let’s just say showers have become slightly more infrequent here.

It has got better since then, I can assure you. The internet issue still exists, but I am learning slowly to adapt myself. I’ve realised that the full-on French thing can only be a good thing and can do nothing but improve my language proficiency. On the rare occasion that the sun shines, it is gorgeous. Here is the view out my bedroom on a good day:

The people are actually very lovely and I was just being silly. The shower situation still makes me want to cry, however.

The best thing though, is the food. With proper home-made French meals twice a day, fresh cheese, yoghurt and milk whenever I want, it’s not a bad deal! We had a bit of a kitchen disaster the other day though, when Julie (the woman farmer) had excitedly bought fresh, live crabs from the supermarket, having had a craving for them after seeing them on TV the previous day. However, this being the first time she’d cooked them at home, nobody knew how to eat them when she brought them to the table. Resorting to crushing the blighters with pliers to get to the meat, by the end of the meal there was bits of crab in our hair, all over our clothes, on the walls etc. And the only edible part was the legs, after all that! So, if you’re thinking of cooking crab, don’t. Biggest waste of time ever.

So this is my daily routine:

07:45 Wake up

08:30 Go down to the barn to milk the 6 cows and the 100+ sheep. If it’s not too wet, we then let the animals out into the 25 hectare park on the side of the mountain.

10:30 On Mondays and Thursdays, make the cheese. Otherwise, rub the salt onto the cheeses, or rub in the mould that grows on the rind. Yum :/

13:00 Have lunch. Yum :)

14:30 Have a siesta if it’s bad weather. Go for a walk if it’s nice.

18:00 Go back down to the barn to milk the animals again.

21:00 Have dinner. Yum :)

23:30 Go to bed.

There are 4 of us altogether; me, another WWOOFer called Marianne who’s 45 and Belgian, Julie, and Tom/Yves (he actually has 2 names, I’m so confused) who owns the farm.

And now I need to go and get changed to do some more milking and get covered in lots and lots of poo…

Ciao for now.

08 May 2013

The End. For now...

If I say I'm writing this post in England, then that will tell you that my time in Melle has come to an end. Yes, after nearly 7 and a half months in the west of France, I am back in the real world that is north London. But fear not, I am only home for a week before I set off on another French adventure.

Early evening sunlight in Melle

But more on that later. For now, I feel it's about time that I tell you about my last couple of weeks in the pays mellois.

My absence from the blogosphere can be almost entirely attributed to my research project that was due in last Thursday. I won't drone on about my last minute struggles to get it all done, but let's just say I can't remember ever being quite so stressed. 

So on Thursday evening with the dissertation due at 17:00, I submitted it at 16:58, attempted to tidy and clean my essay-abused flat in half an hour for the landlord's inspection at 17:30, all whilst awaiting the imminent arrival of my parents.

Having my parents FINALLY get to see Melle was so so lovely! As we only had two full days before we headed back across the Channel, we decided to stay local, and so Friday was spent at the market and walking in and around Melle, and Saturday I showed them Celles-sur-Belle and Niort under bright blue skies. And we had 7 different cheeses between us. And lots of pains-aux-raisins. Just making the most of my last few days in France. ;)

Really wish I could teleport this patisserie back to England :(
Aww, bluebells
Dad and Mum loving life in Melle...
Old Melle hospital through the flowers
Niort - the Sèvre Niortaise river in the foreground, and Eglise Saint-André at the back
Eating bread, cheese and pâté by the river
Le Donjon

Rather excitingly, it was Games Night at the Café on Friday night, so deciding that this was the best way to witness Melle life, we went along for the plat du jour (which was Moroccan chicken and couscous) and had a game of Scrabble, as people in Melle do on a Friday night. The games commenced with a standard poem by Afro Man and his side-kick, and then bizarrely followed with a random game of musical chairs for which the music was provided by aforementioned side-kick on a kazoo (Google it if you don't know what one is - coolest instrument ever in my opinion). It may have been the most tedious game of Scrabble I have ever played and we didn't finish it until 1am. And I lost.

Side-kick and Afro Man 
Side-kick and Non-Afro Man taking the game very seriously
The result of 3 hours of wordplay

On the Sunday, after struggling but eventually managing to pack 3 cases and 5 boxes of my crap into the car, we set off on our 10 hour drive back to Blighty.

The greatest work of car loading you'll ever see.

Oh, and I also became obsessed with Wisteria at the weekend:

How could I forget?! I had my last last day at school last week, which was sad! I got given homemade macaroons, several hand drawn union jacks, and lots of cards from my pupils which was so cute, I will miss them loads!

Some of the leaving presents I got from my pupils
Me with Dominique and Anne-Lise, the English teachers

I will write another post over the next week reflecting on my past year as an English assistant and my life in general in France, but until then, I'll tell you where I'm off to next Tuesday.

For the next 6 weeks (hopefully) I am going to be a WWOOFer. For those that don't know, that stands for World Wide Organisation for Organic Farming, and is a worldwide scheme in which farmers advertise their farms and hope to receive volunteers, known as WWOOFers, to help on the farm in return for accommodation and food. So I'll be working on a fromagerie high in the Pyrenees for the first three weeks, milking cows and sheep and learning how to make cheese. If you haven't already gathered, cheese is literally in my top favourite things about life in general, so I am mega mega excited. I should have the afternoons free which will give me lots of time to go for walks in the mountains. It better be sunny!

For the other 3 weeks, I'm hoping to go to a vineyard preferably in Provence, but I haven't had much luck so far in finding a place that still has space, as I left it a bit late to contact them. I'm hoping I'll be able to secure somewhere last minute.

Beautiful sky on the way home from France :)

19 April 2013

An Aix-ellent couple of days

Apparently I had a mini holiday yesterday; I went on a ferry, the factor 30 was out, I have sunburnt shoulders despite aforementioned presence of suncream, and there are now about 100 photos of the sea on my camera. Allow me to tell you about my daytrip to Île d'Aix on the hottest day of the year.

I mentioned in my previous post that my Auntie Sara and Maurice were visiting for a couple of days. Allow me to get you acquainted with them:

Maurice and Sara

Tuesday was spent introducing them to la vie melloise. I took them on the arboretum walk, and through the streets of Melle, and even though I've done this same walk countless times, I have never bored of it. It is particularly enjoyable this time of year when literally everyday a new flower or tree has burst into bloom, making each walk different. And since Sara is very knowledgable in all things botanical, I finally know what some of the plants are called. I reckon I have very nearly captured everything in Melle from every possible angle, but until that moment, here are some of my favourites from Tuesday for your perusal:

One of my favourite views in Melle
2 thirds of La Triade Romane
Finally the trees have blossom!
The old Melle Station, in use between 1885 and 1938
Tulips in front of the Hotel de Ville
Qu'est-ce que tu regardes, hein?

But back to our day by the sea! Having originally intended to go to Confolens and Angouleme yesterday, we changed plan when Dominique questioned why we'd chosen those places, and instead suggested we visit Île d'Aix, which I'd never heard of before. And what a fantastic recommendation! Merci bien, Domie!

At just 2km in length, Île d'Aix is the second smallest island in the Charentaise archipelago off the Atlantic coast. The island played a major part in protecting Rochefort in the 17th century, and as a result is heavily fortified, with fortifications surrounding the town in the south of the island, and 2 main forts, one in the north, one in the south.

Fort Liedot in the north of the island, which served as a prison until the 1960s, and is now used for entertainment and shows during the summer

Napolean adds to the island's history after having stayed there for 1 night following his defeat at the battle of Waterloo, before being recaptured and exiled to the island of Saint Helena. 

Where Napolean stayed, although don't quote me on that... ;)

In contrast to its battle-related history, Île d'Aix today is a peaceful haven of nature and stunning sea views. One such view is that of the famous Fort Boyard, once a military prison but more recently made known by the 1990s gameshow that took place on it.

Fort Boyard: 19th century fortification and later prison, and recent gameshow setting

A car-free zone, the only way to get onto the island is by boat, so we set off on the ferry in late morning, sailing past another fort, Fort Enet, en route. Without a cloud in the sky, it was clear we'd chosen the perfect day to go and see the island. The light sea breeze also meant that the temperature was bearable enough for walking for hours in blazing sunshine.

One of our favourite aspects of the island was its white-washed houses with terracotta roofs and coloured shutters. I'm fairly sure I ended up photographing almost every house on the island.

Shutters, bikes and flowers

Surprisingly, Île d'Aix isn't featured in many guidebooks, but I would thoroughly recommend it for a daytrip; there's plenty of beach for sunbathing and swimming, you can walk through and around the island for hours taking in the views, there's the historical element there too, and the fact that you have to get a ferry there makes it all the more exciting. The only downside was that the last ferry back to the mainland is at 6.30pm, meaning that you can't see the sunset from the island, which I imagine would have been gorgeous. 

It really was a brilliant couple of days, and I'm now looking forward to the arrival of my last lot of visitors, the parents, in 2 weeks time. Until then, onward and upward with the YARP! 

I will leave you with a selection of my favourite photos from Île d'Aix:

View towards Île d'Aix from Pointe de la Fumée on the mainland
Sparkly sea
Hotel de Ville, Île d'Aix style
It's as if they'd planned on dressing like the rainbow...
I don't imagine the island would be quite so lovely in winter
The tide goes out so far that the ferry times are really limited and change daily with the tides
You can see the La Rochelle to Île de Ré bridge in the background
Don't think this photo needs a caption, it pretty much speaks for itself
My attempt at being arty
Due to the absence of cars, the island is full of bikes
I think some of them could do with having their fringes trimmed
Auntie and niece, beautifully coordinated with the grass and lighthouses
The closest I got to a sunset