Tuesday, 19 November 2013

a cottage in the countryside

As I write this I am sitting in front of a fire, in a little cottage, in the French countryside. A magical place where two amazing and huge meals a day are cooked for us, the dog can open and close the door by herself and the local history goes all the way back to pre-historic times (paradoxically enough). We are staying with the wonderfully welcoming and accommodating Virginia and Nick, (Will's grandfather's sister and her husband), in a little village called Chaumussay in the Loire region. It isn't all ribbons and charm though...today we spent all but 40 minutes inside, sheltering from the kind of weather that is just waiting for you to tentatively venture out, so it can wrap it's icy fingers around your neck while slowly soaking your clothes with drizzle and laughing maniacally.

To get here we first had to get from Porto to Bordeaux. The plane did most of the work there. We arrived in Bordeaux in the afternoon and the city looked so inviting in the late-autumnal light that we decided to spend the night, before heading into the country. We found, after a bit of desperate panic, the only hostel in Bordeaux, got ourselves a private room and hit the streets to make the most of the quickly disappearing light. Bordeaux gives the impression of being a very well-heeled city, perfectly dressed, not a hair out of place, always on time and with lovely manners. Perhaps there is a seedy underbelly, but we didn't see it. We saw the the lovely old buildings standing proudly on the river-front, a church spire turned gold in the rich afternoon light, long wide streets lined with the sort of shops that tantalize you with all their beautiful things you could never afford and clusters of noisy little bars tucked down side streets. We went into one such and got a rude shock when we ordered two pints and had to hand over 12 euro. Why, there must be some mistake, we thought, Europe is cheap, what is going on?! Apparently wonderfully accessible Spain and Portugal are the cheap exceptions in this western side of the continent. Anyway, we drank our budget busting pints (and they were actually much better than the beer in Portugal, but don't tell), decided we could ill-afford another and went back to the hostel to rest up for a big day of hitch-hiking.

We could not afford the train; it was going to cost 40 euro each to go two hours up the road- absolute insanity in which we would have no part. So hitch-hiking it was. And we made it...it took about 8 hours, and we became very familiar with the servos along the auto-route, and we did have to sit in freezing cold drizzle for a bit, but we also met some very obliging French people who were only too happy to help us (and to speak in English, thank goodness) and we rode in a very fancy BMW with a man who had no qualms about reaching speeds of 150km. And at 8pm boy racer in his beema dropped us right in the middle of the town we needed, at a cafe, and we spent our last 5 euro on beer while we waited for Nick to pick us up.

And we arrived at their charming little country cottage to a hot dinner on the table and a separate little house, very warm and cosy against the outside chill (which we thought we may have to sleep in), where we would be staying. Not bad...I guess...

This area of France is absolutely saturated in local history, from local families who have been in the area for hundreds of years to Joan of Arc and her capers all the way back to the pre-historic people who roamed the area searching for top quality flint (of which there was an abundance here). With a combination of long walks, bike rides and little day trips in the car we have seen a lot of the area and its stories. We snooped around the grounds of a castle that has been in a nearby village for nearly a thousand years and has been in the same family for about 700; now there is just one man left there, going slowly bankrupt while living in a castle. We saw a geometric spired church in another village which was built by a local lord and his wife to give thanks for the safe passing into the new millenium...the first new millenium. We went on a family outing to the castle at a town called Chinon, where Joan of Arc first met and accurately identified the Dauphin, thus enabling her to lead an army to re-take the city of Orleans from the English and liberating France. We rode our bikes out to a museum that told the story of the prehistoric people that moved through the area thousands of years ago, scouring the ground for its superior flint from which they made their weapons. We have seen the remains of a chateau that was sent  up in flames of retaliation when a retreating German army was attacked in WW2, and the poles marking what was the demarcation line between German-occupied and free France from 1940 to 1942.

As well as living in a history lesson, I have been making my 8 year old self very jealous indeed by living in an Enid Blyton story. We have been walking through woods (proper woods with woodland creatures and autumn coloured leaves), collecting chestnuts and subsequently roasting them over the fire, building little homes for hedgehogs...we've yet to see Moonface or any flying chairs though. So we're basically just living out an English childhood. But I had an Australian childhood and Enid Blyton was as close as I got to chestnut roasting and so you see, the two are inextricably linked.

And any time that is left in between all this is filled with cups of tea and coffee, reading by the fire (this is becoming more and more prevalent as the weather becomes less and less inviting), games of Scrabble with the insurpassable Virginia (we've won maybe three or 4 games between us, out of probably 15), long lunches and dinners with garden fresh vegetables and home-made wine, walks through the surrounding woods and farmland and scrumping (I'm going to stick with that) sunflowers from fields we see along the way.

Oh how we love the French countryside. How marvelous, how refreshing, how ridiculously picturesque. How we will miss our brisk country walks.

Paris awaits.

No comments:

Post a Comment