Tag Archives: French

The Picturesque Pyrenees

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There is something sublime about walking in the mountains.

Once you get up there, that is.

It was a long, hot ascent to the summit. The summer heat made our clothes stick to us as we stumbled up the winding fir tree forest path. The unforgiving ascent seemed endless.

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At one point, the path disappeared and we were launched into ferns.

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Another path had eroded partly off the mountain, and we had to lean into it to avoid sliding off.

But it was all worth it when we spotted a Griffin vulture soar out of the clouds, low above us. It flew serenely on the thermals, surveying us scrambling about on the peak.

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A brightly coloured patchwork of alpine flowers decorated the ground and the mountains in the distance were blue and green. You felt like all the city stress was slipping away down the slopes as you inhaled the fresh air and became absorbed in sounds of nature.

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One day we had a wild swim. The water was not particularly cold. The lake was encircled by pine trees and reflected the blue sky like a mirror. When we stood on the bottom, little fish came and nibbled at the dead skin on our feet. A complimentary pedicure.

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We walked away from the heat of the valley and up into the Pyrenees over two days, each route lasting around 7 hours. We walked slowly on GR tracks – French for big walk, taking plenty of photographs of the breathtaking scenery. We were staying near the picturesque French village of Seix, where we saw an impressive firework and kayak flare display for their festival.

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When we got down, hot, sticky and weary, we enjoyed tasty French food, full of flavour. Even their tinned beans were perfectly edible.

Our Air B’n’B host had friends round one night. They shared pineapple-infused rum with us from La Reunion, an island that is a French colony, and invited us to go on a traditional morning walk up a mountain with them. They were meeting the Spanish at 9am at the summit border. The French were bringing cheese and the Spanish were bringing wine!

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September 4, 2018 · 2:57 am

Fountains Abbey

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As soon as you walk down the hill, the tower emerges in all its glory. Then you see the columns and arches soaring into the sky.

Fountains Abbey is a skeleton of its former glory, yet one of the best preserved ruins in Britain. You need to spend all day in this UNESCO World Heritage site in Ripon.

After admiring the ruins you can explore the 18th and 19th century follies in the landscaped grounds.

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The abbey was built in 1132, the result of a religious divide amongst monks in York.

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You could ring the bell of the mill that ran here until 1927.

The small group that settled here were more conservative, believing that Benedictine monks should live more closely to the rules laid down by the Bible.

Eking out a living on the verge of starvation, they sold wool to pay for their upkeep.

The Abbey would not have survived without France. Money and supplies were sent over from there when they joined the Cistercian Order. They lived in silence, suffering cold temperatures with only brief respite at the fire.

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They suffered from the Plague and finally from Henry VIII’s pillaging. He sold it to a nobleman in the 1500s, after arranging for the roof to be removed and sold.

In the 19th century it fell into ruin before being restored, which is still an ongoing project.

It costs £1,000,000 to run each year with the combined forces of The National Trust and English Heritage.

To discover more about its history, visit this WordPress page.

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August 31, 2018 · 7:01 pm

A Sporting Weekend – The Yorkshire Tour

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On Sunday leafy Yorkshire was invaded by the French for the first time since the Norman invasion.

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Even our local newspaper was taken over, with a commentator yelling “speciale edition of ze Yourkshe post!”.

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A mannequin on a roof.

We arrived early in the morning in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. There were ancient stone houses and farmers’ fields everywhere and the smell of cut grass lingered in the air.

Parking spaces were already filling up on verges of the narrow country bridges and pavements. There was a festival atmosphere with many of the crowd in yellow, many already lining the route including the BBC.

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Quite a lot of people had camped overnight to get the top spots. Copyright literarylidi

We walked up one long steep hill. I pitied the Tour de France riders who would have to climb it. If it was me I would certainly get off and walk.

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We passed a field with numerous food stalls from hog roasts to Carribbean food to the local brewery stalls and then on to the Portacabin cess pits, although at this early stage they were still fairly hygienic.

Any stalls advertising coffee had lines of caffeine addicts desperately awaiting their morning fix. My boyfriend’s friends spent about an hour in it for theirs.026

A sausage sandwich was necessary for the wait. We found a bit of the verge that had been left as it was narrow and established our territory. With just crisps and chit-chat we whiled away the hours until lunch – a picnic. All the while spectators streamed past up the hill, desperate for a patch of grass to claim.

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A lot of people had cycled there including a lady in a polka-dot dress. A mother produced giant chalks and her children drew all over the road with them, including her. She seemed to be enjoying it more than them.134

Then just half an hour before the event began a large lady with small dark eyes close to her nose, her skinny older husband with parchment skin from years of nicotine abuse and their whiny little boy were walking in the road and stopped at us.

The mother eyed us up and decided we were soft targets.

“Do you mind if we stand here, we’ll stand behind you and won’t cause any trouble” she said aggressively.050

It was more an order than a question and without waiting for an answer she shoved herself and her family between us. We ignored them so she continued her tirade:

“don’t see why they mind, we’ve got as much right to be here as they have, it’s a free country, it’s not like they own the land. Anyway I don’t see why they’re sitting down” she glanced at me indignantly “there’d be a lot more space for other people if they stood up.”

Her husband timidly intervened “they might have been waiting here for many hours.” She relented slightly “well they may have but why shouldn’t we stand here as well, we’re standing behind them and we aren’t gonna cause any trouble are we?” she said to her offspring, who about ten minutes later started whining “is it gonna start yet? mummy when’s it gonna start? it’s been aaages! I’m bored!”

“Play with your sword then” the space offender suggested and her son started thrashing his plastic sword and shield about at spectators.

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The procession of police and gendarmes began at around 3 with continuous sirens and beeps. Then came the marketing cars and floats throwing out freebies. They were not as generous with them as I would have liked and of 121course most of them went to the boy beside us. But I imagined to get a cow keyring with some French on it. They were mostly floats for French companies but some were international. One had massive drinks on and ice cubes, a car sported a plastic bottle of wine the length of the roof:

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and there was a gym van with people on exercise bikes racing away.

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There was a van covered in cheese and one with meat advertising a French supermarket that we also shopped at in Turkey of all places.

Then there was a constant stream of police landrovers, motorbikes and cars with thin dainty racing bikes on. I started to feel a little sick at the amount of taxpayer money inevitably funding all those police, who were more needed along the route. Occasionally our stewart shouted “get behind the white line” but often forgot, so some people were nearly taken out by wing mirrors.

The crowd became more and more excited, with Mexican waves rippling about.

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Three generations in eager anticipation. Copyright literarylydi

Finally it was the race we’d all been waiting for. A helicopter swooping low overhead heralded their arrival.168

We heard the cheers rippling further and further up the hill as the police escort heralded the arrival of the leanest meanest cycling machines in Europe if not the world.

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I was expecting them to look exhausted but their matchstick muscle legs seemed to propel them effortlessly past, with not even a drop of sweat flying off onto us in the front row.They were almost sitting back in the saddle admiring the crowds, who surged forwards almost into the road. There was no steward to be seen and one guy stepped into the path of a competitor and he had to swerve around.

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I was absorbed in the atmosphere and in my camera, experimenting with the different effects.

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Then came the middle group really working, most standing up and leaning forward, smiling as the spectators shouted and screamed.

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The crowds were going crazy for it! Copyright literarylydi

 

 

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It was a Lycra line of calf muscles bulging out like biceps. I was unaware that the British cyclist had already passed as no one had acknowledged him in the fly-past.

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Then came the stragglers and this time I could just make out rivers of sweat running down their face in the 20 degree humid heat, having climbed at least 500 metres of torturous hilly bends. An ambulance whizzed past with its lights on.

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There was a pause and then everyone went into the road and started heading home, moving baby steps for about half an hour, when suddenly police cars and bikes parted the crowd and one straggler acknowledged the crowd with a wide grin as he palely inched past us in yellow.

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He even manages to raise a smile despite being crowded in. Copyright literarlydi

Then in true Yorkshire style, it began to rain as we headed to the car.

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Cyclist heading home in the downpour.

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We spent hours in a traffic queue overlooking the beautiful open countryside as Tour wannabes whizzed by.

On the way back I saw some “tourmakers” having a consultation in their frog green outfits.

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Would I go again? I doubt it. We waited hours and hours for about 15 minutes of cyclist champions but I don’t regret it because of  the sheer excitement and energy of the event.

When we got home we watched Lewis Hamilton win the Grand Prix which finished our grand day out nicely.

 

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July 10, 2014 · 9:00 pm

A weekend in Birmingham

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I feel like a villager in Birmingham. It’s a city for giants, with skyscrapers touching the clouds all around. If you have money to spare it’s a lovely place for a night out.

My boyfriend’s university friends were having a reunion. I imagined a rowdy night out with mostly guys, as it had been last year. But this year there was a married couple who worked at a charity for children with learning difficulties and a physicist with his Masters student girlfriend. Or at least that’s as much as I could gather from the conversation. I was feeling a bit shy. I had said I didn’t mind staying at home and working – after all my boyfriend was offered a spare bed. But when I saw the company I could see why he was keen for me to come.

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We rolled up at the Marriott Hotel. It had been the only last-minute booking available and my boyfriend grumbled about it and said it was “just a hotel”. But it wasn’t “just a hotel” to me. Although there were smudges of something on the marble floor under the light, everything else was clean. The bathroom was mostly marble, with pretty shell mirror lights. The room was standard, except that it had a nice wooden wardrobe and three windows, two of which opened. I was expecting a kettle and teas for the price but it was still a treat. I was so tired later I didn’t mind the firm mattress, which is just how my boyfriend likes it, though he really doesn’t need the extra support.

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Spot Santa!

I was going to put on a short party skirt and top but luckily my boyfriend told me that we would be outside for a while at the German market, so I kept my acrylic LBD (long black dress) on. The whole of the city centre was covered in little wooden huts with fake greenery and baubles on the top. There were Santas on the rooves and a large Christmas tree. It was “Frankfurt” in Birmingham and the prices were probably just as ridiculous. The atmosphere was lovely though and there was one stall selling incredible hand-crafted chocolates in tool shapes – there were pliers, bolts, calipers, cameras, instruments and hammers. All the details were so delicate.

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We went to a French restaurant, Le Truc. I had a lovely hot spiced apple cocktail with a slice of apple in. It warmed me up and tasted sweet and delicious. We sat down to dinner and I ordered onglet. I wasn’t sure what it was but it sounded fancy, and with beef dripping chips. I asked one of the company what it was and I heard “snake”. I proudly announced to my boyfriend that I was having the most exotic dish. He didn’t know what onglet was but asked why they would serve snake. I asked the waitress and apparently it was steak. She asked how my boyfriend would like his steak. I told her he likes it freshly killed with blood still oozing from it. When he served it to me for the first time recently I could still taste the blood and felt a bit sick.

The onglet arrived but gristle was a better description. I couldn’t cut it. I struggled for a while and then gave up, ordering a fillet steak instead. When it came it was the best I’d tried, juicy, succulent and full of flavour. It was £17.50 for that and some standard chips – I couldn’t taste the beef dripping apparently on them, and a couple of leaves of spinach. I also had a goats cheese starter that was a slice of fried goats cheese on a potato cake. I thought it wasn’t much for £6.

I shared my boyfriend’s creme brulee for dessert and that was delicious. I’d IMG_0016only taken £50 cash to the city, thinking I would just be going for dinner and maybe a few drinks, but the drinks were so lovely I ended up spending £40 on two cocktails and the meal. The surroundings were nice with chandeliers and arty sketches and cartoons, and there was actually a French waiter. He was asked whether there were any nuts in the tart or sticky toffee pudding and didn’t understand until I translated rather falteringly with what I could remember.

Gingers was a lovely cocktail bar. They were really tasty and there was a wide variety on the menu. They were £6.50 each so I tried to make mine last. I had a strawberry milkshake one with a little too much alcohol in, it was quite sharp. Some were £8.50.

Although it was a classy establishment, unfortunately shortly after we sat down someone projectile vomited out of the toilet door (clearly more money than sense) and there were no other seats free. We were soon breathing through our mouths due to the chlorine bleach cleaning operation underway from a glamourous member of staff in a figgure-hugging LBD (also long). Ladies tottered around her in ridiculous heels, wearing fancy short dresses, fake-style make-up, curled freshly-dyed hair bouncing about. It was lovely being able to talk – the music was in the background and there wasn’t a dancing area, one wouldn’t want to encourage drink-spilling and debauchery.

My boyfriend took great delight in ordering “the gayest thing on the menu”. He had been yawning since the restaurant and after enjoying IMG_0023a sweet “Pink Panther” cocktail in a delicate little glass yawned until everyone followed suit and decided to call it a night. Most of the company were 30 or over and clearly weren’t used to such late nights.

In the morning I was annoyed that I woke up too late to enjoy the hotel pool. I enjoyed using the marble bathroom and the novelty of riding in a lift with a carpet and a mirror though.

We went to brunch at one of The Independent’s top 50 cafes. Nothing on the meu cost less than £6 so it was a bit pricey, and for that I only got three IMG_0041Scottish pancakes with maple syrup, bacon, a couple of blueberries and a strawberry. When we ordered tea I asked what tea they had and they said Earl Grey or ordinary. I wasn’t impressed. The salmon and poached egg brunch was probably what impressed reviewers, it looked like better value for money. There were wooden tables and the tea came in a lovely knitted tea-cosy. It was called The Plough and the toilet was rather fancy, all wood pannelling with their own soap and hand cream.

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We then went round the Christmas market again. I had a potato pancake, deep-fried. It was very fatty and chewy and not to my taste, even with the apple sauce. Others had little dough balls. I tried one but they were also chewy and fatty. Not worth £4 but they looked pretty.

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Then we went round the Bullring shopping mall. It just had chain stores in but we got lunch there. We marvelled at the cakes and tarts at the Patisserie Valerie counter. I asked whether my boyfriend wanted a tart for his birthday (on Friday). I said he was only allowed an edible one though.

We rushed to the station only to discover that when I was really tired I had bought a ticket from Sheffield to Birmingham instead of the other way round, having booked a ticket from Sheffield to London for our upcoming trip to Istanbul at the same time. My boyfriend was driving down south for an 11 day shift, working away. I’m going to London the day before we fly  and my boyfriend is picking me up and taking me to the airport hotel. I bought him return flights and he’s treating me to free 4 star spa hotel accommodation throughout the trip, as he stays away so often with work that he has lots of points he can use.

So my knight in shining armour not only bought me drinks and my Christmas presents but then had to buy my train fare home. He’s refusing to let me pay him back so I’ll get him something nice for Christmas instead.

I’m really looking forward to the next two weekends and I’ll tell you all about them as soon as I can.

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No Horse-Play with Local Meat

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There’s a lot to be said for keeping it local. Now more than ever, as it was found yesterday that horse meat containing a banned vetinary drug had entered the food chain from Britain.

“Six contaminated carcasses were shipped from Britain to France”

Traces of the substance phenylbutazone or bute, an anti-inflammatory drug were found, but it is not harmful in small doses. Six contaminated carcasses were shipped from Britain to France, and half had already been processed and is on its way to supermarkets. After previous scandals with our meat, such as the mad-cow and foot-and-mouth disease, it’s a wonder our neigh-bours across the sea still accept our exports.

In France the meat was much less common and considered working-class fare. Now though, it seems they want to see what all the fuss is aboutFrench equine butchers have seen a 15% rise in profits – they still enjoy eating horses for courses but they want it drug-free. Here there has been curiosity about it too, Findus beef “100% horse” lasagne was being sold for £70 on E-bay before sellers were reigned-in.

Although we have shouted about it til we’re horse, many people have already consumed vetinary drugs recreationally – ketamine (K), a tranquiliser causing incontinence, remains popular with 200 000 using it last year, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales. I once saw someone hallucinating with it, hiding under a table, in another world. Perhaps this scandal will affect its popularity.

We already knew ready-meals were bad for us, being high in sugar and salt, but maybe more people will cook from scratch now. I was not caught up in the hype – you never really know whether suppliers have horsed around with your bolog-neihse when when you eat processed food anyway. I was not surprised 200px-Donkey_from_Shrekthat products were beefed up. Then we discovered we’d really been an ass buying cheap meat as donkey was found. Animal DNA kit manufacturers must be ass-tounded by the sales increases.

An upshot of this is that people are supporting their local shops more – The National Federation of Meat and Food Traders reported a 15% increase in sales at independent butchers, as people turn to sources they can trust.

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When I went to my local farm event this week most of the shoppers were interested in the meat, 100% from animals who roam free (less fat).

Reasons to support your local butchers and greengrocers:

1. It may be slightly more expensive, but you get what you pay for – food which is generally tasty, wholesome and organic. My friend and I found that prices were about the same as supermarket organic food, and some products were actually cheaper.

2. Small shops have a vested interest in providing quality products – they need the business, unlike supermarkets who need to get rid of a certain quota. There will always be enough customers for supermarkets, whereas independent stores have to work harder to keep their patrons.

3. By buying local, you’re supporting your community – the farmers, shop owners, and the local customers who rely on the convenience and quality just as you do. The profits go back into your area.

A friend gets a weekly vegetable box delivered which is filled by nearby farms. The products are full of flavour, ready-to-eat and a good size.

I have got into cooking recently and the extra time spent making meals from scratch is well worth it. Using fresh ingredients makes a healthier and tastier meal. Jamie Oliver recommends organic produce but recent studies indicate this is no more healthy or environmentally-friendly than standard varieties. They do taste better though, and you often get more for your money. His Ministry of Food book is inspiring in getting beginners to have a go. It’s easily accessible and he has made an effort to use simple, cheaper ingredients. I would recommend using truffle oil as a treat sometimes though – it adds a rich flavour.

Click this link for more horse jokes.

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