Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Skiing in the Auvergne

Friday 22nd January

Last week I went to ski with friends for a few days in the Auvergne.  We choose the skiing resort of Le Lioran in the Cantal Mountains or as the French call it, the Massif Cantalien.

We left for the Auvergne at 9am. We were a caravan of 3 cars with a total of 12 people. This was my first time stopping to ski in the Auvergne. After a 3 hour trip mostly on motorway, we arrived at our destination, Le Lioran.

Le Lioran is a family winter resort in the heart of the Cantal mountains. To get there after you leave the motorway you need to take small roads and pass through picturesque little villages. We arrived at Le Lioran at midday, and headed straight for the first decent restaurant we saw. After a kir (white wine and liquor de cassis) we had one of the specialities of the region, Auvergne ham with truffade.
The truffade is basically potatoes cooked in the pan with onions, once ready you add tomme cheese and cream. Of course the main course was followed by some regional cheeses, dessert and coffee.
Truffade with ham.

We spend the afternoon skiing until dawn when we decided to go on a cheese hunt. One of our friends knew a cheese farm and promised to take us there to see how the cheeses were made. We drove through the Cantal mountains, climbed up snowy roads and just made it down sloppy ice roads for about two hours, we saw foxes, snow and more snow, but we never found the cheese farm! Disappointed we return to our rented chalet without cheese. Later that night we went out again, this time for dinner. We had booked in a little family restaurant where we had enjoyed some hot mulled wine earlier during the day. The dinner was delicious, some of us had a raclette and the others a foundue. Both dishes are made with cheese. The raclette is basically a piece of cheese which is heated on a special apparel, the “raclette”. The melted cheese is then poured over potatoes and hams. The fondue is melted cheese with white wine; it is served in a little pan with a source of constant heat to keep the cheese runny. To eat a cheese fondue you use special sticks to grab old pieces of bread and dip it in the cheese. The dinner was delicious, followed by baked apples in caramel sauce and a glass of calvados.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Detox finally finished

Yesterday was my last detox day. After 3 days only drinking water, herbal teas and fresh fruit juices, I am feeling better. It was hard to be on liquids only for 3 days, but I think it was worth it.

As promised, my friend came yesterday to prepare me a vegetable broth. She used:
2 large potatoes
4 celery sticks, including leaves
2 carrots
2 uncooked beetroots
1 leek
2 medium onions
1 clove of garlic
An unknown quantity of obscure fresh herbs and spices from which I could only recognize parsley, root ginger and chillies.

She washed all the ingredients but did not peel the potatoes or beetroots. I was really wondering whether she really new what she was doing or if this was one of her culinary experiments. While she was preparing the vegetables, she kept lecturing me about the cleansing virtues of every single vegetable she was using. Eventually I just switched off and saw her chop the vegetables and put them into a large pan with water. Once her concoction boiled, she covered the pan and left it simmering while she kept lecturing me, this time about the virtues of slimming soups. After 45 minutes suffering her lectures and rotten cups of tea –I haven’t had a coffee in 3 days- she switched the fire off, strained the soup and poured me a big bowl of vegetable broth.

Then she sat there in front of me waiting for me to drink the soup while she was peeling the potatoes and beetroots with which she made herself a luxurious salad with plenty of vinaigrette, pieces of cheese and roasted chicken that I had in the fridge from the day before.

I felt miserable with my broth in front of me while she was enjoying her salad with a glass of red wine. Bois ta soupe ma petite is all she said and continued enjoying her salad and wine. Next time I'll buy one of those ready made detox soups and I won't tell any one I don't know how to make a vegetable broth!

Going to the cinema

Wednesday 20th January.

Another non-school day.  I am wondering whether to take the children to the cinema instead of taking them to the library like any other Wednesday.

We have a small cinema in our town.  It is actually very cute, none of these horror massive cinemas that you find in the city.  Our cinema is a little cute hall that resembles one of those cinemas that you see in very early films.  The seats are modern and comfortable, but the hall and the d├ęcor are very old fashion looking.   You won’t find any popcorn or drinks in this hall.  Here people come to see the film; the eating is done before or after.    

Going to the cinema in my small town is not as easy as you might think.  It requires strategic planning.  For a start, they are only open certain days during the week, from Wednesday to Monday.  On Wednesday there are always two shows one in the afternoon, usually at 14:30 and one at night around 20:30.  For some reason on Wednesday you only pay 5 euros a ticket, instead of the usual 6 euros.  Usually on Thursdays and Fridays, the cinema is only open for one show at 20:30.   Saturday is a funny day, it really depends on how the cinema operator is feeling because sometimes they offer only one show and other times two.  Sunday is a big day with 3 shows.  Mondays, we go back to only one film a day, unless of course it is a holiday week, then we have the right to 3 films.  Of course, living in a small French village, there are also days that the cinema is supposed to be open but it is either too hot or too cold, so the cinema operator decides to keep the cinema close for the day.  You never know here…

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Detox plan and an encounter with a flock of sheep

Tuesday 19 January,

After a busy weekend I had a very slow start to the week. I had eaten and drunk far too much during the weekend and I was feeling with the energy of a snail. Not even a sunny Monday could “wake me up”. I had planned to do a million things. At the end of the day I had only achieved to start a 3 day Detox plan and set up the HubMob for the week. Maybe not too bad for a Monday…

My Detox plan started with a glass of hot water and half a lemon. The rest of the day I only had herbal teas and plain water. I managed to do one set of crunches with my Swiss ball but that was all the exercise I did. I was so tired that by 10pm I was already in my bed.

Today, I felt more energized. It is my second day of my Detox plan. Again I started the day with a glass of hot water an half a lemon and then I went for a 2 hour walk in the countryside.

I felt a bit dizzy at the start but after the first few kilometres I started to feel like if I had wings! It is incredible the energy that I can draw from nature. Just walking at a brisk pace in the countryside, feeling my body warming up in a bitterly cold morning; seeing all the vibrant colours around me, feeling the smell of the damp wood, feeling the ground changing under my feet whenever I step on dry leaves, mud or stones… I used to be a city girl, now things have changed. I love walking and cycling in the countryside. You never know what surprise you will find. Today I was face to face with a flock of sheep. They were absolutely gorgeous, almost half of them were babies and they were so cute that I stopped to take a few photos. The lady herding the sheep was very friendly. We had a short chat and I had to pull myself away to continue my walk because if I had accepted her invitation for a hot drink I know I would have spend there at least the rest of the morning!

After my two hour walk I arrived home full of energy, directly to do a few crunches with my Swiss ball and then I went off for a body brush before I showered.

I am taking it easy the rest of the day. I still have another Detox day to go. Tomorrow I should be able to start adding some vegetables and fruits to my diet. A friend of mine suggested I should make a vegetable broth. I told her I have never made one, so she is coming tomorrow to make me one. We’ll see!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

It's Wednesday, there is no school.

Too sore and too tired today to do the Swiss ball. The snow had melted overnight and it was a sunny day, warmer than what it has been for the past few weeks. But despite the good weather, for some reason even putting one foot in front of the other has been a struggle today. At least it was Wednesday which means that I can have a long sleep in the morning. Why? Because Wednesdays there is no school for children attending primary schools in France, and being winter my little ones also have a long cosy sleep.

The French educational system can be something of a puzzle for foreigners. Starting with the Ecole Maternelle which children can attend from 2 ½ years provided that they are potty trained to all the puzzling letters and numbers that form the primary educational system.

Thankfully, at least this part of living in France is easy. Schooling your children when you come to France is a priority for the authorities. I remember finding the local school one day and going to ask for information only to be surprised by the fact that my girl could start attending school the next again day, even though she did not speak French yet. This happened in April, only 2 months before the end of the school year. The school’s director was delighted to have a new student and the teacher was very friendly and welcoming.

That was 4 years ago and my little ones still attending the same school. We have a free bus service that comes to pick them up almost to the door and brings them back in the afternoon. Most of the time they eat in the school’s canteen, at 2€ for a 3 course meal per child, it is really a bargain. The school and school materials are also free. The only things we need to buy at the start of the year are the school bags and knick and knacks. The children also need a private insurance which is called assurance scolaire. We pay around 30€ a year for this and it covers a child for any accidents at school and/or during extra curricular activities and for any damage that they might cause to a third party.

Schooling in France has been so far a pleasant experience for us.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The weather today

Finally the weather is starting to get better. Below there is a map of France showing the already improving temperatures this afternoon.

The Swiss Ball and my love handles

Temperatures still fighting to go over minus numbers. Another cold dark morning. It finally stopped snowing. The snow has started to melt everywhere, giving way to icy roads and pavements. The school bus service has been restored for most schools in the region, except for ours. It has been more than a week now since the school bus service was suspended. Now the children are almost use to walk to school. My Hooligan still complains every now and again on the way up the hill, but soon he gets distracted with the snow or some wild animal. My little Princess doesn’t complain, she just shivers! Daddy is the most stoic of the group; he carries the heavy rucksacks and tells us all the fantastic stories of how he used to walk to school alone -rain or snow- in Scotland when he was only 6 years old.

Times have change, and despite living in one of the safest places in the world, I wouldn’t like my 5 year old walking alone to school every morning. Perhaps I am too apprehensive, perhaps just careful.

I have very tender tummy muscles this morning. I think that is good. Maybe I over did the Swiss ball exercises yesterday. It is just that it is so easy to do the crunches with the Swiss ball, and it feels so good in my back that I feel compelled to go back to the ball every time I have a few minutes to spare. I am not one for spending hours doing a workout, I get bored easily. Instead I prefer to do short sessions of 10 to 15 minutes several times a day. I don’t know if that is good or not, but it suits me. For example, yesterday I did 3 rounds of 50 crunches and 50 oblique crunches each time. I am desperate to get rid of my “love handles”. My darling told me the other day that is was great to finally have somewhere to “hold on to” while he was tenderly caressing me and grabbing my love handles. I know he meant well, probably he even likes them like he said, but I felt awful. Me, with love handles… what a nightmare. I am giving myself a month to get rid of them. I found a clip on you tube especially with a Swiss ball workout to get rid of love handles. I am starting today.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A cold snowy Monday morning

Monday morning, the alarm gently wakes us up at 7:30, we have 30 minutes to get ready and go down for breakfast.  It is a cold morning, it has been snowing for the past few days and there is no school bus today.  There are hardly any cars on the road, but the major of the town phoned me last night to assure me that the school and the school canteen were going to be open.  The roads are too slidy to take the car out, so we will need to walk to school. 

Eight o’clock and we are all ready having breakfast; we need to leave at 8:30 if we want to make it on time for school.  After a bowl of hot porridge we are ready to go.  Behind our house there is a mountain path that takes us to the ancient town of Saint Marcel where the school is.  Apart from the steep heel at the start, it is a lovely walk; we need to pass through the Roman ruins and the Saint Marcel’s walls to get to the town.  It is freezing cold, but we have fun walking, following and guessing which footprints belong to what animals.   The children are delighted to identify rabbits poo.  They learnt all the different types of poo last month at school.  Now they are attentively looking around trying to spot the rabbits.

Fifteen minutes singing and hoping to school when all of a sudden we find a deer staring at us from behind the bushes.  He must think we are not danger because he comes out of his shelter and crosses the path in front of us.  We look at each other in surprise, when a second and then a third deer do exactly the same.  I feel blessed, despite the cold, we are having a great morning.  

Mornings like this one, remind me why I moved to France, why I moved from the city to a small village in the middle of  France.  Where else would my children see wild rabbits and deer running in the morning?  Where else would we have to cross a field of snow and Roman ruins to get to school?