Week 22 (France 17)

Where were we?

Here. For the last time.

Though we will be back.

And also here.

Carcassone, where we arrived yesterday

Where should we have been?

In that parallel Covid-free universe, this is the week that Tweed got to Tokyo.

We had a great few days in Shanghai before leaving China on Wednesday on the ferry (slow boat from China?) to Osaka. It has a mahjong room and a karaoke suite…

We got the train from Osaka – our first bullet train – to Tokyo and arrived here yesterday. Ben has enjoyed speaking Japanese, which he has been practising daily on our route here. We have a long list of things we want to do here. Including, by popular demand, Disneyland Tokyo. Some of us are terribly excited.

What did we really do?

St Pierre de Chartreuse

Ben found Harriet’s bank card. It was in Lucy’s pocket. Lucy had apparently looked everywhere.

It’s not here…

On Monday our landlords unexpectedly announced they were coming for an inspection visit and arriving on Thursday. As five of us are their direct descendants this was actually pretty good news, but we did want them to feel we had been looking after the place so a cleaning and tidying frenzy ensued.

The conservatory as no one has ever seen it before.

Shuggie and Ele, Ben’s parents and our enormously kind and generous landlords, duly arrived on Thursday evening after an epic drive from Rotterdam. It was utterly lovely to see them.

We had about 16 hours with them but we managed to cram in a swim, a garden inspection, a meal (and some wine) and a lot of chat and cuddles. Lucky us.

Earlier in the week we had another strawberry-fuelled walk. This time we headed up to the Source du Guiers. The Guiers Mort is the river which features large in many of our pictures, although possibly not quite as many as that mountain. It rises in a deep cave in the cliffs behind the village before tumbling down a waterfall and is a pleasant two or so hour walk up.

The route passes through the usual birch woods and up forest tracks, where the strawberries were thick on the ground, before opening into an enclosed meadow. Harriet and Ben did this walk on 21 July 2004, the day they got engaged, and, although it sounds like they made it up, really did find a four-leafed clover in that meadow. It hangs in a frame on the kitchen wall. A few years ago we did the walk again, as a family, and again Aurora found another clover.

Hopes were high, and we were determined, and ten minutes of searching produced not one but three good luck charms.

The cynical ex-biology-teacher among us points out that having four leaves is clearly a mutation that is simply passed to many of the clovers growing in that field but we (including the cynics) are refusing to let that ruin the magic.

Makes us all smile

We also met a lot of our tadpoles’ country cousins, happily swimming in a large puddle. It was reassuring that they too showed no sign of having legs.

The three girls spent a lot of time with their American friend Riis this week, including a movie night, a trip to the mini golf down the hill in La Diat and an ice cream party.

Aurora and Riis got on particularly well and are now trying to work out a long-distance relationship…

Harriet had her second girly drink in two weeks, again with Debbie and Carol and this time with the addition of Debbie’s daughter Chloe. It turns out that having a giggle, and a glass of rosé in the sun, is very good for you.

Magnus meanwhile discovered an ancient bottle of bubble mixture and drove everyone mad leaving a snail trail of soapy water on all the clean surfaces. Harriet then found an online guide to making bubbles within bubbles and she and Magnus had lots of fun (and some frustration) with that. In an appropriate location.

Magnus was also invited to spend an afternoon with his friend Sam. This was a great opportunity for four of the rest of us to go “climbing in the trees” and for Ben to head into Grenoble to claim back the cost of his doctor’s visit, tests and drugs, and to run some other errands.

The climbing in the trees (Is there an English word for this? – in French it’s accrobranche) was great as always, but Ben had a rather more frustrating time in Grenoble. He didn’t have exactly the right forms in exactly the right order to reclaim the money (although this can be done by post) and the china shop, where he wanted to replace some broken plates (astonishingly dating to before our arrival) wasn’t open when it said it would be, and when it did open didn’t have the plates we needed.

So he consoled himself by buying a fondue set. Retail therapy of the most cheesy kind…

At Sam’s, Magnus made a new friend: Oli, whose dad lives in the village. Oli has a trampoline and a scalextric set. Magnus was very happy there for several hours on Thursday while the rest of us cleaned and packed.

Carcassonne

On Friday morning, 117 days after arriving in St Pierre de Chartreuse, we packed up the car, left the fondue machine in the care of Shuggie and Ele, said our goodbyes to our wonderful friends and headed off South and West to Carcassonne.

This wasn’t the most fun journey we’ve had. The traffic was very heavy and it was extremely hot: 37° when we stopped outside Nîmes for a wee and an ice cream. Nonetheless we arrived safely in our home for the next three days, a very nice flat in a rather less nice corner of Carcassonne.

But this is just around the corner

It is a bit of a shock being back in a hot city and none of us slept brilliantly – the bikers of Carcassonne seemingly holding a rally at 2 a.m. didn’t help – but we were up bright and early to take advantage of the welcome overcast skies and cooler temperatures.

We have left the garden and wildflowers of the Chartreuse behind, but the agapanthus in Place Gambetta in Carcassonne were a pretty good replacement

We walked into La Cité, the medieval walled town of Carcassonne and found it just as beautiful as we remembered (but less steep, says Harriet) We were delighted that all four children asked to go and visit the castle and its ramparts.

We were hugely touched by the response to yesterday’s Instagram/Facebook post. People were enormously kind about what we have written and posted in the last 117 days and in particular about how we, especially the children, have coped with this unexpected situation.

We celebrated how proud we are of them all with a lolly/ crêpe/ very large ice cream in the shadow of the ramparts of Carcassonne.

How was it?

Good bits:

Ben: For our Friday Instagram post, I described the process of losing the dream of our transcontinental journey as conforming to the seven stages of grief. I’ve been through anger, denial, bargaining, sadness, etc. The last of these is Acceptance and Hope, and (for the moment at least) this has been my mood during our farewell to the Chartreuse.

I’m delighted my parents came to see us in our / their home, and pleased with how pleased they were with what we had done to (and in) the house.

I am very grateful to the people who discovered antibiotics. I am feeling much better than last weekend.

On a lesser note, it is good to see our “where we are” dot on the blog move, even if it’s not going to get as far as it was meant to.

Sophie: I really enjoyed Riis coming over lots, the ice-cream party was good and I had loads of fun watching a movie on Riis’s terrace and playing with his cat. I had lots of fun at Indian forest although I got lots of wedgies. I adored being able to see Ele and Shuggie.

Lucy: I enjoyed the Source du Guiers walk especially when I found a four leaf clover because I feel we need some luck in this unlucky year. I enjoyed spending time with Riis especially the film and obviously Shuggie and Ele coming was awesome. I love climbing in the trees so Indian Forest was good. Carcassonne is lovely but I don’t have much to note about it.

Magnus: Oli’s house was good because we got to play on his Scaleletrix. I had a blue Mercedes AMG.

Ele and Shuggie coming was good because, well, Ele and Shuggie are really nice. I mostly hugged Ele.

Source du Guiers is one of my favourite walks, because it has these metal crates that you jump across to get across the waterfall.

Harriet: The Source du Guiers walk is always a favourite and didn’t disappoint. I loved the climbing and in particular being aware of how much more physically able I am than I was five months ago.

It was lovely to see Ben’s parents and (honestly) a massive relief that they seemed delighted with the condition of the house. It is good too, although tinged with all sorts of regrets, big and small, to be back on the road again.

The children hate me saying it but I am so proud of how they have grown and changed over the last wee while and the people they are and are becoming.

Aurora: Hanging out with Riis made me smile loads. Indian Forest was fun but I got loads of wedgies. Seeing Ele and Shuggie. The movie with Riis was fun. I loved doing the ice cream party for Riis, skipping bits of cleaning to have lunch with Riis and making Tiktoks with Riis.

And cleaning windows with Riis…

Bad bits:

Aurora: Not having Duplo A and saying bye to Riis.

Harriet: I am sad, for lots of reasons, to be leaving the Chartreuse. There is the big picture of the fact that this really does mean we have failed to do what we set out to do. We will not get to Tokyo in 2020. There is the medium picture of the fact that we have, over the past few months, really begun to put down roots with people and place in the Chartreuse and I will miss them all. And then there is the small stuff – I didn’t see the tadpoles grown up. I never made any wild strawberry jam. There are walks unwalked and rivers unforded.

I am, and I know it’s a controversial opinion, underwhelmed by Carcassonne. The Cité is of course spectacular, but as medieval walled cities go, I think I preferred Aigues Mortes, and the more modern town feels a bit run down and depressed (though the umbrellas are lovely).

It looks great from here though

Magnus: Riis coming round. Cleaning.

Sophie: I am already missing my friends from Saint Pierre (Riis and Milly).

Strawberries can’t help with that.

Lucy: We didn’t do a red Indian Forest run which I wanted to do, there was a lot of waiting around for Daddy after our climbing and it was VERY hot yesterday.

Ben: My trip to Grenoble was a frustrating one, which made me a bit grumpy, and I didn’t enjoy the drive to Carcassonne – too hot and too many cars, and (I’m sure) nothing to do with the nice wine the evening before.

But at least the car was (briefly) nice and clean.

What did we eat?

A lot of leftovers. And the contents of the freezer.

And some very large lollies.

What about the tadpoles?

One of the many lovely things about Ben’s parents arriving is that they can take charge of the tadpoles. This had previously been a cause of concern. We will be following their progress from afar and will keep you updated.

This week they have continued to swim happily, though appearing only when the sun is off their respective pools.

It is nonetheless a sadness that we didn’t see them grow up. We knew exactly where we were going to release them and Harriet in particular was very much looking forward to having, temporarily, an actual box of frogs…

What’s next?

We are here in Carcassonne, fulfilling all Ben’s nine-year-old Dungeons and Dragons dreams, until Monday when we head to the West Coast, between Arcachon and Bordeaux for a bit of beach and wine. It’s not sake and sushi, but it could be a lot worse.

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