We're back and how lovely to return to some lovely comments and e-mails with awards for the blog. Thank you... I shall get on to each one as soon as we've settled back in to a routine...
I feel like we've been away forever and not really sure that I'm loving being home which is most unusual for me, as though I love going away, I equally enjoy coming home. It could possibly be that the summer holidays are coming to an end. Little will return to school and Small will start nursery in September. I shall have a few hours each day which will be my own. I am filled with trepidation about this...
As for our holiday... After a very early start and a very easy journey through the Garden of England, on to the Shuttle we arrived in France by 10am. After a further five and a half hours taking us through Rouen and Tours we got to my cousin's house. It is a beautiful, big, old, stone house. It was our first visit and I was literally blown away by it. The next day was Little's sixth birthday. The fastest six years of my life! As we were doing a mammoth shop for the food for the wedding we decided that we would just get whatever birthday cake we could. I happened upon a strawberry mirror cake (which made me smile as I'd been unable to make last month's Daring Bakers challenge). It had to be that one. It was one of the best cakes that we've ever tasted and Little was over the moon with it, eating a huge piece, which even a grown up would have stuggled to finish.
The wedding preparations were wonderful. On the evening before the wedding the men went off for a night out and a stay in a local hotel. The ladies got on with food prep (for the evening reception) and flower arranging. Midnight saw us all standing in the kitchen spray tanning and painting our toe nails (something I've not done before). We had a hoot! Then it was the wedding day. More food prep, getting the children ready and finally getting ourselves ready. It was such a beautiful wedding. Simple and elegant, no pretentions, all homemade. The house and gardens looked wonderful, a true testament to how when a group of ladies start planning and getting on with things, great things can be achieved. We headed off on the walk to the square behind the hurdy gurdy player. I'd never seen a real one - what a treat! As we got to the corner of the street the square was in view where my cousin awaited his bride to be. It was like something from West Side Story. Truly wonderful. The contracts signed - they'd done it! We then headed to the local restaurant where we had a wonderful meal, ending with a croque em bouche (traditional french wedding cake) profiterole tower. After the meal we walked back to the house. You enter through a huge wooden gate (adorned for the day with a simple wreath which I'd made the night before). In the middle of the courtyard was a table decorated simply with a vase full of flowers and a traditional English wedding cake plus lots of champagne glasses, soon to be filled. As the evening celebrations began a little more food prep was required. The dancing began and saw the bride and groom get into some inflatable sumo suits for their first dance - hilarious and something very fitting for the couple who like to have a good time!
The next evening we headed for Spain, our plans to drive through the night were possibly foolish, as neither of us had got much sleep the night before. After three hours we pulled over and slept for a few hours before we could continue. We missed so much scenery and it seemed to take forever for dawn to break. Eventually it did and thankfully in time beforewe passed by the fortified town of Carcasonne, standing between the Pyranees and the Massif Central, truly beautiful, we knew then we were soon approaching Spain and would be there sooner rather than later.
We got to my in-laws around 10am, so the expected eight hour journey had taken 12 hours, considering we'd had a 3 hour sleep I don't think it was too bad. The new addition of a hot tub in the garden was very appealing. The car had to go to the garage as the handbrake wasn't working. We'd been lucky as they said a bit had sheared off and had it gone into the engine would not have been good at all i.e. whole new engine required - phew! I'll write more about Spain another time.
We stayed about 10 days with the in-laws before heading back to France. This time to visit friends of ours who were renting a gite in the Vendee. We called them when we were about an hour and a half away from them, they sounded panicked. They were two and a half hours away from their gite (but in a very different direction), having just tried to drive into an underground car park with a roof box on top of an already very tall car. We all laughed about that one as we pictured the traffic piling up while they dismantled the roof box, leaving it on the side of the road while Dan drove the car out of the way of the very bemused French. They said they needed a drink and wouldn't be leaving the town until they'd all calmed down and had started speaking reasonably to each other again. We said we'd stop somewhere and eat and just see them when they got back. We then checked the map, we were on the same latitude as them but to the east. We worked out that it would take us just over an hour to get to them. We all agreed that it would be a great idea. So that's what we did and I'm so pleased we did as the town was Perigaux. This place is foodie heaven and I would go back (so long as we don't have to drive!).
We spent the afternoon and early evening there, eating dinner at a little pizzeria, a great 3 courses for 12 Euros, including a lovely goats cheese salad and steak hache. The children were having a ball and having known each other from birth, the older two born within a month of each other and the younger two born within 6 days of each other (yes, it was those friends) seem to just fit right in. The heavens then opened and we got so wet we didn't know if we should laugh or cry. Back to the car, where we were able to change our clothes and then make the tortuous journey back to their gite. By which time we'd been on the go for far too long. It rained heavily all the way and I felt like we were never going to get there, but get there we did and what an amazing gite. Top end of the market, all Villeroy and Boch bathrooms, it was more like a 5 star hotel. Children safely to bed, we got a roaring fire going and cracked open the champagne. At about midnight we then opened the box of cakes I'd bought in Perigaux. Of course I had to have the coffee eclair.... more on those another time!
The next day we went to some lakes, it was absolutely beautiful and we were wondering why there was nobody else there. The children were having fun in the lake and building sandcastles. Imagine our horror when about an hour later the life guard arrives and tells us to take the children out of the water and shower them down immediately as the water was contaminated. That's when we spotted the red flag with a piddly little sign under it saying not to go in the water. My heart was racing, when you have a child with a lowered immune system, anything like this can spell trouble with a capital T. We'd planned on spending the day together but I just wanted to get out of there. The children showered down, I then smothered them in antibacterial gel. Thankfully nothing happened. They haven't been ill and no sign of a second head growing on either of their shoulders!
We hit the road and a couple of hours later were back at my cousins where we were greeted with the biggest feast of our travels. Within ten minutes of our arrival we had glasses full of bubbles and a huge plate of prawns, we then had oysters, about an hour later we had mussels in a wonderful broth, mopped up with french bread, and then another hour or so later we had steak and frites. Then later we had some cheese... This was followed by much needed sleep, then a day by the pool in some much needed sun. France, like England, hasn't seen much sun this August! After a couple more days we then headed home and here we are. It was very freeing not having a set return date in mind. The life of a gypsy is now somehow very appealing.
We had a truly wonderful trip. Little had a list as long as your arm of foods he wanted to eat while we were on holiday and Hubby and I were incredulous as to his open mind and palate for trying things. Even Small amazed us with what he was willing to try and enjoyed.
I didn't take many photographs of the food. This was our family holiday and though we all love food I'd agreed that it wasn't going to be about the blog so I didn't get the camera out every time we ate. We just had the best time and it made us all realise how lucky we are to have each other. A small nod to hubby - huge thanks for your amazing, safe and calm driving. Though we've travelled many miles it was done with ease.
Now back to blogging. We did a lot of eating and shopping while we were away so expect to see lots of Spanish and French inspired dishes over the coming weeks while we try to recapture some of the delicious foods we've been eating.