All change … again!

Well, what is it with me? Just last week, I was umming and aahing as to how I could continue my blog, you see, it’s an ever evolving page. Should I take a break? After all, there are surely only so many people who want to read my banter or scroll through my photos and then last week, I was truly bowled over when a local Montpellier Facebook page shared a link to my blog and I had 100s of views, accompanied by a huge amount of comments and incredibly kind emails, even today I’ve had over 150 views and so that is why I am here, at some ungodly hour, squirrelling away at my PC. (Thank goodness for insomnia eh?)

This all started in 2011 when I started “takingsnaps.com”. I set myself the challenge of taking and posting a photo a day for 365 days.

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One of my first photos, my garden in the UK

Sure I did ‘take snaps’ but found more and more, I was making photos rather than taking photos! I was particularly drawn into dog photography.

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Walking on water (a holy dog!)

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It’s all in the eyes

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I managed the first year and I was delighted. I discovered that my photographical skills were improving but along side I realised I was hooked on writing. I enjoyed it so much that I relaunched for a second year, a photo a day with the odd blog or rant thrown in for good measure! 

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I became braver with my photography!

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This is the A3 in Surrey, taken on a freezing, cold night in my PJ’s. It won a prize!

The blog then morphed into a travel journal “hiddengypsy.com”, as my husband and I sold up everything we owned in the UK, bought a motorhome and went travelling with our very elderly dog. We had a dream of settling somewhere in France! (We had no idea where but we knew it would be Southish!)

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Cool Dude Harry (the motorhome) with his shades on!

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Is it Stevie Wonder? Roy Orbison? Nope it’s Charlie boy!!

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Possibly one of the most loved dogs in the world!

So we zig-zagged down the middle of France, had a stint in Spain, (well it was winter) shuffled back up to France again in the search of our new home.

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Oh yeah. Spain was really tough!!!

We ended up in Montpellier, I’m not sure why but things obviously happen for a reason. We instantly fell in love with this vibrant and surprising city the moment we walked down the first, narrow street.  

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May I just tell you at this juncture, that when we left the UK, I told my husband I would follow him anywhere, I would live in a small house, a hut, a bungalow or a chalet but under no circumstances should he ever expect me to live anywhere near a city, let alone in one! After all, I’m a country girl, I like the fields, the open countryside, views, wellington boots and the sound of cows mooing in the meadows, you get my drift?

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Montpellier isn’t exactly the calmest of cities during the summer!

Well, guess what? Yup we’ve just gone and bought a house in the city of Montpellier! 

I honestly thought this blog would become a “settling in a new city, discover it with me” type of blog, I have a sneaky feeling it’s going to become more of a beginners’ guide to DIY in France!

So there you go dear reader, this blog is once again, emerging from a chrysalis and is transforming into something else! I’m not promising a beautiful, butterfly blog probably more hammers, bruises and broken nails (not to mention the frustration and the swearing!) but hopefully you will find it enjoyable and sometimes amusing, if that works then I’ll be more than satisfied.

Thank you for your continued interest and support.

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A hiatus … TTFN

I haven’t written a post for so long, we’ve been rather busy…

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Our destination? The castle if you can spot it!

… It seems that since we lost Charlie, as much as we loved him and miss him, we’ve found ourselves with so much more time on our hands. We’ve now fallen into a rather pleasant, yet exhausting Sunday afternoon routine. Our friends, here in Montpellier, are very fit and enjoy walking. “Would we like to go with them?”  Delighted at the prospect of going for a walk at a decent speed, no time restraints, the faint hope of losing a little weight and the chance to discover this beautiful region, we signed up eagerly.

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Just one of the many incredible views.

I did mention our friends were fit, yes? Well, their idea of a walk, is that it has to be vertical! Yep, no ambling through soft, green meadows, along the gentle, white sands of the beach or along the undulating riverbank, no we’re talking upwards, up stoney paths, craggy walls, with sharp, spiky plants and mini cliffs! Well, there would be no view if we weren’t at a vantage point would there? I absolutely love it.

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Taken from the ruined castle

We drive out of the city on a Sunday afternoon, away from the noise and the bustle, up winding lanes, through little villages with roads lined with plane trees and park up in a normally, deserted lay-by.  The walk normally starts innocently enough, the aromas rising as we brush through the wild thyme and rosemary, are just heaven. Then the climb commences, up narrow, sometimes overgrown paths, up over boulders, deep into ravines, sometimes having arrived at a point where there’s no exit and having to turn around and start again to find a way through! Taking the camera is a bit of a nuisance, trying to climb with my old canon strapped around my neck doesn’t make it any easier but I’m always so pleased to get back and see what I managed to capture.

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Follow me!!

I find it both a challenge and incredibly refreshing. Ok I normally come back with a couple of scratches and bruises, not to mention used muscles but to glimpse the views through the branches, is just amazing. Each walk ends up ‘at the top’, on a cliff top, a ruined castle, or simply a flat area where we settle and drink hot tea and eat dark chocolate. It’s the most exhilarating feeling to get there, I amaze myself every Sunday, and I ache a little less every Monday!

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Perched on the edge, tea and chocolate!

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Inside the ruined castle

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This wasn’t the way … so glad I didn’t go this way!

We seem to have so much going on in our lives right now that I’m finding it difficult to find the time to blog, we literally fall into bed at night, tired and satisfied, I shall continue with the blog but the chances are my posts will be few and far between until we find some sort of routine and normality. I shall post a couple more photos of this beautiful region and hope that you will appreciate them.

Until next time … TTFN!

Ouch! Root Canal a la francaise!

What did I do today? Well, a couple of hours in the dentist’s chair, that’s what! I can certainly think of more enjoyable ways to spend my Thursday morning. You must excuse me as I don’t have any apt photos to go with this post!

At least I didn’t have to go to the hairdressers. I absolutely hate going to the hairdressers, the smell, the fact that total strangers get to put their hands on my head, on top of that, I inevitably end up with the newest member of the team who hasn’t yet worked out which way the tap needs to be turned to find hot or cold.  I find the atmosphere uncomfortable and somewhat intimidating,  Lots of young, image-conscious people chatting amongst themselves while I’m sat there like an old plouff, with the little make up I’m wearing being sprayed off, straining through water logged ears, as they chat about the party they went to over the weekend. Then, there’s the bit where you have to sit and stare at yourself in a mirror for nearly an hour, the make up gone, pasty white, all flaws visible, hair wet and flat against the head, it does absolutely nothing to boost the morale … oh and the inane chatter, it’s true, they do ask where you’re going on holiday, what are you doing for Christmas, have you been to the new local restaurant, ugh, my idea of hell and they charge a fortune for the privilege.  Just cut my hair and let me out.

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This was done by my friend’s 12 year old daughter the other night. I think it’s fabulous, very 70’s!

The travelling has caught up with me or should I say, my teeth! Before leaving on our epic journey over a year ago, I was very sensible (for me anyway!) and made an appointment at the dentist in the UK, to have a check up and to do any work that needed doing before leaving. As we left the UK, my gnashers were in relatively good shape.

However, last winter in Spain, one of the little blighters started rocking back and forth and so off I went to see the local dentist. She was a lovely lady and informed me “It has to come out” and with a deft flick of the wrist out came the offending tooth. I wasn’t overly concerned, as I lay there in the chair, after all I was numb from the end of my nose down to my chin. I heard the rip as the root left the comfort of my gum and sighed with relief, it was over. Then I noticed the dentist and her nurse hurriedly reaching for things on the back counter, muffled, fast conversations in Spanish, soon made me realise there was a problem. The dentist stood up and leant over me, with some metal instrument, poking and prying in my tingling gums … a bit of root had stayed behind and it did not want to come out. She pushed, she shoved, she dug, I could hear as the instrument got a grip of the offending ‘piece’ and then it would slip off with a sharp click. Eventually, it came loose and the dentist dropped the remaining bit of tooth on the tray in front of me. It wasn’t the most pleasant visit to a dentist that I’ve ever had but I survived, a headache, paracetamol, soup for dinner and I was like new in no time.

I thought I was going to be pain free and wobbly-tooth free for a while, but bingo, a couple of weeks ago, I had a ‘one day’ toothache, it was a real corker,  incredibly painful. I couldn’t bite down at all, it sent sharp, nervy pains up the side of my face. Phew relief, the next day it felt slightly better until I got to the bathroom, I looked in the mirror after washing my face and there was Marlon Brando looking back at me!!! What the hell was he doing in my bathroom? OK no getting away from it, time to see another dentist. Thank goodness we have friends down here who recommended the dentist they all use. He took one look at the offending ‘pearly white’ or should I say ‘Amalgam Grey’ and issued a prescription for antibiotics, I had an abscess.  I walked out of the office with an appointment to go back in 10 days for a check up.

That was an interesting session, no pain, just bad news …involving lots of Euros!  I have a choice either I’m going to end up on pureed food for the rest of my life or just plain broke!! I’ve decided to ignore most of the items on his things to do list and concentrate on the issue of the day!

And so, this morning,  I had the pleasure of lying down with my head in the lap of a man I barely know, and going through root canal treatment.  It was a long session. The filling had to come out and then came the fun, it’s amazing, how even though you can’t see or feel what’s going on, you are aware of what they are trying to do, Drilling down into the fangs and pulling out the pulpy stuff and the nerves. I think I either had very tough nerves or they were very well attached! Time after time he dug down with what looked like long, thin wire screws and scrape and pull, scrape and pull and so it continued a bit more drilling and bit more scraping.

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A dental dam, image courtesy of deardoctor.com

They used a technique that I’ve not seen before, (see pic above)  I’ll try and describe it as  best I can. In order to isolate the offending tooth, the dentist used a square of thin, rubber sheeting with a hole in it, the tooth pokes through the hole and this was held in place with a clamp around the tooth, the excess rubber is then pulled out over the chin, the cheeks and up under the nose. The great thing about this is that you don’t end up with bits landing at the back of your throat, the down side …it’s a little difficult to swallow and  if you have a cold and can’t breath through your nose, you’d probably die there in the chair!

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Walking in a meadow!

As I lay there willing myself to relax,  breath deeply through my nose and think of lovely things, let him do his thing, he knows what he’s doing!  I felt a twinge, not in my mouth but my bladder!!! “It’ll pass” I told myself. Quick! think about something nice again, walking through a meadow of green grass, that should do it!. Oh oh, there it was again. What to do? I can’t talk, I have a rubber mat covering my face, even if I make a sign by lifting my hand I can’t say anything. I waited,  fervently wishing this feeling to leave my body but no, it was serious I started sweating and twitching, how much longer did I have in the chair? Could I hold on? It was awful.  Then, as if by divine intervention, the dentist had to undo the rubber sheeting to take an x-ray of the tooth. He peeled back the sheeting to gain access to the tooth, clever stuff, the clamp still held the sheet to the tooth.

This was my chance, my moment, I held my hand up and said, “I’m awfully sorry but I need a wee.” However, judging by the bemused looks on their faces, I think what actually came out was “ Agh gugu, fuh, uff ggh a a eee!” Oh my god, I’d lost the power of speech, the nurse was the first to work out what i was trying to say. I swear I couldn’t even wait for the chair to lower, I nearly knocked the tray to the floor as I got up and headed for the waiting room, undoing my belt on the hoof. The rush of blood to the head made me giddy and I ended up crossing the reception area on the diagonal!!  Opening the door to the broom cupboard in my haste!!! “No Madame, the toilet is on the right”, the receptionist called to me from behind her desk. Oh the relief … as I stood and washed my hands I glanced in the mirror, a pale face looked back at me and hanging from my mouth the green rubber sheeting ugh!!! I returned to the dentists chair and off we went again, for another sessions of scrape and pull.

I was both pleased and shattered by the time it was over. The chair was raised and I swung my legs over the side and sat up, this time slowly. As the dentist explained what he’d done, showed me the x-rays, he admitted it was “Complique!”. I also realised I probably had lock jaw, I couldn’t close my mouth properly, I had shooting pains along my jawline, cracking headache, pains shooting up my neck where I’d be so tense. So much for thinking of a nice place and staying relaxed eh?

Back at the flat, I crawled into bed and slept for two hours! I feel exhausted although I must say apart from the odd twinge every now and then I haven’t needed to take any painkillers … yet!! The Hubster, who is adorable, when I’m poorly, has cooked up some pancakes which I’ve stuffed with Nutella … just what I needed.

And the strange thing about this is that I still prefer going to the dentists than the hairdressers!

And life goes on …

We are well, we are happy that we made the right decision and more importantly, at the right time, to send Charlie on his way … off to cause mayhem in doggie heaven no doubt!

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Very Happy Days.

We’ve had the most incredible reaction to the death of Charlie, on Facebook alone I received so many kind comments from friends, family and even from people I don’t know personally, it’s been quite astonishing. This little black dog was loved by many. Thank you everyone for your kindness, your wishes and your support, it’s helped more than you will ever know. I don’t want to dwell on the sadness but feel II must share this poem with you, it was written by my friend, Andy, and it just about sums it all up and means the world to me.

Charlie

A special part of our family group
Has left and rests in peace
And left a gap we can’t recoup
And a love that will never cease

Our beloved Charlie has gone to sleep
To rest forever more
But left us wonderful memories to keep
And antics that made us roar

He loved to walk along the sands
Of places while we were away
And greet all the existing and new fans
He met along the way

He would sit and wait while we sat on the chair
For a sweet or savoury treat
and once he ate his favourite fare
he’d sleep right by our feet

But now he’s gone, he’ll be missed for sure
Like a hand without a glove
But we’ll remember him forever more
Thanks Charlie, for all the love.

We find being in the flat without him is very, very strange and empty, how could such a small animal have such a presence?  So we are keeping busy, we’ve done the lot, walks in the park, wandering the streets, bike rides,  dinner with friends, shopping and we even went to the cinema to see the latest James Bond film, it must be at least nearly 10 years since we last went!   Last Sunday our friends took us to the zoo!!

It’s a strange feeling not ‘having’ to get home! We have, for the last 15 years, been tied to getting back to feed the dog at 16:45 precisely, every single day. Not only that – as Charlie was on steroids later on, he was constantly ravenous (or ravishing as we say in my family!) which meant he was on three meals a day and due to other medication he was needing to wee every two hours, so we really couldn’t go far for long.

It’s little things that we find strange, last thing at night when going to bed, there’s no ritual, no last walk, no plumping up his bed, no last two biscuits before bedtime…it’s all very odd.

It’s been good to keep busy even wandering the streets of Montpellier at night is wonderful, although the amount of homeless people with their dogs is striking. Now, it’s getting really chilly at night, I found seeing them huddled up in shop doorways or on the pavements on pieces of cardboard, snuggled up with their furry friends, made me realise just how the dogs are more than just companions or protection,  some of these dogs probably save these guys lives with their body heat. It was enough for me to make a decision, I took Charlie’s leftover biscuits (quite a lot as we had just bought a new bag full) I bought some freezer bags and bagged up individual portions. I then took all his bedding and gave it a good wash and dried it all at the local launderette, and also bagged up any leftover treats.

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Place de la Comedie, Montpellier

The first evening I found a young lad outside the tobacconist’s shop, he has a lovely black dog, the same size as Charlie called Nikki. I gave him about 8 bags of biscuits and a bag of treats and a large fluffy towel. He was so moved, he was so grateful as he sat there in the cold night air he was just so delighted to have food for his dog even though I gave him nothing for himself. As I left, he called after me ‘have a great weekend, you deserve it!” I was really moved. I said I would call by next week and give him some more food as it would be too heavy for him to cart around all week. So looks like I have a date!

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Montpellier Train Station at night

Another chap I’ve seen often, he has 4 dogs of various shapes, colours and sizes, they lie at his feet and are incredibly well behaved. One day I stopped and stroked his new puppy and as I stood up to leave, I made the usual signs ‘I haven’t got any money’ signs …  he answered me with dignity  …”But I don’t want your money Madame” I felt about two inches tall!! Every time we pass him, if we have change we give him a little and he always says thank you. If we don’t have any, we pat the dogs and he gives us a big smile and wishes us a good day. I wanted to find him and ask if he wanted any dog food.

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Night time fountains

Two nights later we’d had a large  get together with friends, it was a lovely evening, homemade soup, steaming bowls of cannelloni, cheese and salad and I pushed the boat out and made my signature Lemon Drizzle Cake ….. we had a super time. When everyone left, one of our friends who is single lives in the town, so we said to walk off our dinner, we would walk her home. We set off with full bellies and on the way, we came across the man with his four dogs. He was sat on the side of the pavement, on newspaper, a beer can in his hand and I noticed his nose was running from the cold.  I stooped down and asked if he would care for some dog biscuits. Yes was the reply. So on my return I nipped into the house, collected at least 10 bags of biscuits and treats and grabbed a couple of chunks of Lemon Cake and wrapped them in a napkin.

Oh my, I was so close to tears, as I handed him the dog biscuits, he put his hands up and said, “But Madame, this is too much!” I explained about Charlie and he was so understanding and gentle.. I offered the cake and a cigarette and he was delighted. As I walked away, I looked back, he’d opened one of the bags of food and the dogs were having a bedtime treat and he was pushing (yes, pushing) the lemon cake into his mouth. I felt so humbled. The contrast between him and me, couldn’t have been greater, there I was all warm and toasty, wrapped up in my winter windproof coat, hat and scarf with a full warm belly and he was sat on the icy cold pavement. It hit me like a ten tonne truck.

I’ve heard people complain about the number of homeless here in Montpellier, I just see them as part of the city, part of it’s darker side maybe, but on those two nights I saw it in a much clearer light. It is now a habit I’ve cultivated, if I go into a shop and there is a homeless person outside, I’ll buy a packet of biscuits, if there’s one outside the bakery, I’ll buy a croissant or a pain au chocolat, others will receive some small change. It’s not much but I hope it helps. We’re watching our pennies but I’m sure what goes round comes round. it is after all the least I can do.

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The Rockstore nightclub, only ever seen from outside, I don’t think we’ll be going in!!

I wasn’t going to take my camera to the zoo but I’m glad I did.. We left our friends’ house and within minutes we were at the zoo’s car park, Apparently the zoo was a gift from a Montpellierain who left a fortune on his death and asked that a zoo be built for the citizens of the city and that it be free of charge! Wow what a gift! (Bet there were some family members who maybe weren’t so happy when they read the will!!)

Although, the zoo is very close to the city, we really had the feeling that we had driven to the countryside, it was lovely, The mercury here has dropped like a stone, there is a bitter wind and woolly hats and gloves are a must! I’m glad to report that the sky is still bright blue and the sun is shining but the wind has a nasty bite!

Here are just a couple of photos for you to get a taste of what we enjoyed.

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View over the valley from the zoo

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A beauty

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Looked more cuddly than grizzly

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These rhinos impressed me the most.

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Now that’s just cute!!

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Lanky legs!

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Correct, it’s a grass not an animal!

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I’ll have two please!

Goodbye Charlie Boy … RIP

I can’t believe this day has come, even though it was on the cards for a while. Our darling Charlie boy has died. I’m having a horrid day, I can’t stop crying, my eyes are stinging, I have a banging headache and a tightness in the back of my throat, Every now and then I find myself staring into space. Even though we made the decision to let him go, I can’t come to terms with the fact that I’ll never see him again. No more cuddles with my boy, and this boy knew how to cuddle …

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Give us a hug

Charlie, our ageing dog from the RSPCA in Windsor in the UK. He was the original ‘bad boy’, if I’d had a commercial brain, I could’ve written a book which would have made ‘Marley and Me’ pale into insignificance!

Just a year ago at the grand old age of 14 he joined us on a wonderful trip down through France, to Spain and Portugal in our motorhome, he adapted incredibly well to the travelling life and found a new lease of life, walks on the beach soon became his favourite pastime.

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As a young dog, any of you who knew him will know that, he made me jump through hoops. He was a real Houdini, he was affectionately (but aptly) called The Door Dodger at the local kennels and rather than being kept in the ‘holiday’ wing he was lodged in the ‘quarantine’ kennels just to make sure he didn’t do a runner.And boy, could he run! Many people asked why I didn’t call him Forrest Gump, had I only known! He would run for the joy of running, ignoring everything else (including me!), he would take off on a mission only to return when he was totally exhausted, so much so that sometimes I would have to carry him back to the car!

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He was so fast that I have a collection of Charlie photos, just like this!

Every day for over 14 years, I got up every morning, come rain, shine, snow, hail, thunder and would walk this chap in the local woods. He loved it, if it weren’t for this dog I would never have met some of my very best friends who will be my friends for ever.

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He was so difficult to train, and for someone who never sticks at anything, this ‘little black devil’ (as my mum used to call him) managed to keep me on track and I can honestly say it took me at least 4 years to get him anywhere near resembling a ‘normal’ dog,  We did it all, the good citizen course, bronze, silver and gold, dog agility, beginners, intermediate and advanced – all in an attempt to get this dog to be on my ‘team’. It was tough and I won’t paint a pretty picture just because he’s gone, he was a total nightmare!  And then one day, it all clicked, he loved me and I loved him and we were inseparable,  he came first … every single time. We would miss out on nights’ out, visits to people who didn’t accept dogs in their homes weren’t even considered, weekends away were a rarity and only if we had someone we trusted, Aunty Andrea, was the bestest in the world. We would take day trips to France and so a passport for the dog was a necessity, well it would be for our pup, he went everywhere with us.

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Recently his health had be deteriorating, he was going downhill, so anyone meeting him now, had no idea what an incredible little soul this dog had, he just looked like any old, elderly dog. He just looked like a wee black dog with arthritis! Although there wasn’t one single day that has gone by that someone hasn’t stopped us to say hello to him, kiddies in particular love him often asking if he is a wolf (we’ve never understood that bit!)  We knew he was something special but to anyone seeing him they wouldn’t know.

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No ordinary dog!

They wouldn’t know that this dog had an amazing character,  he was a what a clown, he constantly made us giggle, and he knew it!

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Sitting like a human

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Helping me press the clothes

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Best spot in the house! And incredibly practical:)

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Table for one!!!!!

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Just one cool dude!

Michelle & Charlie

Too posh to travel in the back.

Then last week I had my sister and her family come to visit, Charlie really rallied and managed to be ‘on form’ while they were here. In fact, he was perky enough that we decided to take him to the beach one last time, and although he didn’t run, he pottered down to the water’s edge and enjoyed a dig in the sand.

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I’m so glad my sister was there to take this last picture of us together.

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The family left on Saturday and Charlie immediately took a turn for the worse, he refused to eat, he soiled himself twice, and had an upset stomach – which manifested itself both ends! Then this morning he didn’t get out of bed, he lay on the cold stone floor and it was 11 a.m. before we managed to coax him outside for a wee. We knew the time had come, he was letting us know he’d had enough, he was tired and ready to go.

Although it’s difficult to talk about, writing certainly helps and is much easier. I must tell you about Charlie’s final visit to the vet. After reading this, you too, will know that we’d made the right decision. Charlie hated going to the vet, he was always scared, he would scratch at the floor and the door in an effort to escape the stethoscope, panting and shedding hair by the handful. When on the examination table he’d twist and turn,  fight and fidget, our job was to hold on to him with all our might, to avoid him falling off the table! Our regular vet frequently booked Charlie the last appointment of the day as we would all end up sweating and needing a shower.

Today we arrived at the clinic, we walked into the vet’s room and sat down on a couple of chairs for a chat, Charlie lay quietly at our feet. We lifted him on to the table and he didn’t stir, he gave his paw to have a little bit of hair shaved off. I held his head in my hands and talked calmly to him while The Hubster held his body and slowly and quietly he fell asleep and that was it, no wriggling, no whining, no panting, no complaining, he was tired and relaxed. He knew why he was there and I honestly think he was grateful.

And so that’s it … no more Charlie, he’s been the most wonderful friend, I’ve told him things that I’ve told no one else, he’s comforted me so often when I’ve been down, he’s made me laugh and cry.

We’ve washed his bedding and cleared away his bowls, stored away his lead and his harness, bagged up any remaining biscuits to give to the local homeless for their dogs.

Life will never be the same without Charlie but for me, we will always be walking on the beach … me and my dog …

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Everyone is an expert … and it makes my blood boil!

 

We used to occasionally catch a program in the UK called ‘Come Dine with Me’.

It’s an innocent, funny half-hour spent watching people cooking (and generally getting in a bit of a mess). The host invites 4 total strangers into their home to dine. The guests then judge their host, hospitality and of course the food. Over 5 consecutive nights they visit each other’s homes and so on. The game concludes on the last night when the final scores are totalled and the grand winner goes home a £1000 richer!

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Snails anyone?

Each series is complimented by an acidic and sarcastic commentary which is sometimes more amusing than watching the contestants themselves. There are of course the shenanigans that go on between contestants, there are occasions when friendships are formed despite the contest and there are of course, clashes of characters, just to spice things up. In a nutshell a typical, reality show which at least gives the viewers some recipes I suppose!

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Come dine with me

Looking up some details on line I see that this format of program is now available in 35 countries!!! The names differ a little, from  ‘Without a Napkin’ in Slovakia to ‘Spread’ in the Czech Republic! Here in France it’s called ‘Un Diner Presque Parfait’ translated as ‘An Almost Perfect Dinner’.

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Babary Figs

We have noticed that the French version is a lot more demanding than the British version, the hosts are judged on the Aperitif, the table dressing, and of course the food, which really has to fit into the ‘theme’ given by the host and is seriously frowned upon if the ingredients aren’t local. They rarely if ever sit down to eat much before 9pm and surprisingly they are judged on the ‘animation’ – yes – entertainment which of course has to keep within the confines of the said theme, (which would make most British citizens cringe with embarrassment!)it’s watching these programs that we see how different we really are, even though we are such close neighbours, they are huge cultural differences.

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Can’t remember the name, but it’s green so it must be good for you!

Where am I going with all of this you must ask?

RANT NUMBER 1

it’s the fact that these programs make us all think we are experts!! These programs and the famous TV chefs, who irritate me intensely.

I’m married to a ‘professional cooker’, we had a tiny, little restaurant and trust me, even if he had wanted to be on TV, he simply wouldn’t have had the time. So in my layman’s capacity, I can’t see how these chefs, manage a celebrity lifestyle and yet still give the impression that they are busy in their own kitchens and restaurants. How on earth can ‘ONE’ chef be in charge of a ‘CHAIN’ of restaurants, he can only be in one place at one time, and of course there are film premieres to attend, the television interviews, the personal appearances not to mention inviting the whole of the country into his home, kitchen, garden to meet his wife and adorable little kiddies who will no doubt become the celebrities of the future. I apologise if I sound like a grumpy old woman (which of course I am) but I simply see this as a damn good ‘pension plan’. By all means be a TV chef, but please don’t make out that you still run a busy, working kitchen every Saturday night.

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Ornate Resto sign in Montpellier

RANT NUMBER 2

This is my next gripe, the fact that we have sites like Trip Advisor, which in essence is a great idea, However, it’s the users that can cause real damage to businesses, especially small local businesses.  I have left comments and reviews on Trip Advisor  in the past, about restaurants, hotels, campsites etc. that we have visited. If I can’t give an honest, unbiased, professional opinion then I don’t’ bother.

Trip Advisor is not the place to air one’s disappointments  – if you have a complaint, go directly to the owner of the establishment. We have friends with a business and I occasionally read what people say in their reviews and it makes me wonder what kind of world we live in.  Under the heading of ‘Disastrous Evening’  the following events really spoiled this chaps evening, a dropped fork that wasn’t noticed by a waiter, the wrong fruit juice (heaven forbid), 5 minutes wait for a menu, a waitress that leaned over the customer with a plate, incorrect change for a tenner instead of a twenty …  apparently all of the above are reason to go for the kill, to criticize, complain, insult, and slate off the hard work of someone trying to make an honest living. There is a surplus of vitriolic spewing going on. OK so you weren’t happy with your visit but really, was it so bad that you go home, log into your PC and spill it all out for everyone to see? So you got apple juice instead of orange, big deal! Unfortunately as petty as this seems, some people only ever read the headline and make a decision about an establishment based on this.

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French Organic Market

We had a situation with our little resto, whereby we had generally good reviews, we’re not Michelin starred, so we didn’t expect more, then one week we had a run of the most horrid reviews, we tried to work out who had been working on the specific days, did anyone remember anyone complaining, our best investigative efforts to work out what was wrong drew a blank. The Hubster insisted that it wasn’t worth responding, much to my infuriation. Then one day we noticed that two of our customers had taken it upon themselves to write, in our defence, in response to these terrible accusations One customer stated there was soon to be an opening of a ‘large chain’ of restaurant in our town, and suggested this was some form of sabotage? We’ll never know but those nasty, uncalled for comments are there, on the web, for all to see!  We don’t mind as we have now sold and those few comments did little damage, however do think before writing these reviews, they can seriously effect people’s lives.

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Not such a busy resto on days of rain!

 

Wow I feel great now I’ve got that off my chest, thanks for listening!

We’ve eaten out a fair bit since we’ve been here, and guess what,?

You wait to be seated,

you wait for a menu,

you wait for your drinks order,

you wait for your food, which doesn’t always come at the same time …

we couldn’t believe it, after having had a restaurant in the UK trying to make everything come together,  for our ever-increasing, perfection-seeking public!

Yet The French, who are renowned for being outspoken  and not putting up with anything less than perfect,  say nothing! Why? Because they appreciate that things don’t always go to plan, so they sit back and they talk, they laugh and they get on with life.

I’ve just read this out loud to the Hubster and he says I should apply to go on the ‘Grumpy Old Women’ program!! Ha ha! What he doesn’t realise is that writing this down has enabled me to get it out of my head and onto paper and so I have in effect, got rid of it!!

Michelle Portrait

Official Grumpy Old Woman

The People of Montpellier

Before you start reading this, I must warn you there is an overload of photos at the end … he he!!!

The people from Montpellier are called Montpellierains or Montpelleriennes. I speak relatively good French but even for me I’ve found these two words a little bit of a mouthful, there is a fair bit of tongue twisting going on, I think I’m getting there.

So today I thought I would introduce you to the Montpellierians. They certainly aren’t the archetypal French people that immediately spring to mind.  I have yet to see a French man on a bicycle wearing a beret and a stripy t-shirt with string of onions around his neck and no they don’t greet you with ‘Allo allo’!

Well welcome to Montpellier, a breath of fresh air, here the French are cool, laid back, chilled, smart, funny and above all extremely approachable and friendly. Now then, is it that they live in a region where they have approximately 300 days of fine weather a year? Is it because they have numerous beaches within a bike ride away? Is it because the city is full of youthful students? Is it because they have a city that fills up with happy tourists, I’m sure all of these things help, but they, like, the rest of us, must have their daily worries, there unemployment down here, they have bills to pay, they have family problems, the economy is tough and yet the Montpellierians smile a lot.

When you walk into a shop/waiting room/ office in France, it’s customary to say ‘Bonjour’ to the people who are already in the shop, in Paris, you’re lucky if you get a grunt in reply, here you get a wide smile, a reply and even a bit of banter.

We’ve had enough contact now with estate agents, and I can call myself a bit of a connoisseur in this field. First thing that you must realise here, is that you can leave your name and telephone number as often as you like, the chances of anyone ringing you back are nil. In fact at one stage I was waiting nervously at home with a pen and paper at the ready, my French polished up, just waiting for the phone to ring, I had left my number with 17 different people, I waited and I waited and I waited, you know what’s coming right? Yep, not one phone call!! A total waste of time.

However, what we have found is once we have found the person we need to speak to they will go out of their way to look after us, the information they have given us has been priceless.

One of the local business women in our street, a very chic, classy French lady, will always, no matter what time of day, stop, say hello, ‘faire la bise’ (kiss on the cheek) and ask how we are, chat about things in general and is a joy to meet. It’s a good feeling, it makes us feel as though we belong. As for the kissing malarkey, here in Montpellier it’s customary to do 3 kisses, it’s 2 in Paris and I believe it’s 4 in Bordeaux so you can imagine when we meet up with friends all the kissing takes some time, but it’s a lovely custom, it gives you the time to say hello properly to each and every person, look them in the eye and make proper contact. I find it so much better than walking into a group and just saying a general ‘Hi’ to everyone.  I like it.

Some of the loveliest people we’ve met here have been our friends. I know that sounds odd, but these are people that we met over 30 years ago when we both in our early twenties and we met them maybe a total of 4 or 5 times at large gatherings, they were friends of friends and so we haven’t known them very well at all. These two couples have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome, they helped us through the heat wave by turning up unannounced weighed down with air conditioning units. They have lent us their bikes, They have shown us where to catch the tram, they have taken us swimming in the river, they have taken us on mega bike rides and they have helped us climb mountains and ravines. They have shown us the best beaches, restaurants, shops and markets. They have opened up their homes to us and included us in a way that is way beyond anything we could have possibly hoped for. They have made ‘moving to Montpellier’ a joy.

I could go on, as I’m sure you know but I have a variety of photos that I want you to see, from some of our lovely outings in and around this fabulous city.

These photos are the were taken on a 40 kilometre bike ride to the beach and beyond!!!

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What a sight!

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This horse didn’t look overly keen at paddling in the Med!

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My trusty steed!

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A couple of mermaids!

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Well, we had cycled a long way, this was our treat!

These following photos were taken a few days ago, we walked up into the mountains down a very steep bank down to the riverbed and back up the other side, my legs are only just recovering!!! We were told the walk was called ‘The ravine of the arch’ I should’ve guessed, the clue was in the name!!!

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This is a man made reservoir that collects rain water for sheep to drink from.

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The view from the top

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Mountains in the distance, maybe next week!!

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This guy was braver than me, I think my vertigo would have made me feel the need to jump into the ravine below!

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Perfect spot for a picnic

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The river bed, not much water though!

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Still in the riverbed, you can see just how small we were in comparison.

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The Arch

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I have no idea what this is, let me know if you have any idea!

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Autumn has arrived

 

 

 

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Noise!

Well, here as promised is my post all about noise in Montpellier. It’s not something you can ignore that’s for sure! Montpellier is the city of music.

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Open air cinema on our doorstep

We somehow managed to time our arrival in Montpellier (unknowingly) so that it coincided with ‘The Festival of Music’. Don’t get me wrong, we both love music but little did we know that the flat we had rented was on a square, adjacent to the city’s music academy and where there were to be concerts every night and even events during the day! It was music a go go from Day 1. I’ve come to realise that not only do I not like all music but also music is only good when ‘you’ can choose what ‘you’ want to listen to!

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The view from the lounge, a typical summer evening

And so on evening number one, we had a concert of young classical artists, it was a delight, the second night, slightly older children, the third night an adult classical concert, it was absolutely fantastic! Then came the rest, we had punk, rock, reggae, brass, jazz, garage. grunge you name it we had it – in spades (whether we wanted it or not). Not only did we have the concerts to contend with but also individual musicians who would just randomly turn up, sit outside our window (we’re on the ground floor) and play their instrument of choice, sax, guitar, flute, double base, bongos, drums, bassoon, if you can think of an instrument you can be sure that I’ve had one on my doorstep, on one occasion we even had a didgeridoo!!

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And tonight we have brass!

Then of course we have the music academy with windows wide open, we often wake up to high-pitched sopranos going through the scales, over and over again, out of another window will be someone repeatedly playing a repetitive rift on a guitar and another window will offer us some form of plonking on the piano, add to this the screaming and laughter of children chasing pigeons around the square, the chatter of people catching up with each other at the local cafes and restaurants, the high-pitched buzz of the obligatory French mopeds shooting by at an alarming rate, add to that a bin lorry emptying the recycled glass bin and bingo, t’s a veritable cacophony!!!

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Building up to a busy evening

Initially it was very exciting and vibrant and in fact it still is but trying to hold a conversation when our windows are open is virtually impossible and inevitably ends up in us shouting at each other in order to be heard. I don’t worry what the neighbours must think as they are probably the same!  If we watch the TV, we have no option than to up the volume so much that anyone coming to the flat would think we are deaf, I have taken to displaying subtitles!!  You would think, ‘Ah well at least we can recuperate at night’ Well, NO!!! This racket goes on and on, and up until mid September and even now on the occasional evening it can go on until 3,4 or even 5 in the morning! People playing music, dancing, laughing, at normal daytime levels!! One thing I really must add at this point is that although I sound as though I’m complaining, it’s very difficult to be angry as all of this is carried out with such good humour, no drunkenness, no foul language after all it’s just people having fun!!

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Our doorstep

As I type we have someone playing David Bowie’s ‘Major Tom’ and it’s so loud, it’s quite unbelievable! There is someone practising on their violin (not very well I may add!) and someone further down the street is playing a tango. There’s a couple of dogs barking and there are children jumping on the wooden steps just below our window and a van has just revved up to get up the hill as though it were climbing Everest! At least now, not only are we getting used to it, and loving it but as the weather is slightly cooler at night we’re able to close the windows (which thank heavens are double glazed) and get some really good sleep!

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Being woken up by a drone.

There are ways to escape this, that is to leave the square and go for a walk or a ride on a bike. This way we find the quiet back streets, the calm and secluded squares and courtyards, just walking around enjoying the architecture, the river bank, the park,  brocante markets and food markets (still hubbub but a different type of hubbub!) and on leaving Montpellier there are just so many things to see and do, the beaches, the seaside towns, the mountains, the little villages, the rivers, the back country with all the vineyards, I think you would have to live here a lifetime in order to experience it all.

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Quiet, hidden courtyards

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Sunday Brocante Market

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Our very own Arc de Triomphe

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There are some lovely windows here.

Last week, some friends took us to the Festival of Alternatiba, what I would call a Green Festival. It was fabulous, a little village of tents and stalls had been set up in a local shaded park. There were all sorts of goings on, stalls selling organic food, to stalls explaining about green house effects, the ‘graine’ which is a local currency they would like to introduce in Montpellier, (along the same lines as the Bristol Pound back in the UK), they had working ‘dry toilets’ not that I needed to use them, but apparently they work a treat. We had such a good time that on my return I wrote a letter to the local gazette and they featured it this week along with one of my photos (albeit a very small one)

Here’s some photos of our day out, click to activate slideshow …

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I’m just loving this town, every night I go to bed and  I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Montpellier–first impressions

OK so we’ve been here for just over 3 months, that’s just about enough time for us to start settling in and getting to know our way around the city. We obviously don’t look like new arrivals anymore as amazingly, we find more and more often, people are asking us for directions and questions in regard to tourism etc.! These poor lost and confused souls must see something in the way we saunter confidently around the streets and think we look like an integral part of Montpellier, even more amazing is that we normally know the answer to their questions!! (I’ve done a lot of googling since we’ve been here) Maybe I should get a job at the Tourist information office!

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One of the many beautiful buildings.

There were so many things that absolutely delighted, shocked, amused and disappointed me when we first arrived, I think the only way I can even begin to write about these is by tackling  them one by one!! (the good and the not so good) This could take a while so I will set myself the task of facing each these subjects for my following blogs. I’ll intersperse the posts with (hopefully relevant) photos in the hope that I won’t bore you to death.

So the very first thing we noticed on arrival was the heat! We drove down from the Dordogne and it was pretty much unbearable, we were having to stop every 30 minutes to an hour to let the dog out for some fresh air and to douse him with water!! But we were excited, another chapter in our lives was about to unfurl and we were eager to reach our new destination and so we took the rough journey in our stride.

Our first impression of Montpellier wasn’t the best, we had rented an apartment from a friend, we had no idea where it was, what it was like,, whether it was furnished, was it in a pleasant area etc., we were just pleased to get somewhere solid after having been in a motorhome for nearly a year and then spending a good while in a flimsy chalet on a campsite in the Dordogne! A real building made of bricks was going to be a real treat!

We had instructions to drive to a lady’s house and she would take us to the apartment. We arrived late afternoon in the heat, we had a car crammed to overflowing full of belongings and squeezed in amongst it all was our 15 year old dog, Charlie. The lady was friendly and welcoming, she explained that due to the ‘complicated’ system in Montpellier (more on that later!), we would have to leave our car in her garage. She suggested we take what we would need for the night and we would then walk to the apartment. Easier said than done, we had a mish-mash of belongings in the car and in the roof top box, we literally just grabbed a couple of things, t-shirts, toiletry bag, dog food, dog water and food bowl, camera and I honestly think that was it. We started the walk … to this day, I don’t know how Charlie managed it, bless him, he was absolutely shattered. We were all totally exhausted from the long drive down, the constant stops for watering and cooling down and now we found ourselves following a total stranger (who walked extremely fast) through the narrow streets and alleyways of a foreign city! It appeared to be shabby, smelly and very, very hot.

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A narrow street

The last road we walked up was a very steep cobbled street, I thought I would have to carry Charlie!! We approached a heavy door which swung open onto an inner hall which was dark and cool after the heat from outside. We entered the flat, which, too, was dark due to all the shutters being closed. It was difficult to have a first impression when we couldn’t even see it. We stood rooted to the spot, in the dim light for fear of walking into a wall or piece of furniture, while the lady nipped from one room to another throwing the shutters open. Little by little shafts of sunlight flooded into the room, revealing a large living area.

We signed the lease and the lady left her telephone number (should we have a problem) and the keys to the flat and briskly left!  We stood in the cool dining-room. The exhaustion, the heat and the unknown had taken it out of us.  We were shell shocked, I can only think that we must have looked like some poor, dishevelled and dumbfounded souls. We didn’t even have the energy to talk. We set about sorting out Charlie, he was our priority, he was shattered and we needed to settle him and get him comfortable, by giving him some fresh water and finding a cool place for him to recover.

We wandered around the flat, it was huge, about 100 square metres,  three massive bedrooms, a large lounge/dining area, a small kitchen, a bathroom and another loo. Well, we had plenty of space, that was for sure, it was a slight upgrade on the motorhome to say the least. The floor of the flat had large, stone slabs which I think have probably saved Charlie’s life, had it been carpet I think he would’ve cooked!!

I can’t remember what we ate that night, did we cook? did we go out shopping? I have no idea, but I do remember how wonderful it was to have a cold shower – in fact I think I had three that evening!  I also remember looking out of the front window on to the square and seeing this impressive church. We slept really well and the next morning we were ready to take on the town!

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A room with a view

I mentioned the ‘complicated’ system in Montpellier. OK try and follow me if you can. The flat is in the historic centre of the city, this area is called the ‘Ecusson’. The Ecusson is a maze of tiny, narrow (and I mean really narrow) streets and alleyways. All streets that enter The Ecusson, have motorised bollards so unless you have authorisation you CANNOT enter with a vehicle. These bollards are lowered between 4am and 10am, do bear in mind that most shops open at 10am in France! Anyone wanting to enter The Ecusson has to get a special permit to enter. And we had a car parked in someone’s garage, we weren’t quite sure where we’d left it, and all our belongings were in the car!  Also Montpellier is building a new tram line, there are endless road works, one way streets and diversions. You can only imagine how I felt, if we were going to rely on that stupid Sat Nav lady … not my favourite person at the best of times, how she was going to cope with this was a mystery. I’m glad to report she stayed in her box and “i” took over!!

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Tram lines being laid

Where on earth were we going to park the car? No parking in The Ecusson, and we couldn’t leave the car in the lady’s garage, she needed it herself. So our first challenge when we arrived here was to sort out the car. We found an underground car park, not too far from the flat, and for the princely sum of 150 Euros a month, it is parked up safely. “What a rip off!” I hear you scream, well yes, but what can you do? Montpellier isn’t car friendly, and I must say now that I’ve been here for a while I say good job too, it would be better if we didn’t have to pay but for me it’s worth it. It’s such a pleasure walking, or cycling around and the tram system here is cheap, clean and incredibly efficient, not to mention air-conditioned! I haven’t even tried the buses yet.

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Place de la Comedie and tram

We had arrived slap bang at the beginning of a heat-wave. Despite the excitement of arriving in a new and exciting place, it actually made our life incredibly uncomfortable. I’m a  northerner and therefore my body is not built to cope with the southern heat!  I certainly had a problem with my thermostat which of course is already on the blink due to my age – you know what I mean ladies!!

There were two distinct occasions when I had a ‘malaise’ due to the heat, one of which was simply walking across the esplanade at Place de La Comedie, which is a huge pedestrianised area where the ground is pale, shiny marble, I hadn’t walked more than 15 minutes and ended up desperately searching for shade, the hubster had to go and find water, my temples were pumping. my fingers were swollen. ,my tongue was stuck to the top of my mouth and I had no more saliva, I could feel my knees were going to give way at any moment. I honestly thought I would pass out. What amazed me was at the speed the dreadful feeling came over me and how long it took to fade.

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Peyrou Gardens

We had been given bikes to get around the city, and we found that it was almost impossible to cycle in the heat, it was just unbearable. I found quite a good solution, before leaving the house I would soak an old cotton scarf in cold water, wring it out just a bit and wear it around my shoulders as we visited the city, it was my very own Air-conditioning unit! It was particularly effective when zipping downhill! It was either that or leave the house at 6 in the morning to avoid the heat!

I’m not a lover of water but I became a waterholic, I don’t think I’ve ever drunk so much in my life! But what goes in must come out, I would like to say that I perspired delicately but I’m afraid I sweated like a builder, drips off the end of my nose, rivers running down my neck and hair stuck to the nape of my neck and my forehead, this was the look I was going to have for quite a while, not a good look I can assure you. The worst of it all was seeing people down here, who, even though complained about the heat weren’t sweating, honestly, what was I doing wrong? I looked a wreck!

The idea of going and topping up my suntan was out of the question, I couldn’t even contemplate a couple of hours on a beach, I’d have come back looking like a lobster. We resorted to spending a lot of time indoors, with the shutters closed, sitting in the dark, me draped with a wet cloth, I avoided any movement of any kind for fear of melting, walking from one room to another was like an Olympic challenge.

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Beach Boy

Having an elderly dog at this time was as difficult as it could be. Poor Charlie, it was unbearable for him, he no longer wanted to walk or eat and we were unable to take him anywhere in the car, it was just too hot for him. I have no idea how he felt but I can only imagine after all he is wearing a fur coat. One day we decided late evening to go to the beach as the sun was going down but it was still incredibly warm, the hubster went to get the car and I walked with Charlie to the end of the road, where we could lift him into the back seat. I arrived before the hubster and was stood waiting with the dog in the shade,  I couldn’t understand why Charlie was so fidgety, he wouldn’t sit down, he wouldn’t lie down, fortunately it didn’t take me long to realise that the pavement was so hot he couldn’t stand still, I moved to the base of the tree where there was some scrubby mud/sand and Charlie stood there, still not happy but at least he wasn’t burning his paws. By the time we got to the beach, the sun was setting and thanks to high dunes at the rear of the beach, the sand was cool and shady and Charlie loved it.

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Not bad eh?

I’m glad to report we survived the heat wave and it is now getting distinctly cooler, first thing in the morning and of course the evenings and night times are chilly. one thing that is fantastic is we still have wonderful blue skies and the daytime temperature is easily 23 – 25 degrees so still extremely pleasant, a little bit of summer still hanging on!

I think my next blog will probably be entitled ‘Noise’!! There’s quite a lot of it here in The Ecusson!! There is always something happening, there isn’t one day that goes by that I don’t see something that makes me smile. This morning, as I threw open the shutters, my dream!!! A photographer taking photos of this couple dancing … pure magic.

I mean seriously, I don’t think I ever woke up to something like this in the UK!!

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Hidden Gypsy has a new tag line!!

I haven’t written a blog for quite a while (July 24th to be precise) and I’m missing it … missing it like mad, it’s like an itch that I just have to scratch.!  What am I missing about it?

It seems strange to hanker over something which I don’t even find particularly easy to do.  The need to sit at my laptop, hunched over the keyboard, scratching away in the depths of my small, addled brain, delving deeper and deeper in an attempt to find the word that is on the tip of my tongue, the most appropriate word I can use, in an attempt to describe something to someone, known or unknown, in the best possible way.

First and foremost I have a need to get things out of my head and down in writing, maybe my brain just can’t cope with the surplus information and like a hard drive it needs to be purged and defragmented from time to time. I ask myself why do I feel the desire to share my experiences with total strangers as well as those who are dear to me. I’m a naturally talkative person, I love chatter and happiness, so when I experience something I enjoy, I like to tell someone about it, I enjoy seeing their reaction, hearing their opinion, above all I love to see people smile.

So, as a result of this pondering, I’m going to re-start my blog!!! As many of you will know this blog started out as Takingsnaps, whereby I set myself a challenge of taking a photo a day for 365 days in the hope of improving my photography skills, then our life took a swerve and we set off in a motorhome for just under a year and the blog morphed into Hiddengypsy.com, well it’s time for an update, we have landed in Montpellier in the Languedoc Roussillon area in the south of France and we have decided this is where we want to settle, and so hiddengypsy has had a bit of a ‘new looking’ (as they call it in France) and is now hiddengypsy,com with a tag line of ‘Settling in Montpellier’.

I shan’t blog everyday but I will endeavour to write once a week, firstly to keep me sane and secondly to keep a journal of our experiences here in Montpellier. If you find this of interest, all the better, if you feel you want to comment, double happiness for me, if you just want to look at the photos, that’s fine too, if you just simply want to laugh at the stupid mess we get into (which is probably a cert!), then all I can say is ‘enjoy’.

 

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