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Wild flowers and wild times on our summer trip to France 

The last time we were in France during summer was when our daughter, who is now nine, was two months old. I was mainly looking forward to seeing a few local festivals which we always seem to miss out on as they are only in June/July. However, this trip I got much more than I could have imagined: some appreciated like the wild flowers alongside roads, buildings and in fields; then others not so like the recent canicule/heatwave that hit France and Europe. We also took 15 people on our property purchasing tour of southwest France but more to come on that in the next newsletter.

 

We were welcomed into our regional village of Pouzauges with a greenness that I hadn’t seen before which made the red poppies, mixed in with all the other wildflowers, stand out even more. For the first 10 days, the weather was colder than what we had left at home in Brissie but from the official start of France’s summer on 21 June, things certainly heated up with temperatures in the 30’s most days which then continued for most of the remainder of our month long trip. The average July temperature should have been 24 which would have been nicer, for me anyway. The French didn’t seem to mind too much as they basked in the sun in the parks and on the beach – meanwhile I was looking for any shade I could find (or air conditioning but soon gave up on this as not a lot of climatisation to be found) with my umbrella and sunscreen in hand. In Queensland, we have summer pretty much most of the year, so I certainly wasn’t searching for anymore heat.

As well as heat, France did turn on what I was looking for with plenty of festivities:
- Fete de la Musique: the start of summer in France on 21 June brings music festivals in almost every town and Pouzauges was no exception; we had a great (albeit loud late into the evening for centre ville residents like us) evening/night being entertained by a wide variety of musical acts.
- night markets: the music festival also coincided with night markets, the kids liked their balloons!



- weddings: Summer seemed to be the time for local people to get married - there was a wedding every Saturday in the church our place in Pouzauges overlooks; weddings start at the town hall with a line up of people following the bride to the church across the square and there are always the cars with decorations in a procession to the reception afterwards with the 'just married' car in the rear.
- local school fete: We were invited by our local friends to their school fete which was an all afternoon/evening event including balloons being released in memory of some lost classmates
- Paris fair and Disneyland: lucky for our kids there was a fun park in the Jardin Tuileries for the summer so we were there every day except for the very long day we did Euro Disney.

- Moliere play: I have become quite obsessed by the French playwright Moliere whose statue stands in the fountain our Paris apartment overlooks, so much so that I watched one of his very comical theatre pieces (in French) which was showing as part of the Comedie Francaise summer program
- Bastille Day: Ever since we saw the jets practice for the Bastille Day march up the Champs ten years ago, I have wanted to be in Paris for 14th July and I finally got there this year. While the parade was a little disappointing as I (and most others who didn't get there at dawn or bring their own stepladders along) couldn't see much, the atmosphere was great even when the rain came down - it was good for me with my umbrella as I could step forward while others went for shelter. I did gratefully get to clearly see the jets overhead with their red, white and blue trails and some soldiers on horses in the side street beforehand. Best vantage for future reference is to go to the Louvre which is not on the parade itself but you get a great view up the Champs to the Arc without noone around (David and the kids stumbled on this while I was fighting the crowds). However the best thing that happened for Bastille Day was not the fireworks in front of the Eiffel Tower that night but those of the villages around Paris we saw the night before over dinner from the 34th floor of a La Defense apartment tower belonging to French friends of our Pouzauges friends.

Given it was summer, many local attractions which are either closed or only open on a limited scale the rest of the year, were open and active. These included:
- St Mesmin chateau: a medieval castle with former moat completely restored so you can picture being there 100's of years ago and the kids game that takes you round is informative and fun.
- beach with bars: ask David, I am not a beach girl, but I could certainly last longer on the sand at Les Sables with the comfy couches and waiters serving you drinks while you watch the kids in the water
- Bluebeard's castle: the French fictional character of Barbe Bleue was based on the former evil nobleman Gilles de Rais whose castle is open to the public - the wife of this fellow actually hid for many years from his tyranny in her family's donjon which is located in our village of Pouzauges
- Le Puy du Fou: we saw almost every spectacular show including the night cinescene with its light display and fireworks but it was too amazing to cover here, more on this in a future newsletter.

 

We also spend a deal of time with our French friends having long lunches/dinners including a French style BBQ with an Aussie touch (see our friend Theirry below with David starting the fire with a look-a-like digeridoo) as well as the odd French aperitif et vin, touring the countryside and seeing many local castles the tourist office doesn't tell you about and spending a weekend at the beach which also included a long bike ride through forests and marshes then eating mussels by the beach.

We also discovered more hidden treasures our region has to offer including the mechanical museum in Nantes where a 25m tall mechanical elephant walks around spraying water at the kids, the remnants of a WW2 German radar installed to watch for the Allies Landing expected to come through Nantes (our area has the first hills from there albeit 80km away and on a clear day you can see to there and the coast) and Ile Noirmoutier with its great beach, cute villages, salt farms and passage there only able to be driven on at low tide. where next year's Tour de France will start from.


 
With everything happening during our month long trip, including the heat, we were tired by the end. It was good to come home again (in the cold weather, well as cool as Brisbane can be) and get back into our France-away-from-home activities like the Brisbane French Festival; however, these make me start to think about our next trip in April 2011...let me see: Marseille, Corsica, Flanders Fields but more importantly minimal chance of les canicule.

A bientot
Sharon

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