The new business which I had been helping get going at the beginning of the year is going like a fair so we are left to our selves much of the time. This suits Julie who just wants to read and unwind while I keep myself occupied with anything and everything. There is endless washing, the French love linen napkins, fortunately in this heat, usually 28 degrees by lunchtime, this is no problem if only someone will hang them! The sun and heat are quite damaging so there are always repairs and painting jobs to do, C is a sweet guy but there are lots of things he just will not do, the blog is not long enough to list them!
I knocked apart a high chair for children and re-glued and painted a solid three coats so that Sophia can do her final decorating flourishes. The dining table on the terrace looks like new again with a solid French racing blue. B & B guests often eat here in the mornings so I felt they should be somewhat smarter than Y’s happily tatty! I am on Sophia’s side with the new style of presentation which goes with the newly built restaurant. Obviously we had to do some extensive testing of the new menus often sharing a table with some of the many people we have come to know over the years of visiting. It was quite late in the season for many of those with holiday homes and the vendage was still in progress for those involved with the grapes so there were not as many visitors as usual.
The grape picking has changed a lot in the time we have been coming here. Thirty years ago the fields were small and planted with hand tended bushes which were hand picked by teams of workers to a strict set of rules to conform with the Appellation code. A few times I have had to do some of this back breaking work to help someone get the last grapes in before the time deadline. They could only pick on dates decided by the local group and once started there was a strict order for grape varieties and a date after which they could not be included in the valued appellation wine. Since the local co-op went bankrupt many have taken to making their own Vin De Pays with different grape mixes.
Nobody wants to work the fields by hand now so the old fields get grubbed up, excellent winter fuel, and they either get paid to never grow grapes again! Or they form large prairie like fields of wire trained vines which can be harvested by an enormously expensive machine which straddles the rows with the driver in an air conditioned cab! Along with the ridges covered with ever more huge windmills the romance has abated somewhat.
The windmills do help with navigation when you are biking on the winding tracks through the unmarked back country, I forgot how hard this was, lungs bursting and throat rasping with the effort! Out of condition as are the bikes which I so carefully trained the kids to maintain. I would have done more but the saddle was too low for extended use and corroded in place! And falling apart! We abandoned most of our clothes at the end of the trip hoping that we could just arrive with hand luggage to save time and money and to save thinking about what to pack! Just passport and pills! If I could just find somewhere where I could keep a bike safe from their hands…
The heat just continued, how they survive the August heat I do not know. That is the only month we have not sampled and now doubt that we shall, Julie does not do well in the heat so I usually get a time on the beach by myself to walk in the surf and sometimes just float like a cork. At the cooler times we could get out to eat oysters at the coast where the oyster farmers can only sell the shellfish with white sliced bread and butter and white wine, or we go for a staggeringly expensive ice cream concoction at a beachside cafes.
At night in late September I still have to sleep uncovered it is so warm but Y has organised a wee trip to Porto on the Atlantic coast of Portugal. She is a dreamer and usually greets us at the airport with dreams of crazy voyages but now that she has some money again we are to fly to what she says will be a cooler place for three days, I think C is glad of the peace of three days to himself. We pack for cooler days and take Sophia’s car since that seems to be the only means of transport working and head to Spain for a late afternoon flight. It takes hardly any time to fly since we pass back into Scottish time zone!
The Airport is the complete opposite of where we landed in France, this is acres of polished granite as far as the eye can see with integrated parking and new metro system built into the main building. We later find out how this happened. For 11e each we are able to buy a 72 hour transport pass, since we are here for almost exactly 72 hours this is great. We wave it in front of the electronic sensor and are on our way into town 11 kilometers away. As luck would have it we came out of the ground halfway up a hill, we soon discovered the whole place is hills and every corner takes you up or down! We come out of the ground to be confronter with a church completely covered in blue and white tiles, exactly what three ceramic fans were hoping to see! From here it was downhill on black and white cobbled marble pavement through one of the most popular shopping streets. I spot a perfect asymmetrical top in a window and aim to return when they open. This city was once rich but has fallen into decay and like many other places seems to have been allowed to go too far before restoration starts so smart often has boarded up nearby. We are not staying at the Hilton but at a simple hotel / hostel on the edge of the old town which we find easily. Once we climb the marble stairs to reception Jeronimo greets us and Y’s Portuguese finally starts to come out, just as well, me and Julie know not a single word at this point!
Our bags are thrown into the room on the top floor, a quick wash and we are off in the taxi called by Jeronimo to the opposite bank of the river to get a night time view of the city, we get an exciting high speed trip through winding back streets to drop from the cliff top to the river bank. I look at the view and let them argue about restaurants, I know when it is best to keep out of the way of two sisters. The choice was obvious but … we sit down at the rivers edge looking directly across to the old port with a huge arching newly restored bridge to the right and the old river boats which brought the port wine down river anchored in front of us. We are gastronomic tourists! I choose their famous tripe casserole and get some funny looks saying “are you sure?” Julie chooses a creamy dish with salt cod, the other local speciality which we have yet to find a good example of, Y chooses something with 3000 calories which she read about on the plane, we say we are full when offered a taste! The best salt cod ever and my dish was great too, the portions were more than generous. We had been the last to arrive at ten pm so got prompt service, at eleven pm we were drinking our coffee in short shirt sleeves and still quite warm, so much for cooler!
Another taxi called by the waiter had us back quickly and cheaply to the hotel where we all lay naked trying to cool down. This all sounds quite erotic but has become somehow quite normal, in fact after thirty years I don’t think Y even bothers to look closely any more and even though we have spent hours on the beach and I have been lying just a few feet away I don’t think she has really observed some significant modifications! Well it is so warm I shall have to sleep naked on top of the sheets for three nights. If she ever gets her nose out of the airport thriller she bought in Gerona perhaps she will notice!
Two and a half days to go, I don’t care what we do so will mostly tag along and enjoy the ride if they don’t just wander off and get lost, think taking two cats for a walk…