Saturday, 26 October 2013

Roman Holiday

The two of us at the Colesseum
We have just taken some “time out” to have a holiday for ourselves - not very easy to find the time, when you rent out holiday accommodation yourself. We decided to get away from it all and off we went, to Rome. Neither of us had ever been there and after our experience with the horrible people we met when we had a holiday in Florence a number of years ago, it has taken me some courage to go back to Italy, but well, Rome is Rome and it has to be seen doesn't it?

So we booked our flight and flew from Lyon to the Eternal City.  It was fantastic.

Our stay started with the excitement of actually seeing the Pope and not on some distant balcony either, he was zipping round St Peter’s Square on a modern day Ben Hur chariot. We had no idea he would be there, which made it all the more fun.

Franky on his chariot
We “did” all the sights you could imagine, the Colosseum, the Forums, Palatine Hill, St Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine chapel and of course the Mouth of Truth, not that I queued up to get my photo taken - superstitious moi? We walked our socks off, from one end of town to the other, from the Spanish Steps to St Paul Outside the Walls, from the Trivi fountain to Trastevere. Everything was wonderful, the weather, the city, the food and the people.

The Mouth of Truth, without my hand in it!
We were totally exhausted at the end of each day as we wended our weary way back to the flat we had rented. Fortunately we were near some super little restaurants, serving great Italian food, so we didn’t have too far to go out in the evening.

I may not have thrown a coin in the Trevi fountain, but you never know, maybe we will go back one day.

For information on our holiday accommodation about an hour's flight from Rome click here.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Fighting the anarchists

The biggest most onerous responsibility of being the head of the “commission des hébergeurs, commerçants et artisans d’art” committee, for the local tourist office, is running the committee meetings, which can best be described as a very French, anarchistic get-together.

My first experience of this type of approach to holding a meeting, left me shell-shocked. The noise, the chatter, the seemingly endless discussion of one subject and the dismissal of others for no apparent reason, the constant jumping from one subject to another and then back again, agenda what’s that? Sure we have a list of items to be discussed, but don’t let that confuse you or hold back the flow, it is only written for… what’s it for anyway?

Ok I’ll admit it, I didn’t really understand what job I was taking on when I started. Basically I knew we organise the yearly trip to visit various establishments of our members (B&Bs, gîtes, artisan’s studios etc), we also organise the welcome drinks for the tourists in July and August, as well as organising a show of local arts and crafts. Back in The Netherlands, I ran an engineering department of more than a hundred burly men and a budget of millions, how difficult could a little job like this be? I hadn’t bargained on the French way of doing things.

I have struggled to keep the committee meetings on track and to guide them to a meaningful conclusion. Having watched others, I notice that they cope very badly too, so at least I am not alone. But the other day I was at a meeting where one woman seemed to have her mob relatively under control. Apart from being able to speak French better than me, what did she do that was different? Here’s the secret - she bribed them all with chocolate. Brilliant! So this week, in an attempt to get things running more smoothly than usual, I baked some biscuits and do you know what? It worked! They were too busy eating to notice that I was sticking to the agenda and we were finished on time as well. It looks like that’s how it going to be from now on.

For those interested, I made some walnut and raisin cookies - using local ingredients of course - and very nice they were too.

Walnut and raisin cookies

8 oz softened butter
6oz soft brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
6.5oz flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3.5 oz raisins
2oz chopped walnuts

Pre-heat the oven to 190 Celsius.
Cream the butter and brown sugar. Then add the egg and vanilla and mix together thoroughly. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Then add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients whilst mixing. Stirred in the raisins and walnuts.

Drop teaspoon-fulls of the dough on to an oven sheet lined with baking paper, make sure the blobs are at least a couple of inches apart otherwise they will all merge into one great big blob. Bake for about 10 minutes until brown at the edges and cooked right through. Leave them on the sheet to cool for a few minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

For holiday accommodation in walnut country click here.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Walk through the vineyards

Vous êtes ici
This Sunday will see the annual Cormatin Randonnée. Unfortunately due to other commitments, we will miss it this year, but it did get me thinking of the last organised walk we went on. Back at the beginning of July, we took part in the a “balade gourmand” in Ladoix, a wine village not far from Beaune.

Maybe the intention of the walkers in Ladoix is not quite the same as those in Cormatin as the object is not necessarily to go for a walk, it is more about tasting the grand crus, premier crus and other exceptional wines that make this area famous.

Charcuterie and premier cru
The organisation is also on a different scale, Cormatin will order about 50 baguettes and will use up about a dozen or so bottles of wine whilst in Ladoix, to feed the three and a half thousand walkers, they got through 1700 baguettes and 3000 bottles of wine!

So what was it all about? Basically a course of about 5 – 6 km is set out amongst the vines starting and ending in Ladoix. After being issued with your straw hat and glass carrying pounch, you move from one feeding and drinking post to the next eating courses of a meal and tasting the wines appropriate to that dish.

Cheese and grand cru
We started with aperitifs of gougères and kir in the village and then moved on to the first course which was a plate of cold meats and pâtés accompanied by white wines. The fish dish was next (I managed to get a plate of salad - it pays to have a cute foreign accent at these events) with some quite superb white wines. Then on to the main course, boeuf bourginon and rôstis and a number of very good red wines. On the way to our cheese course, there was pink champagne - now what is that doing in Burgundy? we all wondered.

To accompany the cheese we had some of the best red wines of the day, then on to dessert and crément and coffee. What a marathon, it was a good job we went by bus! The trick is to just taste the wine, pace yourself and choose which wines to taste carefully - if you tried them all you’d be legless before the main course. To help, you are given a little book at the start of the walk listing all the wines. Next year I will study the book beforehand and target the right pourers, if you just queue up not knowing what you are doing, you can miss out on some beauties.

So as autumn sets in, I can look back on a beautiful, sunny day in the vineyards of Burgundy, doing what the French do best. What better way to spend a summer Sunday could there possibly be?
Straw hats in the vineyard

For information about our holiday accommodation in Burgundy, not very far from some excellent vineyards click here.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

We just popped into the Taizé shop and what did we find?

Vases in Taizé
I love the shop in Taizé, full of their beautiful pottery. Having said that, now is not actually a very good time to go, the stocks are low and the queues can be long, but I can’t resist a look every now and then.

I saw this stand of lovely vases, such beautiful glazes and designs. A lovely addition to any living room I would have thought.

But it was the pictures on the wall at the end of the room that caught my eye.

At the moment there is an exhibition of Brother Stephen’s work which is entitled quite simply “Circle Colours”. Brother Stephen trained as an artist before he joined the community back in the early ‘80s and since joining the brothers, he has concentrated on enamelwork and decorations for the church and external Taizé events.

His work on display in this special exhibition, is inspired by a passage from the bible - Ecclesiastes (3:11):
“God has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” 
Much like a circle, which is “a figure of unity, wholeness, infinity. Without beginning or end, without any side or angle.” I find it an interesting and original interpretation of a piece of scripture, but even if you don’t go along with that, it is certainly a fascinating set of pictures.

Some of Brother Stephen's circles

For accommodation near Taizé click here.
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