11 Dec to New Year’s eve. Workaway, skiing and housesitting!!

11 Dec to New Year’s eve. Workaway, skiing and housesitting!!

Friday 11th December

Today is French lesson day so we start early so we can squeeze in a dog walk before Odile arrives. Odile arrives and John shortly after. Sandy and Mike are off for a weekend break in Mirepoix. So whilst Daz has his lesson, I clean and tidy the tool shed next to our gite.

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Then I have my lesson and Daz tidies the storage tent in the garden.

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Everything is spic and span. After lunch we go into the forest to cut down more trees for firewood. It’s tough going for poor Daz because the chainsaw needs a new chain.

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We’re going out to Castelnau tonight to see a band, meet Odile and Steve and Queenie. The band is playing in a small bar in Castlenau which is packed; mostly by the English contingent although there is a small French group at the bar. With Odile are another couple, Diane and Fred, who renovate properties near Marciac. We also get chatting to Bernadette and Howard and Heather and Peter. Both couples want to hear about our adventures and we want to know about their decision to live in the midi Pyrenees. Both extend invitations to us, Bernadette and Howard live in Masseube and tell us to pop in anytime and Heather and Peter are off to their caravan in Spain after Xmas and tell us to pop in when we’re passing.

We’ve wanted to see Steve and Queenie’s house since we first met them so when they invite us back for a nightcap we accept. They bought a farmhouse with loads of farm buildings at a really great price but they’ve had so much work to do. They’ve still got a lot to do but the place is great. And they’ve got a puppy which is sooo cute. Odile is getting one from the same litter.

 

Saturday 12th December

The alarm goes off at 0730 and I go downstairs to deal with the dogs. Rushka, the oldest husky, has been sleeping indoors since it got colder but she has a weak bladder so we have to let her out early. Then I let all the huskies up into the paddock. Then I try to clean their kennel but it’s not easy because it’s still quite dark. Once everything is clean and tidy I bring the huskies back down to their kennel, so I can then take them to their cages in the van. This is all part of their routine. All is fine with Kael and Puskin but when I go to fetch the next 2, there’s a disaster. Hermione is ‘mathering’ Dixi and then before I know it Dixi and Taiga are out of the kennel. They streak off, still with Hermione on their heels, and I think they’re heading for their cages. But instead they run past the van to the bottom of the garden, straight over the electric fence into the chicken enclosure. By the time I arrive two chickens are already dead and Dixi is chasing a third. I’ve been yelling for Darren but to no avail and it’s too late anyway. I get Taiga and take her to her cage and then find Dixi on the lane tearing into the third chicken. Shit, what a disaster. I know this is terrible; 3 hens are dead but thank God all the dogs are still in my possession!! I thought Dixi was going to do a runner. Back at the house I take Daz a cup of tea. He’s slept through ‘chickengate’ and thinks I’m pulling his leg when I tell him.

Today we have a tour planned recommended in a tourist guide. We head off to Capvern les Bains, a spa town which is mostly shut and then onto Mauvezin castle, also shut but with incredible views.

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From here we head to Bonnemazon and the Cistercian abbey, yep also shut and then to Bagnères de Bigorre which is really busy with a large bustling market. We wander round and find an indoor market with cheese, fish, meat and vegetable stalls. There’s a corner that seems especially busy, everyone stood around eating and drinking and we realise there’s a stall that has fish tapas so we have lunch there.

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There’s so much nice food to chose from, including oysters, scallops in their shells but we finally settle for a plate of fishy tapas and a plate of calamari. Yummy. We even get to listen to a famous local choir, the Chanteurs of Montagne who are having a Christmas lunch in the hall, they are fab. We decide to head off, we’ve only done a tiny fraction of the route but realise that time is against us since we need to get back for the dogs. So instead we decide to explore a bit more of the town and then end up back in the indoor market enjoying a glass of red wine whilst practising our French on David, a pissed-up French electrician who decides he wants to chat to us and introduce us to all his mates. A fun afternoon and then it’s time to head home.

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Sunday 13th December

We’ve got a busy day planned so Daz is out doing the dogs before the alarm goes off. We need to do the dog chores, take all our stuff and bed linen back to the gite, tidy the house and feed the chickens. It’s fast and furious and then we head to Marciac, where there’s a Christmas market, stopping off en route to see Debbie and Tim. Unfortunately Tim’s already gone out but we have a cup of tea with Debbie, apologies Debbie if you read this for catching you in your dressing gown!! Then, next stop Marciac. In the summer this is the venue for a 2 week annual jazz festival that attracts thousands!

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There are stalls all round the square and there are plenty of people enjoying the beautifully crafted wares for sale. Of course we don’t buy, just window shop and we’re just perusing an estate agent’s window, when an English voice says ‘Don’t buy here!’ – it’s Fred and Diane who we met on Friday. They’re meeting Odile here but as usual she’s late. We all go for a beer on the edge of the square and have a chat… well we try to, but a small band of musicians with drums and horns and tubas start up as soon as we sit down and we have to shout to be heard!

From Marciac we head to another Xmas market in Masseube. It’s fairly tame after Marciac but we also want to visit Bernadette and Howard. We follow their directions and we think the house we’re looking at can’t be it, it’s a huge town house in the Basque style. But it is theirs. We have tea and cake and enjoy a guided tour and learn why they sold a huge house that they built new at a financial loss to move into Masseube. Daz and I think that after our cycling adventure we might settle abroad. But we need to establish our priorities and what house, country, lifestyle might suit us most. So whenever we meet English here we try and establish what sort of lifestyle they have. All these beautiful large houses in the country are fabulous but they are so isolated and just going out for a meal, a pub or a supermarket entails a fairly considerable drive!!!

After a lovely visit we have to head home for the dogs. I worry all the way back – will Sandy and Mike be home because I still need to break the news of ‘chickengate’ – Daz has said he’ll carry the can which whilst being incredibly spineless on my part is so tempting!! They’ve been absolutely fabulous to work for and have been so generous, allowing us to use their van when we have our days off, I really hope they don’t take my news too badly.

 

Monday 14th December

Today we start the day with a dog walk and then it’s back into the woods to chop up more wood for firewood. Daz changes the chain on the chainsaw and it’s cutting much better. We do about 5 trailer loads of wood and then pack up.

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We’re off skiing tomorrow and Queenie and Steve have kindly offered to lend us their spare car (a 26 year old fiat panda!) which they have for people staying.

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What a great offer and it means we don’t have to deal with what was going to be a torturous journey; lift from Mike to Lannemezan, train to Tarbes, bus to Bagnères de Bigorre and a hitch or taxi to La Mongie.

 

Tuesday 15th December

It’s an early start this morning. By 8.30 the car is packed and we’re on our way. We arrive at La Mongie about 10ish but the last 40 minutes have been really stressful for Daz because he wasn’t convinced the car would make it – but it did, mostly in second gear. We thought we knew where our apartment was but instead discovered it was a supermarket. However, we asked directions and finally found the building but then couldn’t find reception. We wandered around following signs hoping to find some signs of life and found a lady who pointed us to the building next door. At last we were in the right place.

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The caretaker took us to our apartment – a tiny space which sleeps 4 – I wouldn’t want to be sharing this space with 3 others! Once unpacked we drove back into the village to look at prices of ski passes. We decide we’ll get the 4 hour pass today and with that decision made we go off to hire equipment. And then we’re out on the slopes, skiing. I’ve never skied with Daz and we have great fun, as we’re well matched . There hasn’t been any snow here since November and some of the lower pistes are suffering from heavy use and some are closed ( only 70% of the slopes are open), but there’s more than enough pistes open for us to enjoy swishing down the slopes.

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Wednesday 16th December

We’re on the slopes for 9.15 but overnight after the pistebashers have done their work it feels like we’re skiing on corrugated ice so we head up to the sunny slopes and ski fast and furious on blues and reds until 12.30. We head down the slopes to the town because I want to go up the ‘Pic du Midi’, a gondola to the highest most peak but our ski pass won’t let us on. We need another ticket; €36 each on top of the ticket we’ve already bought… daylight robbery!!

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Instead we go to lunch. I have a pizza and Daz the menu of the day – confit duck. I decide my ski boots are too painful to ski this afternoon so head for the apartment. Daz skies. He finishes about 3pm but within seconds of returning home, he’s crippled by ‘delhi belly!’. Thank God he stopped skiing when he did. For the next 5 hours, he makes panicked runs to the toilet and finally there’s a reprieve when the imodium kicks in. But he still feels terrible, with severe stomach pain.

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Thursday 17th December

Daz has had a really rough night; unable to sleep with the stomach pain. He’s in so much pain he can’t find a comfortable position so I give him some painkillers hoping this might improve matters. Poor Daz – I’ve never seen symptoms like these and I’m wondering if we need a doctor. We think it was probably yesterday’s lunch that’s made him this ill. We certainly won’t be skiing today. Instead we have a quiet morning and head into town for a late lunch. Well… all Daz has is half a beer and some chips but he’s still getting cramps and he’s still feeling rough. So we think it’s probably safer all round if we head back to the apartment but first we visit the pharmacist and she recommends something for the cramps and some sort of antiseptic for the stomach which we hope will kill off whatever bug is causing the problem (the young girl in the pharmacy had to get her French/English translation book out, but Daz’s gestures and miming seem to get the idea over!!).

 

Friday 18th December

Daz is feeling much better but he’s still not 100% so we decide skiing probably isn’t the best option. So we clean our apartment and hand it back; return our ski gear and head back down the mountain. So we’ve been in La Mongie 3 days and we think even if all the pistes were in good condition and open, there’s only enough skiing to keep us entertained for 2-3 days. A full day’s ski pass is €41 pp (reduced because all the pistes weren’t open) and 3 day kit hire was €57 each. We’re really glad we came up here; it’s not the Alps but if we were to seriously consider living in the Midi Pyrenees, then it’s another tick in the box for us.

So goodbye La Mongie and first stop Bagnères de Bigorre for a coffee. Then Daz decides he needs a haircut so we get that done. Next stop Lourdes.

Lourdes is a small market town lying in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It is part of the Hautes-Pyrénées department in the Midi-Pyrénées region in south-western France. Prior to the apparitions of the Heavenly Mother in 1858, the most prominent feature of the town was the fortified castle that rises up from a rocky escarpment at its centre. In 1858 Lourdes rose to prominence in France and abroad due to the Marian apparitions seen by the peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous, who was later canonized. Shortly thereafter the city became one of the world’s most important sites of pilgrimage and religious tourism. Today Lourdes hosts around six million visitors every year from all corners of the world. This constant stream of pilgrims and tourists transformed quiet Lourdes into the second most important center of tourism in France, second only to Paris, and the third most important site of international Catholic pilgrimage after Rome and the Holy Land. As of 2011, of French cities only Paris had more hotel capacity

The Virgin Mary appeared to Marie-Bernadette Soubirous on a total of eighteen occasions at Lourdes. Lourdes has become a major place of Roman Catholic pilgrimage and of miraculous healings. The 150th Jubilee of the first apparition took place on 11 February 2008 with an outdoor Mass attended by approximately 45,000 pilgrims.

Today Lourdes has a population of around 15,000, but it is able to take in some 5,000,000 pilgrims and tourists every season. With about 270 hotels, Lourdes has the second greatest number of hotels per square kilometre in France after Paris.

In the evening of February 11, 1858, a young Roman Catholic girl, Bernadette, went to fetch some firewood with her sister and another companion when a Lady who was indescribably beautiful appeared to her at the Massabielle grotto. Although the Lady did not tell Bernadette her name when asked at first, she told her to return to the grotto. On subsequent visits, the Lady revealed herself to be the “Immaculate Conception” (Que soy era Immaculada Concepciou). This was a reference to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception which had been defined only four years earlier in 1854 by Pope Pius IX, stating that the Virgin Mary herself had been conceived without sin. Bernadette, having only a rudimentary knowledge of the Catholic faith, did not understand what this meant but she reported it to her parish priest, Father Peyremale. He, though initially very skeptical of Bernadette’s claims, became convinced when he heard this because he knew the young girl had no knowledge of the doctrine. The Lady also told Bernadette to dig in the ground at a certain spot and to drink from the small spring of water that began to bubble up. Almost immediately cures were reported from drinking the water. And yet the water has been shown through repeated testing to not have any special curative properties. Today thousand of gallons of water gush from the source of the spring, and pilgrims are able to bathe in it. Countless miracle cures have been documented there, from the healing of nervous disorders and cancers to cases of paralysis and even of blindness. “The estimate that about 4000 cures have been obtained at Lourdes within the first fifty years of the pilgimmage is undoubtedly considerably less than the actual number.” During the Apparitions, Bernadette Soubirous prayed the Rosary. Jean-Paul II has written : “The Rosary of the Virgin Mary is a prayer with great significance, destinated to bring fruits of holiness”.

 

The château fort de Lourdes is a historic castle located in Lourdes in the Hautes-Pyrénées département of France. It is strategically placed at the entrance to the seven valleys of the Lavedan. Besieged in 778 by Charlemagne, it became the residence of the Counts of Bigorre in the 11th and 12th centuries. In the 13th century, it passed into the possession of the Counts of Champagne, part of the kingdom of Navarre before coming under the crown of France under Philippe le Bel. It was ceded to the English by the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360, before returning to France at the start of the 15th century after two sieges. In the 17th century, the castle became a royal prison, and a state prison after the French Revolution, continuing in this role until the start of the 20th century when it became the Pyrenean Museum (Musée Pyrénéen) (1921) which it remains.

 

This place gets 5 million visitors a year which explains why most buildings are hotels or restaurants but at this time of year it is really quiet. We get a bite to eat (and sickly Darren decides this is the time to try ‘steak tartare’ – UNBELIEVABLE!) and then walk down over the river to the Basilica and Eglise.

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Also here is the statue of the… normally you wouldn’t be able to move for religious tourists who bathe their ailing areas with the holy water; or it’s possible to fill a bottle with holy water to drink; or there is a private bathing area if you wish to be immersed in holy water.

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But as it’ s winter there are just a few old people washing themselves… we do see one woman cupping water in her hands and rubbing it on her husbands back, and it’s fun to watch him jumping at the touch of the cold water !! I get some and rub it on Daz, some on his belly in the hope of it getting better and some on his head … you never know, it might seep into his brain!!!

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We also visit the hillside fortress that sits in the middle of town. This time we really are the only visitors, and it’s awesome. The views all around are outstanding, and the history is interesting too.

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Finally we decide to head back, but then we notice the route home will take us near Tarbes so we decide to have a look. It’s quite a big town, and by the time we get there the Christmas lights are all on, and we even find a nice Christmas market with icerink and vin chaud (hot gluhwein). We stay a while and watch two professional looking skaters going through a couple of routines… at one point the lithe young girl is balanced upon the male skaters head, and then in another he throws her over his head and she performs a somersault… you don’t see that at the Olympics!!

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Saturday 19th December

Only 3 days left of this workaway and Sandy wants all the dogs walked so we do that first thing.

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Then we set about in a determined fashion tochop, split and pile all the wood we brought in from the woods. Surprisingly we get it all done; both Daz and I expected it to take a couple of days.

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Hopefully there’s enough to last them this winter. Then we head off to return the ‘heroic little Fiat Panda’ to Queenie. Unfortunately they’re not in but we leave a little gift to thank them for their generosity. Without the car and with Daz being so poorly, I think our 4 days away would’ve been completely ruined but having the car meant we could go a-visiting!!

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Sunday 20th December

Today is our penultimate working day here and we take the dogs out for a walk. We stroll up our usual path whilst Daz whispers sweet nothings to Kael. We are so fortunate that every morning we walk the dogs in the most glorious surroundings with the sun shining. Having dry and sunny weather makes such a difference to one’s outlook and also impacts so much on plans. In the UK it’s difficult to plan any outdoor activity because there’s a good chance inclement weather will ruin the plan.

Mike tells us that they want to visit Simorre market and if we’d like to go we can have lunch together. Good plan and before this excursion we need to get some work done.

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Mike is still desperate to get the porch finished and the replacement parts that were needed arrived whilst we were away. So Daz helps Mike and I rake and tidy the drive of leaves. Every so often I go over and give Daz a hand to move and wash the glass panels or to lift them into place. Then it’s Xmas market time and off we go to Simorre. But it’s a bit of a ‘hippy’ fest and not really very exciting or impressive. Mike and Sandy offer to get out lunch but it looks really unappetising, filet of saetin, potatoes and mushroom sauce and whatever the vegetarian filet is, Mike says it’s as tasty as his shoes leather. Ummm sounds yummy – not! But at least Sandy has found a Xmas tree that suits her exacting standards.

Back at the house Daz and I have a quick bite to eat and then resume our chores. By the end of the day we have 3 of the glass panels in the porch completed (we couldn’t do more because Mike ran out of flashing) and the drive and terrace are both swept and tidied for Mike and Sandy’s Xmas day guests

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Meanwhile Daz seems mostly recovered from his bout of Delhi-belly although he’s still taking the antiseptic tablets, hoping to wipe out whatever bug is in his stomach causing all this unpleasantness. However despite the improvement in his health, his main obsession is his failure to ‘have a poo!’. If i’d been as ill as him i’d just be relieved I was feeling better. But not Daz – clearly in his world he’s not really better until his ‘toilet habits’ return to normal. And so far it’s been 4 days without a ‘movement’!

 

Monday 21st December

Our final day with Mike and Sandy. First job is to put the glass into section 4 of the porch roof and then Mike will nip off to get more flashing and we’ll walk the dogs. When we get back from walking Rushka, Kael and Taiga, we find Mike is already back and is putting the flashing on. Unfortunately he has now realised he’s run out of screws for the top caps. Bugger! Sandy has noticed some shrubs she’d like pruning; all pretty straightforward. However, she’d also like the climbing roses on the ‘tunnel trellis’ that covers the steps down to the pool to be pruned but how to get to them is the question?

I prune, Daz helps Mike and occasionally I’m called in to assist with glass moving. Finally the 5th and final section of the porch roof is done. Well not completely finished but Mike will manage all the finishing touches himself. So Daz gets out the chainsaw and returns to the tree stumps left in the garden from the tree cutting exercise. Sandy doesn’t want them growing shoots etc and one method is to cut the stump to ground level, cut the surface of the stump and pour on various liquids; including diesel, salt solution or copper sulphate ( but the options are extensive). The solution should soak into the cuts made and down into the roots. Finally cover the stump with soil thus blocking out sunlight – result expected: dead stump ( God knows how long that takes). But there are a lot of stumps but Daz gives it his best shot. Meanwhile I’ve pruned the easy shrubs and i’m using steps ladders and ladders to try and prune the ‘tunnel trellis’. I’m not keen on ladders so Daz has to assist with the final phase and whilst it’s not perfect, it’s much closer to Sandy’s ideal than when we started

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I clear away the mess I’ve made whilst Daz checks the tandem and does a spoke ‘tuning’ adjustment. Finally we take Dixi and Pushkin for a walk and we’re done for the day. Just a bit of packing to do and then Sandy and Mike are taking us out for dinner (to the Tarragon in Castlenau).

Sorry forgot to mention today’s big event: Daz has had a poo and it all went well. Hopefully now everything will be back to normal and I won’t have to receive a daily update on his ‘toilet situation’!

 

PS

We’ve just been out for a lovely meal and Mike and Sandy gave us a beautiful present made on their laser cutter; a decoration of a couple riding a tandem and a plaque with a Good Luck message engraved on it – fabulous.

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We’ve had the most fantastic 6 weeks. We’ve really enjoyed working for M&S who told us what jobs they wanted doing and then left us to get on with it, and manage the jobs as we saw fit. The meals they provided were excellent and they let us borrow their van so we managed to see far more of the midi pyrenees than if we’d only had the bike and public transport. Their house and its surroundings are idyllic; their huskies and griffon are fun to look after and the weather has been beautiful.

 

Tuesday 22nd December

Today we’re up, packed and the gite cleaned and ready to hit the road by 9am.

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There’s been a frost overnight and we’re both freezing on the bike but we think we’ll soon warm up. Our first stop is L’isle en Dodon for coffee. This is a really pretty village and a local man sees our bike and we have a chat about our travels.

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He recommends a different route to the one we had intended to Samatan. So we follow his advice (all in French!!) and make good progress to Samatan where we stop for lunch. We’re over half way and so far it’s been remarkably easy; surprising after 6 weeks without using the bike. But things change. After Samatan we start gaining height and now there’s a wind. By L’isle Jourdain we’re starting to tire badly. Another stop and a survey of the local estate agents. Prices have risen dramatically since our first today. In L’isle en Dodon there’s a reasonable selection around 50,000€. Now it’s closer to 200,000€ because we’re closer to Toulouse.

We’re ready for our last push. And then we’ve made it. We’re in Encausse with Michele, Andy and their son Joe. They’ve got 2 dogs, Coco and Muppet, a cat and some chickens. They’ll be leaving for Xmas in the UK on Xmas eve and we’ll be looking after the house and animals. Daz is in heaven. There’s English TV so he can barely take his eyes off the TV screen.

 

Wednesday 23rd December

A lovely lazy day. It’s odd to have so little to do but very restful. We take a drive to the local market at the nearest village, Cadours.

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It’s quite busy and we sit and have a coffee and indulge in some ‘people watching’. Back at the house we take the dogs for a little walk. Muppet doesn’t need to be kept on the lead once we’re off the road and wants to play ‘fetch’ but Coco has to be on the lead the whole time!

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Thursday 24th December

It’s Xmas eve! We go for a walk in a large forest nearby where Michelle and Andy have placed a geocache trail, and along with the dogs we have a lovely walk.

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Some of the caches are quite adventurous and mean Daz has to climb trees for clues to the next coordinates… good job in another life Daz was a trained monkey!!

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Unfortunately one of the dogs, Muppet, finds some fox poo, and rolls all over it and for the last half of the walk we have to dodge the stinking smelly dog everytime it comes near!! Driving home we have to have all the car windows open!! Whilst they clean up the dog me and Daz pop out to a local village where a large market is on and enjoy a coffee sitting in the sun. Later the family bid us farewell and we are left on our own as they fly back to the UK for the Xmas holiday.

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Friday 25th December.

Happy Christmas!! We get up and after taking the dogs for a walk have a nice relaxing day. Daz finds the petanque balls and we go and have a game on the local village court. We cook a roast chicken dinner and watch TV and walk the dogs again… a very quiet day!

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Saturday 26th December

Happy Boxing day! After walking the dogs we take a trip to Toulouse and see some of the sights.

This is a pre recce for when Brett and Kate arrive on the 30th. Toulouse looks very nice and it looks like there will be plenty of stuff to see and do. We particularly like the large indoor market where we sample a glass of wine and marvel at all the beautiful food on display.

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The French are out in force on this holiday, as unlike the UK everything is open. We walk about in the sunshine and enjoy people watching and window shopping!

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Sunday 27th December.

We take the dogs on another geocache walk around some local woodland and fields. Today it’s quite windy and chilly, even with the sun shining.

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Monday 28th December

A lazy day today. Just a couple of dog walks but we’re making excellent progress on Game of Thrones and our movie list.

 

Tuesday 29th December

We take the dogs out for another geocache walk. Today I finally saw the infamous processional caterpillar. There are trains of them crossing the road.

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The urticating hair of the caterpillar larvae cause harmful reactions in humans and other mammals. The species is notable for the behaviour of its caterpillars, which overwinter in tent-like nests high in pine trees, and which process through the woods in nose-to-tail columns, protected by their severely irritating hairs.

The larva is a major forest pest, living communally in large “tents”, usually in pine trees but occasionally in cedar or larch marching out at night in single file (hence the common name) to feed on the needles. There are often several such tents in a single tree. When they are ready to pupate, the larvae march in their usual fashion to the ground, where they disperse to pupate singly on or just below the surface.

The larvae should never be handled as the abundant hairs on their bodies cause extreme irritation (urticaria) to the skin. 5th stage larvae can eject hairs when threatened or stressed; the hairs, which have the form of harpoons, then penetrate and irritate all areas of exposed skin nearby with an urticating protein. Allergic reactions may follow in susceptible individuals on subsequent exposure to the hairs.

Wednesday 30th December

A disturbing night – BooBoo the cat loves sleeping in our room. Usually she just sleeps on our bed but sometimes she climbs up on to the wardrobe and sleeps in the holdall that’s up there. All very restful until she decides to jump down, directly onto Daz’s belly. A rude awakening for us all!!!

Another geocaching walk with the mutts. We don’t think Muppet likes geocaching – he gets bored waiting for us and starts barking and running around our feet. An impatient lad for sure.

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Kate and Brett are flying into Toulouse today and we’re off to pick them up. It’s great to see them both. We take them to our Airbnb apartment, which is lovely. Overlooking the river Garonne. We’ve brought most of out luggage too so that tomorrow we won’t have a fully laden bike. We leave them to it and head back to Encausse and the mutts.

 

Thursday 31st December

New Year’s Eve and unbelievable it’s raining. What bloody terrible timing. We need to clean the house and make sure the dogs are OK before we leave them ‘home alone’ for the afternoon. Our hosts aren’t due back until this evening. So Daz goes out for a very damp walk whilst I start cleaning (a chore I find particularly loathsome). It’s surprising how filthy the house has become in one week with just us and the dogs – but there’s dirty paw prints and fur balls everywhere. Daz comes back and now we’ve got 2 wet stinky dogs to add to the mix. Finally it’s all done and after another quick dog walk we’re off.

We cycle to L’Isle Jourdain and get the train to Toulouse. This is our second train trip with the bike and it’s super easy especially without our heavy panniers. We cycle to the apartment, just stopping at a boulangerie for a snack. We get chatting to a French guy and ask about Toulouse on New year’s eve. He recommends an Irish bar to see in the New Year – sounds like a super plan. At the apartment, a quick shower and we’re ready to go. We need some shopping for New year’s day and then we get the city bikes and cycle into town. Unfortunately Kate and Brett have said that Toulouse seems mostly shut and this is confirmed when our first pub stop, an Irish bar, is shut. So we head for the pub that the guy earlier recommended but we do get sidetracked by a pub with a happy hour but even this bar is closing at 8pm. So we stay until closing time and then resume the search for the Irish bar – it’s only shut! What a nightmare. So we head for the Capitol building – there’s a huge square and here at last the bars and restaurants are open. We enjoy a couple of beers and then decide to head home for cards and wine but en route we see a pub, ‘George and the dragon’ – surely a good omen. But New Year approaches and there’s no count down, in fact there’s no acknowledgement of the new year. It comes and goes and nothing happens. Disappointing. Clearly the French aren’t interested in the New Year

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