Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Apple Surplus

We started a new compost pile for apples this year. Since I've been putting grass clippings into the normal compost pile, it's filled up rather fast. But not to worry, the apples decompose very quickly and by spring they'll be ready to go into the garden soil.

A whole lotta apples.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Heading Home

So our trip the Auvergne, while short, was a big success and lots of fun. On our way home, we drove across the valley of the Dordogne River. As we approached from the southeast, we could see the valley filled with fog.
Le Pont de St.-Projet on the Dordogne River.
But just as we descended toward the river, the fog burned off, almost in seconds, and we could see where we were. We crossed an artificial lake at a point just upstream of the Barrage de l'Aigle (Eagle Dam). The little suspension bridge was beautiful, and there were small tunnels on either end that we had to drive through.
A warning sign.
Of course, we couldn't resist getting out to take pictures. The sign above, posted by EDF (Electricité de France) says:
Attention. Danger. EDF Artificial Lake Eagle Dam IT IS DANGEROUS to venture into this riverbed or on its islands and sand banks, the water level can rise quickly and at any time due to the functioning of the hydro-electric power plants.
This sign wasn't kidding. The road surface was a rough mess.
Then we climbed back out of the valley and headed north to Aubusson, where we had lunch in a little pizzeria before finishing the trip back home. Callie was glad to find we hadn't left home for good.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ah, La Vache !

That could be loosely translated as "holy cow!" It's a phrase you hear a lot in France when someone is expressing surprise. I don't know where it comes from, and I wonder if it's not just a euphemism for something stronger.

A lone Montbéliarde calf up on the Puy Mary.

At any rate, we saw quite a number of vaches during our wanderings in the Auvergne. They were simply everywhere, grazing. As Ken described on his blog, there are two principal varieties of cattle in this region, the Salers and the Montbéliarde.

A Salers cow with its brass bell.

The Montbéliarde is a reddish-brown and white cow (the head is always white) that originated in the northeastern mountains of France and has since been raised in many other regions, including the Massif Central. The Montbéliarde is primarily a dairy cow.

The milking in progress.

The Salers cow is almost mahogany in color and has existed in the Cantal region for as long as anyone can remember. It's used both for its milk (cow) and meat (steers and calves) -- Salers beef is well regarded in France.

The farmers working the herd.

The cattle in this region move around from pasture to pasture, up and down mountainsides, looking for fresh grass to eat. They are almost always adorned with big brass cowbells that clang loudly when they walk. It's quite something to hear.

Veal. On the hoof.

Many cheese producers milk their cows out in the pasture, rather than bringing them into a barn for milking. The milking is done twice a day, morning and evening. We got to see an evening milking (really late afternoon). It was interesting to watch the farmers strap the milking machines onto the cows. They also tied a calf to each cow's leg to stimulate milk flow.

A white calf. Get a load of those eyelashes!

After the cow was milked, the milk was poured into a large vat and the calf was allowed to suckle. It seemed to me that there were about five cows being milked at any one time.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Trimming The Laurier Sauce

We have a big bay laurel tree in the back corner of our yard. It's called laurier sauce in French, which means that it's edible bay leaves. The big hedge is another variety of laurier, but not edible.

The bay laurel tree before I started trimming.

So we have an endless supply of the most tasty bay leaves I've ever had. We save a good amount of the trimmings each year and dry some for cooking. The rest all get burned. What a shame, because the value of these leaves in the supermarket (especially in the US) is incredible; they are so expensive. And we burn most of ours.

Ken took this one. You can see that the tree is about 3 Walts tall.

All that notwithstanding, I still have to trim the tree each year. And it's big. I actually bought a new ladder a few years ago to help me get to the high parts, but it turns out it's not quite big enough. I spent a couple hours on Thursday teetering up on the ladder trimming this tree. I used my hedge trimmer, of course, but also a pair of loppers for the thicker branches.

Bay laurel with a mohawk!

The most difficult part, other than the top, is a result of the tree's position inside the angle of the larger hedge. I have a real hard time getting the ladder in there to get to the upper branches. It's a real pain to maneuver back there. I don't know how they did it before. I always think that I should just cut the tree down about five feet, but I never end up doing it.

Almost done. I was tired and decided I shouldn't be on the ladder any more.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

More From The Puy Mary

The Puy Mary is the second highest of the extinct volcanoes in the Massif Central at 1,783 meters (about 5,850 feet). The highest is the nearby Puy de Sancy at 1,886 meters (6,188 feet). On the day we were there, the fog and clouds blocked our view of the other peaks.

On our way up the southwestern flank of the mountain.

You can drive nearly to the summit. The highest you can get in your car is the pass called the Pas de Peyrol at 1,589 meters (5,213 feet). There's a small parking area there, and an interpretive center, souvenir shop, and a small restaurant. From there you can walk up a staircase to the actual peak. We didn't; there was nothing to see.

Interesting thistle-like plants.

I read that this is the highest mountain pass that cars can reach in continental France. It's a favorite route of the Tour de France bicycle race. The race's route has come over the Pas de Peyrol eight times, with the last being in 2008. I'll bet the weather is better in July than it is in September.

Remnants from a recent bike race. It says that the pass is in 2 kilometers. Ouf!

A bit down from the pass we saw what's called a gîte d'étape, a small cabin maintained by the park for hikers to rest in or even spend the night. The building was pretty, and we could see that a wood fire was burning inside. I'm sure it's a sight for sore eyes (and feet) after a long hike up the mountain side.

The gîte d'étape. I don't know why the drawing is backwards. Maybe it's the house that's backwards.

After we crossed the pass, we headed back down the mountain's northern flank toward a valley where we were hoping to see some cheese being made. Well, after a few fits and starts, we found a place where we could watch the cows being milked, but no cheese making. You can read all about that on Ken's blog.

The valley called Cheylade.

The valley to the north was clear, and the sun was shining brightly down on the green valley floor. It was very inviting and we enjoyed our ride through the valley on our way to see the milking. But the day was getting rather long at this point and we were about two hours from the house, so we headed for home.

Ken walks out for a better view.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Cows On The Puy Mary

As we climbed up into the fog and clouds that enshrouded the Puy Mary, we could still see the rather steep slopes of the mountain side and the deep ravines and valleys carved by watercourses below us.

The dark spots on the hillside are cows.

On just about every hillside we also saw cows. Many cows. For big animals, they were quite adept at getting up and down the steep terrain, seeking out the choicest patches of grass to munch on.

Cows, climbing ever higher.

And always we could hear, whether close by or far in the distance, the clanging of cowbells. I have never heard so many cow bells in my life than I did during those few days in the Auvergne.

Cheese-making, step one: eat grass.

We stopped the car at a couple points before reaching the summit to take in the views. The clouds were moving rather quickly and the view was always changing, and often it would just disappear into cold whiteness.

A lone cow atop a ridge.

But we could still hear the bells.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hedge Trimming Update

We interrupt the Auvergne series to bring you an up-to-the-minute report on the annual fall hedge trimming process. We knew you'd want to know. I've started, in earnest, to attack the hedge and now have made some real measurable progress.

My hedge trimmer. It's nuclear powered. Electric, that is.

This section of the hedge didn't get trimmed last year. You see, I needed to work on another section of the hedge on the other end of the yard that had not been trimmed in over a year. So when it was time to give up, this section didn't get done.

The ladder that I need to get to the top of the hedge.

As you can see, it grew rather tall. First I did the inside vertical surface and the exterior vertical surface. The latter is a pain in the butt because it's up against the neighbor's fence, and all sorts of thorny and other vines grow over into the hedge. And there's not much room to maneuver back there.

A spliced photo of my progress so far. You can't see the back.

I then made some progress on the top, cutting the height down by nearly two feet in places. There is still some growth sticking up in the back at this point. I will need to get the ladder behind the hedge, between it and the fence, to slice off those bits since I can't reach them from inside the yard. That part is fun, I can assure you.

And yet another view. Aren't you glad you don't have to do this?

But the good news is that I've got momentum going, the weather turned out good for a few days, and I was able to get through this first section pretty quickly.

Here's the finished job, at least on this section. That's our neighbor's house behind the hedge.

Next up is the back yard. I'll start on the inside vertical surface. That shouldn't be too hard because there's no ladder involved. Then I'll do the inside top surface, with the ladder. I'm waiting to do the road side last because the mayor told us that they would fill our ditch as soon as they had some fill. It'll be much easier to do if I don't have to bridge the ditch. We shall see.

Another look at the finished hedge. The front yard section.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Periodic Puppy Pics

Before we leave Tournemire, I want to share this cute photo I snapped at the castle. Ken was pointing up toward the towers and Callie was trying to see what he was pointing at. Was it a bird? A cat?

Look up there!

By the time I got the camera ready, I had to ask Ken to point again, so he did. And Callie looked up a second time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Anjony, Close Up

When we got to the château, Ken, Evelyn, and Linda were still back in town exploring the church, so Lewis, Callie, and I hung out for a while enjoying the views. Since there were no other people around, I let Callie off leash and she did a little exploring.

The original keep.

The original main entrance to the castle is in a private courtyard, so the tourist entrance is below and off to the side. We went into the tiny waiting room where the tours start and read the signs. The first tour of the day started at two p.m. It was around eleven-thirty when we read this. The tour lasted for an hour (or was it an hour and a half?), much more time than we wanted to spend on our limited visit.

View from below.

So we contented ourselves with just the exterior before heading back into town for lunch. In the meantime, we enjoyed the views from the castle of the valley below, the towers rising high above us, and the faint clang of cowbells in the distance.

A private entrance.

It wasn't long before our little group was reunited and we noticed that we were ready for lunch. We headed back to the Auberge de Tournemire just as it began to rain lightly. I put Callie in the car (the waitress said she was allergic to pet hair) and we settled in for a light lunch. Some of us had a crêpe, others a boudin, others the local potato specialty called truffade.

Going up.

Lunch was satisfying and not too filling and soon we were back on the road headed toward the peak of the Puy Mary, one of the highest of the local extinct volcanoes at 1,787 meters (5,862 feet). It was still foggy and misty and we didn't even realize we were on the mountain until we were close to the top.


Monday, September 21, 2009


After parking in the town's lot, we walked into Tournemire. It's a very common setup at these small towns in France: there are one or more parking lots, depending on the size of the tourist crowd, around the edges of the town to keep the traffic off the often narrow, one-way streets. This keeps the streets open and makes parking available for the people who live and work inside.

Walking through Tournemire.

The little lots often have a signboard with a map and sometimes they even have rest rooms. In Tournemire, there is only one lot, and the tourist office is there along with a little picnic area. It's all very civilized. Of course, we were not there in high season, and I'll bet there can be issues with crowding and lack of parking spaces.

The view from town into the valley below.

The town is quite picturesque, as many of these little towns are. All the buildings seem to be very well restored and/or maintained, with beautiful shutters, manicured flower beds, and the perfect cats and dogs lounging on the porches.

Someone spends a lot of time making this look nice.

It's not quite Disneyfied, because it's all real and people live and work in these buildings. But they do know how lucrative the tourist trade can be and they obviously try to make the town as attractive as they can. I'll bet it costs a small fortune to buy into one of these places, even though they're quite remote.

Typical window dressing.

We walked along the main street, with Callie, taking our time and taking pictures. The château is on the western end of town while the parking lot is on the eastern end. About halfway through, we noticed the small hotel/restaurant, l'Auberge de Tournemire, and made reservations to eat lunch there in about an hour's time.

A chimney cap to keep out snow and a finial.

By the time we reached the château, we had split into two groups: me and Lewis had Callie, and Ken, Evelyn, and Linda spent some time looking inside the town church, so they were lagging a bit behind.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Le Château D'Anjony

Very close to where we were staying in St.-Chamant is the tiny town of Tournemire and the Château d'Anjony, a sight that our friend CHM told us not to miss. On our second full day in Cantal we planned our day trip so that we would stop by the castle first thing.

Our little convoy of two stopped dangerously on a curve. There wasn't much other traffic.

We drove a bit east in our valley, then headed back west up the side of the mountain between us and the valley where Tournemire is situated. The roads were narrow, twisty, and wet as the morning was foggy and drizzly.

The castle in its valley.

All of a sudden we were surprised by a view of the valley and the château below us, so we pulled off the road a bit and got out to take pictures. It was a breathtaking view, but in a very soft and gentle way, if that makes any sense.

A close up of the château d'Anjony at Tournemire.

We made our way down into town and realized that we were not supposed to be driving in town, but should have parked in the lot outside of town and walked in. Which we subsequently did, but not after a little ride around the valley looking for a parking spot closer to the château. We failed and had to park in the lot. There were maybe one or two other cars there.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

La Cascade De Salins

Just south of Mauriac, on the way back to our rental house, we pulled into a parking lot on the side of the road to take in a view. The lot was next to a small picnic area that overlooked a beautiful valley, complete with cows grazing on green pastures.

La Cascade de Salins and le Viaduc de Salins.

Lewis noticed a sign about the place that indicated a nearby waterfall. We walked a short distance and were rewarded with this view, la Cascade de Salins and the viaduct that crosses the river upstream. According to my map, the viaduct is a rail line; we drove the road just below it where the houses are.

The valley of the Maronne River which eventually joins the Dordogne.

This picture is not of the valley next to the waterfall, but of a similar valley nearby, closer to Salers. I just thought I'd include it here as an example typical of the valleys in the area.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Le Château De Val

This impressive medieval (fifteenth century) construction once dominated a grand valley. Now the valley is a lake formed by a dam on the Dordogne River at a town called Bort-les-Orgues.

The castle and tour boat dock. The marina is out of the photo to the left.

We drove up to the château after a lunch of pizza and wine in Mauriac. Ken, Lewis, and I took Callie on a long walk around a little bay to get a view of the castle without the marina docks in front of it. It was a nice walk -- Callie loved it -- and we were rewarded with a great view.

Another angle. You can see two kids sitting on the rock at the bottom of the photo; they were swimming in the lake.

We didn't go inside nor did we take a boat ride on the lake. There were a few people around, including a busload of folks that boarded one of the tour boats for a cruise. We also spotted a couple of kids jumping off the rocks at the foot of the castle into the lake below. I'll bet that water was cold.

Another view with the lake. I removed the white satellite dish that you can still see in the middle photo.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Periodic Puppy Pics

Ok, so one more photo from Salers. This time, Callie and I were waiting for some friends to finish their stroll through a shopping street. Callie enjoyed watching the people and dogs walk by us.

Callie watches the people go by.

On Wednesday, Ken and I went to the train station to pick up Bill in NH, a frequent commenter on our blogs. We had a fun day starting with an impromptu wine tasting in a small town up on the Loire followed by a nice lunch in the same small town.

We took Bill to his hotel in St.-Aignan and after a brief rest the three of us, plus Callie, went to the Lapin Blanc for a beer. We were investigating the red beer that I blogged about in July. Turns out that it's a mixture of beer, limonade (a bubbly, sweet, lemon-flavored drink), and grenadine. We each had one. It wasn't bad, but it's likely to be the last one I'll ever have.

As we arrived at the café and sat at the last available table outside, we noticed a couple next to us watching intently. After a few seconds the women spoke to us: "Is that Callie the collie," she asked? I said yes, and she turned to her husband and said, "These are the guys!"

It turns out that Sylvia and Paul, an Australian couple from Sydney, are blog fans, too. While planning their trip to France, they decided to include a week in St.-Aignan after reading about it on our blogs. They had split their stay between a house that friends of ours renovated and sold which is now being rented out as a holiday home, and the gate house at the château, which has also been renovated as a holiday rental.

This is the first time we've been recognized on the street because of the blogs. Well, actually, it was Callie who was recognized. She's a celebrity! And we both felt a little like celebrities, too, if only for a few moments. Sylvia said she was a bit embarrassed and felt like a stalker, and we all had a good laugh and chatted for a few minutes before they were off.

After we finished our beers, we headed with Bill over to the pizzeria on the main square for a bite to eat. We were welcomed in grand fashion by Véronique, the owner and hostess. Since we have been going there for a few years, she recognizes us as local customers and always greets us with cheek kisses (les bises) and now she even tutoies us. The restaurant was completely full (we had stopped in earlier to reserve a table) and bustling, which kind of surprised me for a Wednesday night out of season.

So, this has been quite the week for us what with meals out, exotic cocktails, and meeting blog fans. We're glad you're out there! And Callie loves to give "pawtographs."