Europe 2012: Day 38, Bastille Day and Minerve

View of the village of Minerve perched on a high ridge in the wild landscape of the Causses, in the Languedoc-Rousillon region of Southwestern France.

July 14, 2012 (Bastille Day)

We woke up at 8:30am.   The bed was comfortable, the street was quiet except for the sound of birds chirping as they fly from one stone home to another on our alley.   The sun is out and the sky is blue!

I take a shower and dress in my coolest summer clothes.  If yesterday was any indication, it would be hot today.  My DH sends an email to our landlord in Oakland, CA – the wireless only allows for the connection of one device – we have three, so this is not good.    Our plan this morning is to stop by the local store and buy food – we want to cook some healthy meals!

Before leaving for the store, Barry’s partner Bridget stops by to say “Hi”.  Like Barry, she is also English. Being very nice, she asks how our first evening went.   We tell her.  She says, “Barry is not very good with directions.”   We have a nice chat and she offers to take us to the fireworks tonight.   We say “Yes, that would be wonderful!”    Things are looking up!

Today is Bastille Day – France’s version of the 4th of July.   The town’s loudspeakers are piping the French anthem and the local villagers all join in on a parade through the town as they wave the flag of France.   It was quite sweet actually.  I did not have my camera but then, it would have tipped everyone off that I was a tourist.   In a small village, I am unsure as to whether or not that is a good thing.

The store was open and we got the following items:

  • 2 cans of tomatoes
  • Package of pasta
  • A can of Duck Cassolet
  • 2 onions
  • A fist of garlic
  • Loaf of bread
  • A bottle of red wine
  • Black olives

In my last post, I promised to tell you about the house.  Following are a couple of pictures of the kitchen.

You enter the kitchen through the front door.  We have to kick the bottom of the door when we open it because the door sticks to the top stone step.   You take two steps down unto an uneven and dark stone floor.  The wooden table is nice but the chairs are cheap wood with barely a back rest.  They are very uncomfortable and if I were a toddler, I would fall through the back of the chair and crack my head open on the ugly stone floor.   The refrigerator is new and about the size of a water heater.   The sink is small but made from stainless steel.  The stove looks to be about forty years old – two electric burners, two gas burners, I think that is odd.   The walls are painted a nice French yellow but the artwork leaves a lot to be desired — old pictures and someone’s version of artwork.  A large window with lacy curtains facing the alley is the only source of light.  The rest of the furniture (shelves, a futon, and a flimsy light with a wicker shade) looks like it comes from a garage sale or someone’s attic.  But, the house is clean. I have seen worse but I am used to better.  In any case, I am unhappy with the look and feel of this place.  It is not “charming” to me.

Do you find this room to be charming? (Le Petit Reve,  Castelnau d’Aude, France)

Is this charming? Really, I want to know! (Le Petit Reve,  Castelnau d’Aude, France)

We decided to go to the village of Homps today to catch a riverboat cruise on the Canal du Midi – a man-made canal (complete with locks).   However, by the time we got there, the dark clouds were rolling in.  Getting to Homps was an easy drive from our house, so we decide to save the canal cruise for a hot day when we need the cool breeze.

View of the Canal du Midi in Homps, France. The Canal du Midi was built to serve as a shortcut between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, avoiding the long sea voyage around hostile Spain, Barbary pirates, and a trip that in the 17th century took a full month to complete. The canal’s beauty is enhanced by rows of stately Plane trees that line each side. The 42,000 trees, which date from the 1830s, were planted to stabilize the banks.

We decided to go to the city of Minerve instead.  Since it is a holiday, we figured it would be less crowded there than usual.

Minerve is a medieval village made of stone and hidden away in the hilltops.   According to our GPS, Minerve is not far away.   The drive was going well, my DH was feeling confident in his driving skills, until the road became narrow and started to wind and climb.  And wind and climb.  And wind and climb.  The only trip I can compare it to is driving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Lake Tahoe – on a one lane road without guard rails.  My DH took it slow and easy, hugging the mountain, and allowing room for descending cars to pass.  When we made it to Minerve, my DH’s nerves were shot and he was not looking forward to the return trip.

The bridge of Minerve. (Minerve, France)

View of a street in Minerve. (Minerve, France)

We were correct, the city was not busy but we were surprised at the number of people there.  Afterall, during our drive, there was no one following us the entire time!  “Where did all these people come from?”  my DH wondered.   As usual, we stopped at the tourist office in Minerve first.  We asked the lady there if there happens to be an easier, less scary drive back down the mountain.   Yes, there was!   She suggested we use the route used by the tour buses who are too big to take tight turns and steep grades.

Minerve is small and did not require a lot of time to see, but it is worth seeing.  It is one of the mystical places where you wonder, “How the heck did they build this town in this location?”   It all seems impossble to me, yet here it was.

At 4pm, we took the tour bus route back home.   This was much better – a wider road, less curves, less hills, and less time!   Stupid GPS!

Since my DH was so brave, I made him dinner in our French kitchen.   The pots and pans are old but functional and for the first time during our trip, I really miss home and my wonderful All-Clad cookware, modern stove, and sharp knives!   But, I make the best of what I have. I cooked up some pasta and make a simple tomato sauce of canned tomatoes, onions, and garlic.  It was delicious!

My DH begins to relax and his mood improved greatly.   His mood improved so much that he had a craving for chocolate.   We were able to find a large super market on the GPS in the neighboring town of La Reporte (as listed in our landlord’s information guide).  We got:

  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Carrots
  • French white beans
  • McVitties Cookies
  • Dark chocolate
  • Half a dozen eggs

Bridget stopped by our house at 10:30pm to take us to the park to view the fireworks.   As I mentioned earlier, Bastille Day is celebrated like the US 4th of July.  In this small village, the festivities not only include the walk through the streets, but also a village feast of traditional dishes (seafood and boar) and wine, fireworks and wine, and dancing and wine.

For a small village, the firework show was impressive.   It was all over in about 10 minutes but it was spectacular!   The fireworks exploded closer to the ground than in the USA and the sparks seemed to fall into the crowd — it was quite exciting.

After the fireworks, Barry and Bridget invited us to join them in the final two courses of the feast– cheese and wine, and dessert and wine.  They introduced us to some of their neighbors and we were warmly welcomed into the party.   Almost no one spoke English but it did not seem to matter – we laughed, ate, danced and drank wine until past midnight.  It was a great fun for a community of around 300 people!  We don’t do this sort of thing in Santa Clara.

Now this is a party!  (Castelnau d’Aude, France)

Yep, that’s me — I couldn’t help myself!!!! (Castelnau d’Aude, France)

My DH and I made it back to our house around 12:30am.   It was a long day, but a great evening!

Quote of the Day:   “I don’t know how I am going to drive back home?” — DH after reaching Minerve.


5 thoughts on “Europe 2012: Day 38, Bastille Day and Minerve

  1. No, not charming….looks like what they call in Nova Scotia “a camp”..where
    hunters and their families stay when they’re in the woods jackin’ deer!
    BUT, it sounds like the neighbors, the feasting townspeople and the fireworks
    more than made up for your disappointment in the slanted-floor accommodations.
    The Bathroom looks “charming!” How’s the hot water?


  2. Looks like a lot of fun, whooping it up 🙂 Is it a French thing to wave the napkin in the air like that? … You look like the youngest one in there. How old are all those people? I have noticed I enjoy being around senior citizens most because they have so many life stories that are full of great humor.

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