gardens and installations

OUR RETURN TO CHAUMONT was a very enjoyable experience, all in all. As you can see, we've been here before. 
In fact time was when a return from our summer holiday without dropping in on this annual event would have been unthinkable. But like most things in life, it palled a bit after nine or ten visits; we felt it had stagnated somewhat, lost its freshness, ceased to surprise… so it dropped from our routes to and from.
Eleven years on we are seduced once more by the comprehensive website describing a considerable expansion of what is on offer, over and above the twenty-two garden sets that make up the core of the annual garden festival, changing year by year to explore a set theme.

Now there is more 'art' over and above (but sympathetic to) the gardens, more what I would call installation art, which is a reasonable development I suppose, given that when we last visited Chaumont we felt that wit and novelty was rather eclipsing the idea of 'garden'. Sometimes the garden aspect  of what was being shown was playing very much second or even third fiddle to that of 'installation'. To some extent this was still true in the garden festival number 28 but there has been a change of management. New blood new ideas! Now, there are significant artists making original and new work here in the splendid spaces of the grounds, stables and the chateau itself. New work, not gardenly but in support (loosely) of the annual theme (I think). Which this year was: gardens of paradise.

I am not about to try and give you very much of a snap shot of what we saw in our five-and-a-bit hours on site. If you are really interested in this singular arts and gardens initiative you can do no better (other than getting off down to the chateau and drinking it all in yourself) than visit the Chaumont web site [click here!].

We liked it. We missed great chunks of it (like the chateau which we thought you had to pay additionally to enter, but no, no longer, riff raff can now enter on the back of the overall entrance to the festival fee) but we enjoyed the new (to us) gardens and art in the extensive grounds and were pretty well fagged out by the time we drew stumps and left the scene.  I was going to try and compose some sort of album somewhere but for now I hold up my hand and say that the garden festival has become more secondary; the installations scored more highly for me, and I hope we will go again and see the new stuff coming next year. We'll see. The festival garden 'installations'? OK, good in their way but we've seen more innovation in earlier years, felt almost that we might be sort of going round again. Nevertheless, with all the other stuff to see, a great day out.

After this diversion we pottered on to Le Mans, struggled right through the city to our hotel, a process not helped by heavy traffic, bad signage, road works, diversions and even a wrong turning into a complete pedestrian zone requiring a friendly local to release us by activating a bollard barrier and then directing us, by bicycle, to the right road and the right bridge, to our hotel. And it was crêpes again for supper. Not bad, not good.

Getting out of Le Mans was a whole lot easier than getting in.

Now here's the thing. Instead of me foisting my albums onto my readership this time, here are links to the snaps Mrs Melling took, instead. Well why not? She takes reasonable visual accounts of things and needs a bit of encouragement from time to time. This pic of Le Mans Cathedral is one of hers (I forget to carry my camera). Anyway: try these:
Mary's Chaumont Albums one,  Mary's Chaumont Albums two,  Mary's Chaumont Albums three.

There you are! Get the picture?


coming back cooling down

DESPITE THE HEAT, we decided, as we knocked off the Sablet sand from our open toeds, not to return too post haste back into the myre and turmoil of the ongoing brexit balls up. 

Not that it was that spontaneous: a visit to RHS Rosemoor with Dr G before we dispatched to Sablet prompted us to reflect on former excursions en route home to the Chaumont Garden Festival, ten times in eleven years, no less. In those days we were wont to camp on the Cher and spend a whole day at the Chaumont. What would it be like now since our last visit in 2005? The website looked tempting and clearly the ambition of the place has grown since we last strolled round the exhibition gardens up there on the edge of the Loire.

For those who constantly interrogate the variety of our route strategies, I include our planned route left, not that we stuck to it without variation, as per… But you can see, we used four hotels and I am pleased to say they were all adequately air-conditioned.

Our experience has always been that we leave Sablet suitably attired for the weather in Sablet and arrive at whatever our destination might be looking and feeling considerably underdressed. With our plan to cross over the Puy de Dôme this time after the Issoire stop over we expected the usual shock of the cool but actually it was very pleasant.

So! After the usual ascent onto the uplands of the Massif Central (seriously underdressed for breakfast at Thueyts before the climb, but so were others) we wandered off piste as it were and passed through these jolly places (below) to reach Issoire where we found Rapunzel was letting her hair down at the town hall for some exhibition about hair! (we missed out on that – but ate aligot for supper that was of the first order). Aligot? Cheese (Tonne de Laguiole, or Cantal in extremis) and mashed potato, butter and garlic whipped and beaten together into a stretchy consistency, eaten with a large local sausage on this occasion. I am dribbling at the memory . . .

From Issoire then, to Amboise over the top again very fine open country with big skies.  Breakfast at Champeix, too early to take the waters at St Nectaire, then out into the high country… Just imagine in the winter though, low ragged clouds obscuring views and driving in the cloud half the time.

Auzances seemed to have surrendered its centre, lock stock and barrel, to the curse of the travelling fairground franchise. Houses and the church completely blocked in by some of the worst spray painted 'experiences' we have ever seen. Not surprising that the town was almost deserted. Everything else on the road after that was much fairer in my opinion. A jolly good journey: even had time to go to Oisly to lay in some Touraine for the dark months ahead (although the domaine could not find our account, it being a few years since we took on bottles at this favourite place). Amboise was throbbing with tourists: we crêped after a bit of a search. Good hotel though. Comfy. Out of town. Just up the road from Chaumont… (the next post).


Tour de France 2019

24 JULY STAGE 17 PONT du GARD to GAP. We have done some hours roadside for this damned race in past years and we'll never get that time back. 

This time the race is coming as close to Sablet as anybody can remember so we decide we shall not road-side until the riders are within a few minutes of our chosen vantage point (chosen I might add after several investigations and trials and excursions to work out where we might get the longest view). We've been confined to barracks for so long in the afternoon by the heat, coincidently watching the race unfold, but on this day we slide into the motor and drive for almost five minutes in the searing heat to the quiet little road junction we frequently cross en route to Rasteau.

Of course we can't quite get there as the world and his wife are already ensconced at the spot we have earmarked for ourselves because it provides the only shade for miles along the route of today's stage. So we abandon our wheels and trudge the last 150 metres or so, to try and find that ultimate viewing spot. The tour caravan has long gone and we can easily determine the mad fools who have been here since that passing (at least two hours ahead of the race proper) by the silly hats, free waggy-hands and other freebie junk in their possession. But we do have a grudging admiration for those who have brought tables, chairs, picnics, drinks in cool boxes etc etc to make the long wait normally associated with road-siding that bit more tolerable. It is after all, a part of the tradition of this race which is the sporting event which easily reaches the highest number of witnesses of such a thing, in the world, in space! Millions, I kid you not. Miss it? Not likely! It is FREE!

Now, I am not going to give you a description of this year's race, not even a summary. If you are a fan of The Tour you'll know what happened and if you are not you won't want to hear it anyway, and certainly not from me. If you do, look it up for the full story, its all there on the interweb! But it was indeed a very exciting race, we enjoyed it immensely, and even this mad standing out in the high 30s for thirty or forty minutes.

The riders arrived in an escape group (first picture) within a few minutes of Mrs Melling and self settling upon our separate roadside stances, followed almost five minutes later by the peleton (second picture). As ever it was all over in a matter of a few minutes (it can be just seconds if the race is altogether and going some). But there is a fantastic wave of atmosphere, vangarded by preceding motorcyclists, cars and circling helicopters. You can't tell much of what is going on as the riders go past but we saw it, we witnessed this bit of the race, this year, it's ours.

For us, we get back to car where we realise we are almost collapsing in the heat but are soon back to common sense as the air con in the car does its business. Then off we go back to the homestead to pick up the race as it passes on through the Baronnies toward Gap. When we eventually get back to Bullsmead Court we can review the stage more thoroughly as we recorded it and hey presto there are Mr Smith and Mrs Melling caught on TV from both motorcycle cameramen and by helicopter camera -- so we can honestly say we have achieved immortality as witnesses of the memorable Tour de France 2019 and at last a meaning to our sad road-siding lives. Along with tens of thousands of other poor sots who road-side for that few seconds of excitement drama and sport!

I won't do it again! Until next time…

PS The guy carrying the number 11 in green (middle picture of the five below) is the legendary Peter Sagan, points winner of the TdeF a record number of times. I spotted last year's Tour winner Geriant Thomas too but otherwise all the main GC contenders and race leader Alaphilippe got by me without me spotting their heads. Odd that. GC? General Classification. First second –overall etc.

Some of these pictures are published by kind permission of Mrs Melling; thank you ma'am. The ones that are up the road; I was in the group of road-siders on the white lines in the snap below. Note how Mrs Melling managed to get the roundabout signage into the last picture (right for Sablet) and note the heat haze. 


pizza oven

I HAVE OFTEN EXPRESSED THE VIEW that one could be excused for assuming that the pizza is the French National Dish.

It is ubiquitous. Readily available. Everywhere. Often when there is nothing much else on offer. À Emporter or Eat In. So it is a blessing that both Mrs Melling and self quite like them. In Sablet we do both (eat in and eat out).

On the 'ill advised' visit to the S of F this summer (ill advised because the weather forecast was Scorchio-Forte but we persisted) we partook of our first pizza at the restaurant next door to our Première Classe in La Rochelle (a hotel which we patronised on our spring return [and like] and that Mrs M contacted, after our spring return, to cancel another booking she had previously secured, and paid for up front, which we couldn't use due to our early return to Britain for family reasons. The manager responded and offered a transfer of our booking to a future date up to the end of June – so here we were availing ourselves of this facility).

Sorry about that convoluted explanation but it reveals why we're back in La Rochelle a second time this year (and plan to be a third time, in fact, on the autumn trip down). The hotel is well placed in La Rochelle, comfortable, good air con,  but better still, it has this dashed good restaurant next door and they do do a mean pizza! And I had one, day one, summer transfer to Sablet.

Do you know, when we poll up to the PC in La R in September, with the senior bro as baggage, we'll be in there again and I will have yet another pizza to assuage the hunger that will by then be gnawing at my guts after the drive from Roscoff, (notwithstanding sandwiches we expect to take on board for consumption en route)? Yes I will. (Mrs Melling might have pasta) We've eaten pizzas there -- lots!

Don't worry, I am not now going to start waxing lyrical about every pizza we had on this summer trip. There isn't enough space here and anyway my vocabulary could not do justice to the variety of toppings…Neither did I take notes on the pizzas we consumed, although I can remember a number of them quite well, particularly the Sablet ones; they are impressed upon my mind. Hussein makes them and makes them fast.

Actually I really just wanted to get round to telling you that this summer we seemed on occasion to be entering the very oven in which the pizzas we ate had been baked…  In other words in was too damned hot. Got there! At last!! You might have experienced something similar I imagine.

I refer you to the terrace thermometer at 1Rue FB on 28 June as proof. Bear in mind the device is in the coolest and shadiest corner and you will realise that the 39.5°C represents a considerably higher heat on the terrace proper. Down the A9 a few miles (sorry, kilometres) a village weather station was registering France's all time record at 46°C. It was really jolly warm. I realise that fans of Fahrenheit will prefer the conversion I have included in the snap, lower left, our thermometer can do either. And fans are all we had to try to parry the heat, whilst our friends here all seem to be minded to install air con, not realising, of course, that such devices simply add to global warming (and therefore the need for air con). Far better not to be where the heat is, if one can so organise one's life.

I held on to the conviction that such heat must ultimately lead to commensurate thunderstorms, and the title picture shows the apparent approach of such an episode. But it just never happened, at least, not while we were in residence. We had one wet day only and a couple of sharp showers. My fondness for rain was up to maximum revs!

We struggled to the bar on at least three occasions where the mist sprayers were working non-stop to cool the customers and stayed to have Hussein's pizzas, and very good they are too. We took pizzas home aussi (we struggled to the bar on several occasions and did not have pizzas;  and we did not have pizzas on any visits to L'as de Coeur where the menu du jour or a la carte prevailed, despite their reputation for top flight pizzas). We also ate a fine pizza at the usual place in Buis Les Baronnies, on one of our brave trips out after visiting the blooming lavender to the north of Sainte Jalle. One of best days out actually. Fragrant. See below.

Heat, light, fragrance and pizzas and a close encounter with the Tour de France (and as ever some good conversations into the sweltering nights); that was Summer 2019.  Another post anon!

It seemed to be crêpes on the way back……