Cognac- Our spiritual home. 29-7-17 A long drive today: from Auvergne, through Limoge and into Charente, on our way to our new destination; a small village called Salle D’Angles, just outside Cognac. The roads were very busy, but mostly the thousands of campervans and rammed out cars were headed South, towards the Dordogne, rather than North West, as we were. I LOVE THE FRENCH MOTORWAY TOLL BOOTHS…. WE PLOD ALONG AT 60 KPH TAKING IN THE SCENERY HAVING A CHILLED DRIVE TO THE NEXT PLACE WE ARE STAYING AT. (60 I HEAR YOU SAY, WELL WE CANNOT NORMALLY GET INTO OUR ACCOMODATION UNTIL AFTER 4PM. SO THERE IS NO POINT IN TEARING DOWN THE MOTORWAY GETTING STRESSED OUT.) NOW THE FRENCH DON’T LIKE HANGING AROUND, IF THE SPEED LIMIT IS 130 KM PER HOUR THEY WILL DO 130+. SO THEY DO GET A BIT PISSED OFF WITH ME PLODDING ALONG AND NORMALLY TRY TO ENCOURAGE ME TO SPEED UP BY TAILGATING ME. SO OF COURSE I SLOW DOWN A BIT JUST TO PISS THEM OFF A BIT MORE. ANYWAY WHEN YOU REACH THE TOLL BOOTHS, THERE ARE ALWAYS MASSIVE TRAFFIC JAMS (NORMAL QUEUEING TIME ABOUT 15 MINS.) ALL THE DRIVERS GET REALLY ANGRY AND FRUSTRATED BY THE HOLD UP…… NOT ME THOUGH, WISE OLD LETHAL, INVESTED IN AN ELETRONIC TAG THAT ALLOWS ME TO USE THE AUTO TOLL LANE WHICH IS ALWAYS EMPTY. I JUST LOVE WATCHING THE OTHER DRIVERS FACES, WHO PASSED ME DOING WARP SPEED 10 AND TAKING THE PISS OUT OF ME, AS I SAIL THROUGH THE TRAFFIC JAMS GIVING THEM THE INTERNATIONAL INSULT WAVE, THEY DO GET EVER SO UPSET, BLESS EM. 🙂 The forests, valleys and rivers we passed by on our journey slowly gave way to the two dominant features of the landscape of Charent: vineyards and sunflowers! The famous sunflower fields of France were at the peak of their glory- just beautiful. Our home for the week was a small Gite, attached to a renovated barn. Our hosts were Wayne and Kerry – a lovely, friendly, Manchester-born couple, who live in the house next door. Having moved here permanently 3 years ago, they were able to give us lots of advice on the area. They were a great advert for anyone thinking of moving to France. She commutes to England to work in the NHS for one week a month, then back to this lovely place for the rest of the month. Wayne, meanwhile, has randomly found himself owning and running an ostrich farm! AN OSTRICH FARM HOW BIZARRE!!! We spent a very boozy evening, sharing dinner with Wayne and his French neighbour, Bastion, who made it their mission to introduce us to various regional alcoholic beverages. There is something special about drinking wine made from grapes grown in the vineyard you are looking out over. Eventually, Bastion decided that we needed to try the (superior) wine from his own area- Burgundy- so he popped home to bring several bottles. Of course, it would have been rude to refuse, especially when one of them was a 37 year old bottle, one of a crate his parents had been given to celebrate his year of birth. Don’t ever let anybody tell you that the French aren’t generous and welcoming! WE FINISHED OUR EVENING WELL PAST 1AM; MOSTLY BECAUSE BASTION HAD TO WORK IN THE MORNING- AT THE LOCAL MILITARY AIRBASE! I MUST ADMIT WE WERE ALL A LITTLE BIT MASHED UP BY THEN. SO MUCH SO THAT ME AND WAYNE, WHO TOLD US THAT HE HAD SOME SURGERY EARLIER IN THE YEAR, DECIDED TO SEE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST AND UGLIEST SCAR. BASTION WAS TO BE THE JUDGE. THE RESULT OF THE SCAR OFF WAS THAT I WON HANDS DOWN. BASTION AND WAYNE’S REACTIONS WERE SO FUNNY -THEY BOTH ENDED UP TOASTING ME AND MY SCAR- SHAKING THEIR HEADS IN DISBELIEF……. IT WAS A VERY, VERY FUNNY AND BOOZY NIGHT. 🙂 We were also given two ostrich steaks from Wayne’s farm. To be honest, we were a bit dubious about eating it, but it was absolutely delicious! If you weren’t told what it was, you would guess that it was top quality fillet steak. A taste sensation! THE OSTRICH STEAK REALLY WAS A TASTE SENSATION, IF YOU GET A CHANCE TO TRY IT, GIVE IT A GO YOU WILL LOVE IT. I was glad that we’d eaten the steak before Wayne took us to the farm, though. 80+ ostriches, plus chicks (so cute), a camel, a zebra and a Vietnamese water buffalo live on 10 hectares of prime cognac farmland. When you consider that this land is rented for just 500 Euros PER YEAR, and that each ostrich can fetch 1000 Euros in meat, feathers, skin (bought by Chanel and other top designers) and eggs, you can see why, by the end of the visit, Steve had pretty much decided that we should start up our own ostrich farm in France. I think he was still affected by all the booze from the night before! “THIS TIME NEXT YEAR RODNEY, WE COULD BE MILLIONAIRES”……. HE WHO DARES WINS AND ALL THAT!!!!! MIND YOU IT WAS A BIT WIFFY. Anyway, although a visit to the farm was interesting, I was looking forward to our tour of the Hennessy Cognac cellars. Personally, I find the smell of ageing cognac infinitely preferable to the smell of ostrich shit. Our Hennessy visit began with a boat trip across the Charente, followed by a history lesson (how a cheeky Irishman ended up starting one of the largest producers of French cognac), a geology lesson (rocks and soils) science lesson (distillation), a media lesson ( marketing Hennessy), then a visit to the ageing cellars. Although I did find all these interesting, the trip had two major highpoints for me. One was, obviously, the tasting session; where we were given 4 large measures of Hennessy, of varying ages and qualities. There was lots of sniffing, swilling, gargling and spitting going on at other tables. I just drank mine! AWKWARD!! OBVIOUSLY I COULDN’T DRINK ALL OF MY SAMPLES AS I WAS DRIVING (GUTTED!) BUT ME JULIE KNOCKED HERS BACK LIKE A SAILOR ON SHORE LEAVE, WITH A VERSE OF ROUND THE TEETH, ROUND THE GUMS LOOK OUT STOMACH HERE IT COMES!!!! THAT’S MY GIRL. 🙂 The second joy was spending the duration of the visit with a young man with Down’s Syndrome. His enthusiasm was infectious and was such a contrast to the pomposity of some of the more ‘serious’ members of the group. I also loved the way that, when the ‘lesson’ got a tad boring, he amused himself by practising his martial arts techniques; although I suspect this was partly to impress the beautiful French tour guide. THIS FELLA WAS BRILLIANT, SOME PARTS OF THE TOUR WERE A BIT BORING, BUT HE REALLY DID LIVEN IT UP. Just in case you are thinking that all we did during our week in Cognac was drink-related, here’s a short summary of the non- boozy things we did: We visited the nearby town of Sainte, where we saw a Roman amphitheatre and a lovely 12th century church, followed by lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Charente. A day at the lovely seaside town of Royan. A huge, sandy beach, backed by gorgeous, old houses. It was also a comfortable 24 degrees or so; a real relief from the temperatures inland, which were in the 30s most days. “OH I DO LIKE TO BE BESIDE THE SEASIDE.” August arrived while we were here; a stark reminder that the adventure is drawing to an end. It’s hard to believe that we have entered our 6th month of travelling and that, this time next month, we’ll be back in Blighty. Maybe, we need to think about what we’re going to do with ourselves when we get home? NOOOOOOOO, I DON’T WANT TO THINK ABOUT GETTING A JOB. I LIKE IT HERE IN OUR LITTLE BUBBLE. Off to the North of France next week, and looking forward to a visit from Jo and Luke.