Sunday 9 December
When we get up the day seems promising with a hint of clear sky here and there. That's great, because after my telephone call to Gabrielle yesterday we know that we are going to visit them in Saint-Antoine-L'Abbaye.
Incidentally, that telephone call was painful (for me at least), because I had to conduct it completely in French. However, I understood that we were welcome to come and visit, but that Gabrielle and Bernard had to go to Saint-Marcel-lès-Valence in the afternoon to sing in a choir. Four choirs were to sing in the local church and they were in the last of the four groups. If we wanted we could come with them. Before then we would walk through St Antoine and visit the Christmas Market. I also understood that we were to meet them at the entrance to the village at 11am. So far so good...
We are up early and have a lovely breakfast again with croissants and other goodies. Just when I want to get up and have a shower Leonie skypes. We have a quick chat, a few laughs and after I have been updated with the local news I really make a bee line for the shower, otherwise we are going to be late.
It is a 20 minute drive. The roads are quite alright, accept closer to St Antoine, where the snowfall must have been heavier. It's more open and hilly here, with winding roads, but the view is breathtaking in the early morning sunshine. At our arrival Gabrielle is already waiting and also has a shawl and gloves in case I would need them. Very considerate, because it still very, very cold, even though the sun is out. What I would have needed more is a pair of decent shoes or boots for the snow, because with the sun out and so many people walking the streets the snow gets really mushy underfoot, which is not too pleasant.
We park the cars in the designated parking lot and walk up the stepped streets towards the square where the Marché de Noël (Christmas market) is being held. First we hear singing and it appears that young actors bring a little show. It looks and sounds very interesting (and funny), but we don't stop to watch as it is all double Dutch for us anyway and perhaps only of local interest:
We walk to the square and stroll along the market stalls which all offer local products: home made and hand made:
On our way we pass the local stonemason who works on the restoration of the Abbey church. It really feels like you are walking through an open air museum, but this is all for real:
Frank has provided some pictures which he has taken indoors:
Next we walk to the abbey church and have a look inside, which is also very interesting. The relics of St Antoine are kept in this church and there is also a Tresor (treasure room) which contains a beautiful ivory statue of Christ, but one needs a guide to show you around. We'll do that next time we visit. Of course at Christmas time a nativity scene can't be forgotten:
We've become a bit hungry of all the walking in the cold and we decide to have lunch at one of the local restaurants: Les Tentations D'Antoine. Again we are in for a delicious meal. We have plat du jour (dish of the day) which consists of paté de foie gras with a green salad and baguette for entré. The main meal is duck, served with fried potatoes and again a green salad (the lovely soft butterhead lettuce, not the crispier iceberg), accompanied by a lovely bottle of rosé. For dessert a pastry with apple and a dollop of cream. And just when you think that you have finished your meal the waitress puts a small glass of something green and white in front of us:
It appears to be a shot of creme de menthe with baileys and crushed ice on top. Delicious, and also very refreshing after a meal, but first we walk back to the car, passing market stalls on the other side of the square and entertainment in the form of musicians, Santa Claus and a number of cute little lama's that carry baskets with presents:
We are going to have coffee at Gabrielle and Bernard's place, just outside the village. I am sure you remember us being so unhappy at our arrival here to find that the house was furnished very sparsely with uncomfortable beds and just one easy chair to share between us. Well, Gabrielle and Bernard's place is a revelation! Granted, it's not as old as René's house, but that should have nothing to do with the furnishing. Their house is just beautifully furnished with walnut furniture and walnut kitchen, easy chairs and.... a real coffee machine which produces magnificent coffee! For somebody like me, who hates black coffee with a vengeance I have surprisingly taken well to the black coffee here. I drink it with sugar, but it doesn't leave the bitter aftertaste that I so hate at home. We are offered walnuts of which the two halves are stuck together with some sweet tasting stuff. Upon asking it appears that Bernard makes this and the sweet tasting stuff is pâte d'amande. I have to ask Gabrielle to write this down for me, because I just can't get it, however, when I see the written version I understand: it's almond paste or marzipan, of which I have always been very fond.
While Frank and I are having coffee Gabrielle gets changed into her gear for the choir and after that, and after having admired the view from their home, we leave to go to Saint-Marcel-lès-Valence. The view is something to be seen to be believed. They look upon the Alpes and on a clear day one can even see the Mont Blanc from their living room. Today we see the top vaguely through the clouds that hover over the mountains:
|Mont Blanc: the little white triangle above the 2nd mountain on the right|
|On the way to Saint-Marcel-lès-Valence|
|The clouds have lifted and we get a better view of Mont Blanc|
Not long after Bernard drives us to their place where we pick up the car keys and drive back home in the dark and along winding roads. I am glad to be home safe and sound. I go to bed straight away, because I am simply too tired to think of something else. Speaking French to ask for something in the shops is one thing, but keeping a conversation going all day long and during lunch in a language of which you have forgotten more than you have ever learned is something else! My head is spinning. So, see you tomorrow...