Monday, 7 January 2013

"La Galette des Rois" and we must be mad...

Saturday 5 January

Did I say 'mad'?  Let me re-phrase that into 'stark raving mad'....  Why?  Read on, you will think the same when you read what we've been up to...

The day starts innocently enough.  Breakfast, waiting for the baker, shopping...  We don't need much from the shops this week, so we visit a supermarket close by: the Intermarché at St Simeon de Bressieux.  We haven't been there before, because we wanted to have a choice of the three other supermarkets for our weekly shopping.  Shopping was done quite quickly, so next off to the petrol station across the road.  Unfortunately there was nobody at the pay station and since we can't use our credit card we have to make the fuel last just a little bit longer...

What next?  It's still early in the day and we haven't planned anything apart from visiting Mireille and Bernard later at night.  We knew early in the morning that geocaching was going to be out of the question today, because it's not only bitterly cold and windy, but we have low hanging clouds which have the same effect as heavy fog.  We don't fancy driving those winding roads up and down the hills in foggy weather.  However, we still have that one cache to find near L'Étang Dionay, which is still bugging us.  How about just the one then?  Okay, let's do it!  So, off to the pond we go.

We now know exactly which tree to head for and having arrived there (it's easier when you know what to look for...) it appears that the compass is off by a few metres, one of the reasons that we have been going around in circles.

picture grabbed from the geocaching site

What's next?  The hint for this cache is: the bird that makes its nest.  OMG!!! We both look up at the same time.  Are we thinking the same thing?  It appears we do...  The only spot for a bird to make its nest is high above us.  What now?  Having come back for a third time we are not going to let this one go.  We are desperate.  We want this cache so badly...  We both inspect the tree and know we must be correct, because we are not the only ones who are thinking of climbing the tree.  It has been done before, because all the lower branches have been broken off.  (In an aside: it appears that geocaching is not quite an environmentally friendly game!) No foothold, slippery tree trunks, because everything is wet, so what are we going to do?  We are no spring chickens any more and I don't even know that Frank has ever climbed a tree in his life, but... he has an idea.  He's seen some sturdy straps in the car and goes to get them.  Throws them over the lower branches of the tree and places his foot in one of the loops to get up.  It's a no go, so he adds the second strap and get's up a bit higher this time, and ..... bingo!  He notices a bit of black plastic sticking out of the hole in the tree.  He can hardly reach and has an awful time lifting this cache out of its hiding place, but finally he is successful and climbs down with the treasure in his, by now frozen, hands.  And where was I, you may ask?  Well, somebody has to take pictures..... :-)

getting up there is not an easy feat

a strap will help

and now to remove the damn thing...
Anyway, we happily log our find and realise: "what came down has to go up again!" so it's back into that tree again to hide the cache, remove the straps and then we're outta here....  Well, are we mad, or are we mad???

A last glimpse of the pond on a cold and misty morning
We climb into our warm car and are happy to go back home.  Definitely no more geocaching today!  Back home we have lunch and have a well-deserved quiet afternoon.

Before we know it it's seven pm, so we get ready to walk to Mireille and Bernard's place next door.  The experience earlier in the day may be something we are not lightly going to forget, nor are we going to forget this evening either!  Remember we had been invited to try the local dish: Ravioles de Romans.

When we arrive we greet everyone as usual with the customary kiss on both cheeks.  Yes, even the men!  Next we sit down and talk a bit until George (the friend we met at Christmas time, and we now know his name) arrives.  The evening starts off with an aperitif (Martini Fiero) and a bowl with chips and some small talk.  By eight pm Bernard and George leave to go to Roybon.  I understand now that Mireille hasn't prepared the dish herself, but they are apparently going to pick up the dishes from a take-away or restaurant.  In the meantime we try and keep the conversation going with Mireille and maman, until the men are back.

Another custom we are getting used to is to start a meal with a salad as a kind of entree.  This is eaten with pieces of baguette (breadstick, 'husband beater', or whatever you like to call it).  Then we start with the main dish, the ravioles.  Ordinarily we would have loved this dish, were it not that by now it is almost 9:30pm and we never eat this late at night.  The dish is very rich and I am having problems getting through to the end.  Out of the corner of my eye I can see that Frank is struggling too.  Luckily this part of the meal is accompanied by a nice local white wine (a cuvée, not champagne this time, but equally nice), and together with a glass of water it all goes down a bit more smoothly.  And just when I think I have done well Bernard declares that we are going to have a nice bit of walnut cheese.  By now we have been talking about cars, family, local customs, wines, and stuff like that and Mireille has told us about a do she's going to next week where everybody comes together to crack walnuts.  The whole parts that they can retrieve are being kept for cakes, the pieces are going to the mill and are going to be made into huile des noix (walnut oil), which one sees here locally sold in almost every little village.  Somebody is going to turn up with an accordeon and there is going to be dancing afterwards followed by a raffle, etc.  It seems like a fun night to me and it's great to hear about those local customs.

The walnut cheese is brought to the table and I take only a small piece, because I am so full, but it has to be eaten with the baguette of course, so I just have to make room for it.  We are served a different kind of wine again, this time the famous Clarette de Die.  We have seen it advertised everywhere when we visited this little town a few weeks ago.  It's a sweet, sparkling wine, and quite different from the cuvée we had earlier.

And just when I am so proud of having been able to finish my meal (cheese is often eaten as a dessert in France) I get the shock of my life when Bernard announces that now we have to get ready for dessert!  What???  Dessert???  I am full and it's already 12am!  I really am ready for bed....

And then it dawns upon me.  It's the eve of Epiphany and we have to eat the Galette des Rois to decide who's going to be the 'king'.  Mireille comes out of the cellar with not only one, but two galettes and asks which one we prefer.  We can choose between a galette de pomme (apple) and a galette frangipane (almond paste).  Not trusting the word 'frangipane', it being a heavily perfumed flower in Australia, I go for the apple.  My best chance to eat at least a little piece.  While the cake is placed in the oven I look up the word 'frangipane' and discover that it is my favourite flavour: almond paste, but...... not tonight!  It is so much richer than apple.

While waiting for the cake to be slightly heated in the oven the glasses are filled once more and we keep talking and laughing.  George, we discover, is a real funny man.  What is also quite funny is the fact that we try to translate English sayings in French, which don't of course have the same meaning, but are quickly understood, like the expression of 'being in the doghouse'...  It's good to be with people with such a great sense of humour.

Eventually there is no getting away from it any longer, the cake is being served.  Mireille cuts the cake into six even pieces and I do the stupidest thing and ask for only half a slice, because I can't face a full one.  She's a bit lost, because it appears that these cakes are the ones with the fèves (figurines or the traditional 'bean' or 'coin') to decide who's king for the night.  I could be spoiling the game, because the left-over bit might contain the figurine.  However, she understands and the piece is left on the plate.

Galette de Rois with a figurine
 As it happens, maman and Frank are the lucky ones and they are 'king' and 'queen' of the night (since the cakes hold two figurines, and there are two different crowns)

I hope to be getting more pictures from Bernard later, but here are a few of the 'king':

The king being crowned
(I seemed to have caught him again at an awkward moment.... ;-)

It's not so bad after all...
By then it's half past twelve and Frank whispers to me: "Shouldn't we be going home now?", but before I can answer him Mireille puts the second cake in the oven!  Everybody keeps talking and laughing and nobody seems to be thinking about going home, so we stay and Frank is even brave enough to have another piece of the second cake.  I decline.  My stomach is really giving me trouble, it feels like it's going to burst any moment and I have reflux as well, which I try to hide.  It seems so ungrateful...  Luckily I am not the only one to decline.  George has had his fill and poor maman is by now half asleep with her head on the table...

George at one of his more serious moments
Nobody gets a figurine from the second helping, so we finish the evening with a cup of coffee (or so I think...)  George has been very good.  While we were looking at a stack of pictures that Mireille and Bernard had taken at an earlier local event, he's washed most of the dishes and stacked them all neatly on the drain board in the corner, after which he sat down waiting for the coffee to brew.

While we are having our cuppa Bernard disappears into the cellar and returns with two more bottles and special little glasses:

He explains that these boots mean that you can have one more drink and then you are going be 'kicked out'!

Oh Bernard, we didn't need this little hint.  ;-)  We are more than ready to go....

Of course, this is all said jokingly, so we all have our nightcap and are indeed ready to go home.  At 55% alcohol from the Chartreuse we will indeed sleep well tonight.  Bernard also shows another cute little bottle, which contains a Chartreuse of 70%.  He offers me a drop on a cube of sugar, but no, that's a bit too much of a good thing...  We'd better go home.  So, at 2am in the morning Bernard gets his car and insists on driving us home (the whole 500m), because it is 'too cold to walk'.

When Bernard drives home again we go inside and lock the door.  We sit down, look at each other and burst out laughing.  What a day!  It sure was one of the most strenuous, funniest, weirdest, but most of all most pleasant day of our stay in Montfalcon.  We will remember this for years to come...


  1. Marion! Ik lees dit net na m'n ontbijt en heb het gevoel de hele dag niet meer te kunnen eten. Maar wàt een gastvrijheid in la douce France.......

  2. Oh hemel, Anke! Mijn blog zou met een waarschuwing moeten komen... In ieder geval goed voor de lijn, toch? (Die van jou, bedoel ik. Die van mij heeft al teveel geleden.) ;-)


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