Monday, May 9, 2011

The beach

The weather ("météo") said today would be sunny and warm, but by 9 AM, the clouds have rolled in and our planned beach day is threatened. There are even a few sprinkles. I know this because I took the car out early this morning, OK, it was 8:45, but I was the only one up, so that counts as early.

Marian had given me directions to an optician who would be able to help me with my broken glasses. It is only a short distance away - about 15 minutes - in Béziers. I have no trouble following Marian's directions and get to the appointed shopping area by 9 AM. However, nothing opens until 9:30. I decide to drive around the the area to check out the stores available. I notice 2 baby stores to check out with Janis when she arrives. The others are kitchen and garden supply stores and "bricolage" stores - these are stores like Home Depot selling "do it yourself" materials. There's also a fabric shop next to the opticians that I will check out before leaving.

At 9:30, I go into the opticians. I had been to the little optical shop in Thézan's SuperU store, but they had told me I needed to see an opthomalogist to get a prescription and then get new glasses. Not what I wanted to hear. But in this shop, I hand my glasses to the optician telling him I had had an accident with my glasses. He says, no problem, he can repair them. So he straightens the frame, replaces the nose guards and polishes the lenses. Except for the remaining scratch, the glasses are as good as new. And the best news, no charge. The service was immediate (there were no other customers in the shop at the time). It was friendly and the whole process took around 10 minutes. Now that's service.

I stop in the fabric store which sells mostly household fabrics for curtains and things, but also some dressmaking fabrics. They have a craft corner where I find a couple scrapbook items and some cross stitch kits. They are more expensive than I'd pay at home, but how could I not buy a cross-stitch kit with poppies? Poppies have become such a part of our lives these past few weeks.

I'm home by 10:30 to find Dave and Judy at breakfast. Duane joins us a few minutes later. It's still grey and we consider alternatives to the beach. We have a few more morning chores: groceries to be bought, car rental to reserve for Thursday, train tickets and hotel for Duane and Judy to get back to Barcelona. Duane and I work on the reservations while Dave and Judy do the shopping.

It takes a long time to figure out the car rental - we get different options and prices when looking at Kayak in French or in English. The cheapest options are to pick up the car at the Béziers airport, but pick up/drop off times are a narrow window of 2 hours per day, right in the middle of the afternoon. Not convenient. We end up renting from the same Hertz dealer we used when the kids were here and we rent under my name so that we can return the car.

Now we work on train tickets - the site is all in French, so I confirm Duane's understanding of the conditions and prices, but we decide we should travel into Béziers' train station to purchase the tickets there rather than try to purchase online. Finally, we find a Barcelona airport hotel with shuttle so they can easily catch their 11 AM flight home. This too takes time, but we find a helpful website that I've used before that lists all the hotels near a given airport. Duane books the room online and the only remaining issue is to figure out how he will get from the Barcelona Sants train station to the airport and then hotel. We find information on this train connection and they should be ready to go. Well, except we don't have the tickets yet.

By this time the shoppers are back and groceries stored. The sky is blue, the temperature is 70ish. We decide to eat lunch on the terrace here before heading to the beach at Cap d'Agde. And maybe back to Pomorols for wine-tasting.

We stop at the train station on our way to buy the tickets. Other than the problem that Duane's credit card won't work and they have to pay in cash (I've had this problem before at the train station - they just can't seem to read American credit cards), getting the tickets with seat assignments is easy. I show them how to "composter" their ticket before entering the platform. To validate your ticket, you must put it into a little machine (un composteur) right next to the entrance to the platforms. (More information (in French unfortunately), including a photo of the yellow composteur is found here. )This machine prints the date and often the station on the ticket identifying the ticket as valid. This pretty much replaces the trainman who would otherwise go up and down the aisles punching your ticket to be sure you had valid travel documents.

By now it is 3 PM and we're finally at one of the Cap d'Agde beaches, "plage du mole". We watch several groups of "boules" (bocci ball) players, take off our shoes and socks to test the water (too cold for swimming), and collect shells for a bit, then walk through the streets of shops to head over to the marina.

Cap d'Agde beaches almost circle the marina area, so you walk a couple blocks "inland" to reach the marina area.

Of course, these couple of blocks are lined with tourist shops. We browse many of them. Judy and I buy poppy pictures, Duane finds some shakers to add to his percussion instruments for the band. We stop in a soap store (these are prevalent in the tourist areas and smell scrumptious), but can't decide although the olive oil soap is tempting. We leave without any soap.

By now it is 5 and I'm hungry, so we stop for ice cream and beers at a sidewalk cafe on the marina. This is undoubtedly the most expensive ice cream I have ever had, about $15. And the beers are over $10 for half-liters. But the ice cream is wonderful - raspberry sorbet, vanila ice cream, strawberries and raspberry syrup decorated with an overabundance of whipped cream. I eat it all, but it could have been dinner.

Dave is commenting on the people and dogs passing for Judy and I who are sitting with our backs to the marina walkway. People-watching is part of the life in a region where most restaurants have sidewalk cafes. There aren't too many people around. Enough to be interesting, but not enough to be crowded. Just right. And there is about one dog for every two people. The French love their dogs and everyone has one. They go everywhere with their owners, including restaurants. They are well-behaved and about half are off leash and minding their own business. Other than a lot of dog poop, there aren't any problems with having so many dogs around. And it's apparent that many French towns are trying to control the dog poop problem by having strategically-located stations with plastic bags and disposal bins available.

But now it is 6. We walk back to the car and head for Pomorols, knowing it will be too late (but hoping it isn't ) to do wine-tasting. It's too late, so we head for home.

I tried making Pat's cheese appetizer with limited success tonight. It's just puff pastry with cheese inside, then folded over, and a bit more cheese on top. Then baked. I think it's the baking part that's the problem for me here. I don't know how to translate the French oven temperatures of 1-10 into either Farenheit or Centigrade temperatures. So the pastry is done on the edges, but not in the middle (should I have cut it into squares first? I think I will try that next time) and it's too dark on the bottom (but in my defense, the only baking pan I have is the black bottom to an oven grill pan). But the results show promise for next time. More cheese is needed and better baking. I'll try it again.

We also have tasting and blind tasting of pork rillettes (little shreds) and duck rillettes. Rillettes are purchased in little tins like tuna or jars. They look greasy because of the duck and pork fat used in them, but spread on bread, they are not the least bit greasy and they taste delicious. Dave and I both claim we can taste the difference between the two, but in blind taste tests, we are both wrong. In our defense, when we read the labels, we find that the duck rillettes have about 30% pork in them. Oh well, enough analyzing, more eating.

Judy has discovered that she doesn't get a headache from drinking several glasses of wine over the evening, so now she is keeping up with Dave (well, as much as is possible) and enjoying mixing white, red and rosé.

We sit on the terrace till well after dark, talking. Duane feels that we kind of frittered away the day even though he acknowledges that we had to do the planning we did. He is concerned about not packing in as many things as possible into a day since he only has 2 weeks here. He doesn't buy my living in France attitude and really wants to see as much as possible of the land and historical sites. So for tomorrow, the goal is Nîmes and the Pont du Gard, about an hour and a half away and filled with some of the most specatcular Roman architectural remains outside of Rome. Judy promises that he can tromp everyone through as many places as he likes. We just have to check one thing: There is a bull-fighting festival in May, says the Green Guide, and the Roman arena is closed during this time except for the bullfights. The computer confirms that the festival isn't until early June (late Easter this year, so Pentecost is later).

I make pasta sauce tonight while the others clean up from dinner. That way, whatever is decided about how long to stay in Nîmes will work. Home early enough? Heat up the sauce and cook the noodles. Eating dinner in Nîmes? The sauce keeps in the frig till tomorrow. We're covered. We finish by 10:30, too late for a card game again. It's bedtime for all as the goal is 8:30 departure in the morning.

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