30 October 2014

2014 EUROPE to St Hippolyte du Fort, France 5 - Uncle and Aunt

The ride to my Uncle Bob's (my mom's younger brother) and Aunt Terry's home was about an hour. Only 30 miles but very twisty, turny and narrow two-lane roads. In some places only one-and-a-half lanes.

I have to say right off the bat, I was impressed by Terry's driving. Throughout our visit I felt safe in the car. Sure there were a few close calls, but she was in control and it seemed the norm under the circum- stances. I'm just glad I was not the driver in these stressful conditions.

Their small town of Saint Hippolyte du Fort had recently suffered a huge flood or "tsunami" as Uncle called it. B&T were not home when it occurred, but returned a few days later to find the devastation on the "prairie" area of their 50 acres.

The river in front of their home is a bit unusual in that it is normally fed by underground springs. The river on the upstream side of the bridge is usually dry rock bed. The springs surface under the bridge and so water trickles from there downstream of the bridge in varying amounts depending on the rains.

On this recent occasion the heavy rains caused the river to start raging far upstream from the bridge. It had widely overflowed its banks, leaving rock walls collapsed, sand covering much of the grass prairie. Trees and shrubs uprooted and ruined vegetation wrapped around the trees that were still left standing.

Along the drive to their house, was a lovely garden carefully tended by a neighbor. But it had completely disappeared into a pile of rubble and fallen stone walls. No sign of its previous idyllic beauty.

The saving grace of the situation was that the bridge over the river to their home was still intact and holding strong. It continued to rain pretty heavily off and on during the drive to their home and we hoped they would not experience more flood problems.
The sight of the 350+ year old stone structure with French blue stutters was impressive as we crossed the bridge. (More on the house in the next blog entry.)

After unloading our luggage, Terry recognized that we needed a few minutes to wind down. We sat in the cozy kitchen while Aunt served hot chocolate with marshmallows and cookies. It was a nice warm up because the air was damp from all the rain.

Next we were shown to our very private quarters. We had time to unpack and freshen up with a shower and tooth-brushing. We felt human again. Not tired at all. For some reason (maybe pure excitement) we did not experience jet lag on this trip.

Next was an elegant treat to tide us over until dinner --fresh figs split at the top and stuffed with blue cheese, all baked in a tiny oven and then served over greens. I am not a fig fan, but this combination was absolutely delicious. Mike was already in heaven with this delicacy.

Terry left to teach an English class to two French students. It was in a nearby town and she would return in two hours or so. In the meantime, Uncle, Mike and I chatted about old times on the open veranda outside the blue kitchen doors.

Uncle pointed out the nearby mountain named Montagne de la Fage, which has been the muse for many of his art projects. Today it was overcast and mysterious.

At maybe 19:30, Terry returned and started dinner--a warm egg-drop style soup with chopped fresh mushrooms and potatoes, French bread (just lay it on the table when not in hand), and a fabulous bottle of 2009 Crianza Riojo wine. Nice call. I think this was the best wine of our visit with them. 

The table was just big enough for four to eat and chit-chat about family news, politics, traveling, Stewart / Colbert / Oliver (they are fans also), the sights of the area, and everything else under the sun.

We chatted a bit more and then to bed. Our room was a little more dampish than we are used to, but after a few minutes the duvet warmed us up. The bed was king-size so quite roomy and we were able to leave the shutters and windows wide open. Even though it was raining, the roof overhung so far, that it did not rain inside. No mosquitoes or bugs came in either. We sleep very well that night.

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