Another Road Trip: Algarve to Berlin

Driving around Europe sounds sort of romantic, doesn’t it? When we bought our left hand drive car in the summer of 2012 we certainly thought so. Countless hours on French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Polish and Czech roads later and we’re kind of over it. Still, travelling with a car has its plus points. It makes moving house a lot easier, for one. For two, it also means you get to visit a lot of interesting places on your way from here to there.

Road trip lagos

Our latest road trip took us from Lagos in The Algarve (Portugal), to Neukoelln in Berlin (Germany).

The road trip before that (Berlin to Valencia) took three weeks, but that was far too long. This time we settled on seven days. That seemed just right. Seven days, seven stops. We tried to keep each day’s driving down to about five hours, any longer than that and we get serious road fatigue.

I’ve summed up the highlights of our trip, although to be honest we didn’t  get a chance to see or do too much as we were mostly driving, listening to podcasts, and trying to avoid the temptation of junk food.

Lagos to Granada (via Silves and Sesmarias): about 6 hours

Granada

Our first day on the road started later than we intended. Both sets of parents are based in the Algarve (mine for six months, James’ permanently) and it would be rude to leave without saying goodbye. Two pit stops and countless cups of tea later, we were on our way. We didn’t reach Granada until 9:30pm, where we encountered a bit of grid-lock on the by-pass. Thankfully our hotel was near the motorway exit, and was also a short stroll from some excellent tapas bars. Dinner time doesn’t start until 10pm in Andalusia so we had plenty of time to freshen up.

Granada to Valencia: 5 hours

Drive to Valencia

Living in Valencia didn’t work out for us, but we’ll never regret our time there because we got to meet Mike and Juergen from For 91 Days. It would be rude of us to drive across Spain without popping in to say hi, so we had a pit-stop in Valencia (and quite a few glasses of vino tinto). We still really need to give Valencia a proper second chance, as one night on the way to Berlin (and one month living by the beach) wasn’t enough.

Valencia to Girona: technically, 4.5 hours. Really, 8.5.

Girona

We were all set to hit Girona by lunch time when disaster struck. That’s for another longwinded blog post, : all I’m going to say is that if you’re going to break down in Spain, don’t do it on a Sunday. Once we arrived in Girona it was too late to walk into town, but we did wander up in the morning and oh my lord what a wonderful little city. It’s so beautiful, and the Catalan flags hanging from every window reminded me a bit of Leith last September, with the saltires hanging from almost every window.

Girona to Beaune: 7 hours

Beaune

When we were planning our route I suggested Beaune. For some reason I thought my favourite cheese, epoisses, came from there but I was wrong. It is, however, the wine capital of Burgundy. Guys, you should have seen the supermarket here. There was a GINORMOUS epoisses that I sadly wasn’t allowed to buy because Mr Sensible pointed out that it would make our car smell of dog farts. I was allowed to buy a magnum of cremant de bourgogne, however, and a few bottles of champagne and white burgundy.

Beaune to Strasbourg: 4 hours

Strasbourg

This is when we saw snow for the first time all winter and wondered why we were driving north anyway. Are we mad? After wandering around the city for ages looking for somewhere to eat we eventually stumbled upon Académie de la Bière: two people were just leaving a table and we managed to grab it. The beer was fantastic, as was the flammkuchen. Good music, great atmosphere, and exactly what we needed after a few long days on the road. I’d definitely recommend popping in.

Strasbourg to the Czech Republic: 5.5 hours

Cheb

We decided to mix things up a bit by driving straight across Germany to stay in a hotel just inside the Czech Republic, a short drive from a town called Cheb (heh heh heh). The hotel, called Seeberg, was just… wow. The views were fantastic, the decor was quaint, and we had a huge two person bath tub in our room! The breakfast was really good, too. The only down side was dinner: it got to 7:30pm and we decided to check out the restaurant across the way. It was closed, and it was the only place nearby. The hotel owner seemed confused that we wanted dinner, and said she could give us some cold meat or something. We decided to drive into town but it was the same story, nothing open.  I was gutted as I was really looking forward to trying some hearty Czech cuisine.

Czech Republic to Berlin: 4.5 hours

Berlin

Our last day of driving and the weather made us suffer. It started raining, but as soon as the rain hit our windscreen it froze. Our windscreen fluid had also frozen, and our wipers were needing replaced, so we pulled into a service station to grab some anti-freeze. While we were cleaning our windscreen a guy came over to us: at first I thought he was some kind of scammer but he was just looking for help. His car’s battery had drained and he needed someone to give him a jump start.

His story was quite interesting. He was checking out a flat in Leipzig for his Scottish flatmate, who he lives with in Wales, and only had 8 hours to make it to Denmark to get a ferry to Newcastle: where he’d be driving to Aberdeen to pick up his mate, then back down to Wales. He was deaf, and I felt a bit guilty that I can’t sign. We gave him a boost and he went on his way: if you’re out there dude, I hope you made it!

All in all I felt like this seven day drive was a bit of a whirlwind, and it made me realise that two nights in a place is better if you really want to see it. Stupidly I didn’t take time off to travel, so I was trying to squeeze in a few hours of work around driving and exploring.

Hello Catalonia!

After our depressing Friday night of no food, alcohol, or any sort of action, I woke up this morning with a splitting headache. Thankfully James is an absolute legend and he agreed to drive us all the way to Lloret de Mar. What a star!

FranceCatalonia collage

We stopped off at an Intermarche to pick up some picnic supplies (rotisserie chicken, baguette, crisps, and tangerines- what more do you need?) then ate it in the sun at one of the lovely aires (road side stopping areas with toilets, picnic benches, and so on).

For some reason driving through France always feels really boring, and like it takes forever. Even when you’re driving past the Cote d’Azure and the Pyrenees. We made it into sunny Spain (more precisely Catalonia) eventually, and stopped again so that James could have a coffee and so I could grab a water for my headache.

I found a much better headache cure once we arrived at our apartment
I found a much better headache cure once we arrived at our apartment

Our first night in Lloret was pretty low key. We ate some chorizo and drank cerveza on our balcony and felt happy to be back in Spain.  Once we arrive in Valencia (our next stop!) that’s us settled until March. Considering we left Berlin on the 1st, we’ve definitely taken our time. I’m excited about being able to un-pack and finally get some washing done.

As for the crisps I won in our wager, well, we shared a packet of chevre flavour in France and some garlic & parsley flavour in Lloret.

France: it’s good to be back!

I spent the best part of 2012 and a quarter of 2013 house sitting in France, and to say I have mixed feelings about the place would be… wrong. Basically, I kind of convinced myself that I didn’t like it. I seemed to inflate a few bad experiences I’d had while house sitting in the Pyrenees and a few excruciating long drives into a kind of almost… hatred for the land of pastries and turtlenecks.

Collecting holy water in Lourdes, a statue in Paris, and a stall at the Laruns cheese festival
2012: Collecting holy water in Lourdes, a statue in Paris, and a stall at the Laruns cheese festival

After popping back in for half an hour on our way to Switzerland I felt a pang as I was reminded of some of the things that make France wonderful. The light and crisp baguettes, the fantastic selection of cheeses, and the September/October wine fair, for example. The great memories started to come flooding back. Then I started to remember how friendly the people are.

I’d convinced myself that French people were rude, but the more I thought about it I realised that actually all the French people I’d met during my time in France were lovely. Henri, the toothless farmer who lived just outside Salies de Bearn and took the time to chat to us during our daily dog walks; our neighbour who looked after us during the hunters dinner; our regular checkout girl in Super U who used to practice her English on us. All welcomed us into their country with open arms.

2013: Skiing in La Mongie, wine tasting in Toulouse, and Jardin Massey in Tarbes
2013: Skiing in La Mongie, wine tasting in Toulouse, and Jardin Massey in Tarbes

When I think about it I realise it was the English expats that really soured my experience of living in France. The woman who asked me “how old are you, fifteen?” in a derisive tone at a Franglais meeting; the girl who completely blanked us in our local supermarket car park; all the crazies who messed us around. None of them were French, but their unfriendly attitude put a nasty filter on life in France for me.

I had some amazing experiences living in France, so why have I been wandering around like “pah, France!” for the past year and a half? I honestly have no idea. But I do want to issue a formal apology to France and her people for any badmouthing I may have done. France, you are wonderful.

Our drive from Pieve di Teco to Marseilles certainly confirmed that in my head. We might have been on a motorway, but with views like this most of the way it was anything but dull.

Bellano to Marseilles (8)

France, I love you, and I’m so glad to be back. Even if it is just for two nights.

There’s More to House Sitting than Cheap Accommodation

When we quit the nine til five-thirty to go travelling two years ago, we weren’t entirely sure what was going to happen. We had a few ideas for how to make money while on the road, but we weren’t sure how good they’d be. In the meantime we didn’t want to spend our life savings, and I didn’t want to stay in hostels.

That’s when we discovered house sitting.

Seventeen cats, eight dogs, two terrapins and a herd of alpacas later, we’ve learned that house sitting isn’t for everyone. 

Don’t get me wrong, house sitting is a great way to travel. It’s the best way to integrate into a community, discover what life really is like in a country, and a lovely way to meet new people. During our house sitting adventure we got to experience things that we’d never have been able to otherwise: such as sitting down and enjoying a hunter’s dinner in a small farming village in the Pyrenees, learning how to handle alpacas, and getting some really sage advice from expats who have “been there, done that.”

While there are plenty of upsides, I don’t believe house sitting is right for people who are just looking for cheap accommodation.

If you’re thinking of becoming a house sitter so that you can “see the world for hundreds of dollars less” you need to understand that it’s not just about budget travel: it’s about  serious responsibility.

Would you stick your hand in her mouth to pull out a stick wedged between her top row of (very sharp) teeth?

Without getting on my high horse, being a house sitter is hard work. Although James and I took a couple of day trips during our five month stay in a village 35km outside of Tarbes, we couldn’t leave Cassie alone for more than a few hours at a time. She needs to go out to pee, she needs two walks a day, and most importantly: she loves to spend time with her humans.

As a result, the house wasn’t just a base for exploring: it became home. We had to clean the oven, clean the shower, and basically do all of the gross nasty stuff that you need to do when you own a house.

In a hostel the cleaners do that for you, but when you house sit you’re on your own.

Would you clean gunge out of her eye every morning?

In Salies de Bearn we had to get up at 6am every morning to take two big dogs on a six kilometer walk before the sun got too hot. We love animals, we love walking, so this didn’t bother us. It does eat into a working day, especially when you have to clean the swimming pool too. It definitely takes it out of you, and means a lot of late evenings burning the midnight oil if you’re a digital nomad like me.

If you need peace and tranquility to work remotely, then house sitting isn’t for you.

Would you clean his poop off the rug when he eats food that doesn’t agree with him?

What I’m trying to say is, if you don’t like animals, then house sitting definitely isn’t for you. If you like rushing off on adventures, house sitting is not for you. If you like having your own routine, then nope: it’s not for you.

However.

If you want to immerse yourself in a new culture while living a pretty settled life (i.e. house work on a Sunday, curling up with the pets in the evening), then house sitting is for you.

If you work remotely and want to base yourself somewhere interesting, while enjoying a few home comforts, then house sitting is for you.

If you understand the full responsibility of looking after someone’s home and pets, then house sitting is for you.

What do you think? Have you ever tried house sitting?

3 Countries in One Day

I don’t have much time to spare tonight unfortunately, so it’s just a quick blog post about the highlights of leaving Germany and taking in three countries in one day!

Montage
Some of the sights we saw on our travels

Germany

We said goodbye to our wonderful hosts, Hans and Rita of the fantastic Gastehaus Lenz, and drove off south. We passed through plenty of gorgeous Black Forest towns on our way to the border. We’d heard that the prices in Lidl Switzerland are double that in Germany so thought we should pick up our messages before hitting our next apartment. We spotted an Edeka: I wanted to go in because I love the advert:

*Geil means ‘cool’ in English btw

Unfortunately their prices were more Waitrose than Asda so we just bought some bread, cheese and crisps and had a snack in the car park.

France

Wine Fair

We were getting awfy close to the border and still hadn’t picked up our shopping, so we decided to come off the motorway. At that point we noticed that if we turned right we’d be in France: so we did the wise thing, turned right, and visited the outskirts of the French town of St Louis.

In the supermarket we were dancing around like Jack Skellington, picking up cheeses and grabbing gold medal bottles of wine from the wine fair. We even had a look for compression bags to make more room in our car for a few boxes of wine (to no avail).

Switzerland

IMG_0365

Our first moment in Switzerland was meeting the motorway check-point lady.

“Where are you going?”

“Switzerland!”

*sigh* “Where in Switzerland?”

€40 later and we have a wee sticker on our window that lets us drive on Swiss motorways until January. Woohoo!

After driving through some pretty spectacular scenery, we eventually arrived at our guesthouse. James lost no time in making new friends.

IMG_0367He now wants to go to an expensive Swiss supermarket to buy some tuna for puss-puss: what happened to the tight Irish boyfriend I knew and loved!?

Back Across the Channel

We woke up in Tours with only five hours to reach the ferry terminal in Le Havre. I was pretty glad that James had booked us into a hotel on the Northern outskirts of the city. Tours is one of the biggest places I’ve ever driven through, and I wouldn’t have fancied trying to do it during rush hour. This was probably the most stressful part of the journey, because we couldn’t be late or we’d miss our ferry. This resulted in quite a few arguments.

LeHavre

Argument #1: Stopping for a Coffee when we filled up on Diesel. I wanted to keep moving, James wanted an espresso. Cue him enjoying a leisurely coffee while I downed mine and started panicking.

Argument #2: DO WE GO RIGHT OR LEFT AT THESE TRAFFIC LIGHTS?! After the coffee, there was a set of traffic lights. “James, do we go left or right here?” I asked, quickly because obviously the light would be turning green soon. James sighed and drawled “well, you can go left. Or you can go right. Or you can go straight over.”

“OK, but which is the quickest? Left?”

“Hmmm… left does have its good points, but you could also go right, maybe.”

“JAMES!”

“WHAT?! I TOLD YOU YOU CAN GO LEFT OR RIGHT OR STRAIGHT OVER, JUST BLOODY PICK ONE!”

Argument #3: We should just queue up now. The ferry leaves in 2 hours! OK, I admit it. I’m one of those radges that stands at the departure gate even when there’s no plane to board. I just like to make sure I’m not going to get left behind, is all. We arrived at Le Havre a wee bit early, and I wanted to join the queue. James wanted to go and get some food. We bickered but then I gave in, and we parked up.

Argument #4: Storming out of a restaurant Well, it was a sit down restaurant and I didn’t think we’d have time to relax and enjoy a leisurely French lunch AND go to the supermarket for nibbles and wine AND get to the ferry before it launched. We had menus, but it was taking a while for the waiter to take our order. James was pretty embarrassed when I said to him “let’s go”.  He moaned at me a bit for being embarrassing and indecisive, but then we had a delicious baguette with salmon and cream cheese so it was all good. 

Those are just the ones I can remember. I’m sure we bickered a bit more than that, too. 

When we were boarding the ferry we noticed a sign saying that they had a few cabins left for £12 a pop. We contemplated it then decided it would be silly, since we were landing at 10pm and had a nice hotel to go to. Sitting in the lounge would be fine.

I’d like to say just now, dear readers, if you ever find yourself in that situation please do not hesitate to book a cabin. Ferries are hell on Earth.

We sat down. I got myself comfy and started reading my…iPhone. My Kindle killed itself a few months before (sob!) but luckily for me I’m not a pirate, so I was still able to enjoy reading my book via the Kindle app. Amazon were amazing: when I told them what happened, they sent me a new Kindle even although it was out of warranty. Happy girl.

Anyway, James went off to explore and came back all excited, telling me there was an emptier lounge we could sit in with less people around. I was like, yay! Turns out it was quiet for a reason. It was right beside the kids play area. After ten minutes of listening to English children gabbing to each other I was about ready to jump overboard.

I restrained myself, and then we arrived in England: the country where queuing is king.Take a ferry to France or Ireland, it’s a case of flashing your passport and driving off into the sunset. Not in England, oh no. You have to wait for 30 minutes after the ferry has landed before getting off the boat, then you have to queue for about 40 minutes before you even get near a border guard. Seriously.

“Welcome to England, we’re known for our queuing! Yes it is 10pm but I’m sure you’re all looking forward to a nice bit of queuing up!”

We eventually got to our hotel at about 11pm: by which point most of the local takeaways had shut. So we had to make do with a kebab and chips, which we ate on the floor of our beautiful boutique hotel room.

5 Reasons Why Road Trips Basically Suck

Hello everybody!

I thought I’d better get this blog up to speed on my travelling adventures, so I’m snatching a bit of time between work to write about our trip from the South of France up to the North of France. The thing is, I can’t really remember that much of the journey. Not because it happened, like, two months ago, but because road trips basically suck.

PicMonkey Collage

Here’s why.

Reason #1

Although you get to drive through beautiful little towns, you’re too stressed and knackered to appreciate them. Our sat-nav took us cross country when we reached Bordeaux. As our car meandered along single track farm roads, with acres of vineyards sprawling everywhere we looked, the only thing passing through my mind was “FFS WE’RE NOT GOING TO GET TO THE HOTEL UNTIL 10PM NOW AARGHH!”

Reason #2

You end up having to go to McDonalds. Blame the free wi-fi, reasonably clean toilets, and the fact that they actually serve food outwith the hours of 12 and 2pm, or 7:30pm and 8:30pm. 

Reason #3 

If you’re a fool and don’t have a pair of sunglasses specifically for the car, you end up frowning your way across an entire country. Leaving you with a great big wrinkle between your eyebrows and a blistering headache that no amount of mineral water, ibuprofen, and quietly sobbing in the dark can get rid of.

Reason #4 

For every pretty church, quaint river, and beautiful town square you drive through, you’ll end up driving through 50 miles of boring countryside.

Reason #5

You end up arguing all the time. James and I rarely argue when we’re stationary, we’re both pretty easy going and hate confrontation. When we get in the car, ’tis a whole ‘nother story. “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME TO COME OFF AT THAT EXIT?!” “DIDN’T YOU SEE THAT POTHOLE?!” “CAN WE LISTEN TO SOMETHING OTHER THAN BLOODY FALL OUT BOY?!”

Poivre Rouge

To be honest, I might have a better perception of road trips if James and I weren’t such a couple of cheapskates. We avoided the toll roads, which meant that the trip from Caussade-Riviere in the South of France to Tours in the … kind of middle of France… took us around 10 hours.

It should have only taken 8, but there was the Bordeaux fiasco and we also managed to get a wee bit lost driving around Poitiers. It involved myself (and a couple of French people, I’d like to point out) accidentally driving through a fence onto a road that wasn’t quite finished yet. We also ended up driving in a circle round the main square of St Maure du Tauraine (really pretty place, you should go!) for about 10 minutes because the road works confused the sat nav. And the navigator. *cough* me *cough*.

By the time we reached our hotel, the rather inspiringly named QUICK PALACE, we were pretty famished. Thankfully there were a few places nearby to grab a bite at the ludicrously late hour of 8:45pm, and we managed to straggle into a Poivre Rouge.

This was the first time in over six months that James and I were both able to enjoy wine with our dinner. We obviously pushed the boat out and ordered the “vin de maison rouge.” 

To manger, James had a rosti burger: the genius idea of using two potato rosti instead of buns to hold your burger in place. The waitress asked if he wanted frites too and the greedy bugger said yes. I ordered salmon in filo pastry, avec frites. It was basically posh fish and chips, but damn it was tasty!

We finished the meal with an affogato and stumbled back to our rather “boutique” hotel room. If boutique means gaudy decor, plastic sheets on the bed, and a sauna that was probably an actual brothel.

Next Time: Jemma and James drive to Tours, argue a lot, and then get on a bloody ferry! Stay tuned for more adventures in the world of awful road trips.

REVIEW: Les 3B, Nouilhan

I remember reading somewhere that you shouldn’t review a restaurant unless you’ve visited it at least three times. When I lived in Edinburgh this was pretty much impossible. For starters, I was having to scrape pennies together at the end of the month to pay rent, and for seconders there are so many amazing restaurants in Edinburgh to eat at that it would be a bit of a waste to go back to a mediocre place three times just to make sure.

Living in Caussade-Riviere, there aren’t many foodie options nearby. If we want to go out for dinner, there’s roughly three places within driving distance: and as a result we’ve been to Les 3B in Nouilhan five times.

Not that I’m complaining; it’s an amazing wee place. Located on the side of the D935, it’s part of the Logis stable of hotels and restaurants; and I seem to recall a sticker on the window boasting that they’ve caught the attention of the Michelin reviewers. Well, they certainly caught mine!

The majority of times we’ve been to Les 3B has been for lunch. There are two options at this time of day, starter and main for €14 or main and dessert for €12. Although the desserts are good, I’m more of a savoury girl so the slightly more expensive menu option it is for me. I always get a chevre chaud to start, and for the main it’s either fish cassoulette or bavette with pepper sauce.

The Chevre Chaud is something that I could eat every day for the rest of my life and never grow tired of it. Soft and zingy goats cheese on a small piece of toast, enveloped in a purse of filo pastry and then placed on a bed of peppery salad. You can tell that the French have different attitudes to food than we Brits, as the salad contains lashings of cured ham and plenty of walnuts: despite not having anything on the menu to indicate that it’s not veggie or nut allergy unfriendly. The whole thing is drizzled with honey and balsamic. I’d happily eat this as a main; I’m usually stuffed by this point!

I don’t have a pic of the fish cassoullette unfortunately, but it is lovely. The creamy rissotto base is topped with flaky white fish, plump mussels, and grated apple and celariac. There’s always plenty of juices for sopping up with your bread at the end, too.

The other option, bavette, is James’s favourite, and what my parents ordered when I took them out to lunch. I’ve ordered it once too, and it was pretty good. It’s basically just steak served with a lovely peppercorn sauce. On the side? A little parsnip souffle, grilled veggies, and some of the best potatoes dauphinoise I’ve ever tasted. Yum.

They also do a great line in local wines. Only one of us is allowed to drink though: despite drunken driving being considered pretty normal out here in the countryside, we’re not a couple of idiots. I’m actually really proud that we’ve managed to resist the temptation, clearly we were both raised properly.

That said, here’s me enjoying a lovely glass of 2008 Saint Mont Madiran from just up the road while James takes the picture and thinks about the bottle we’ll be opening once we arrive home. Usually I’m the designated driver, but it was my birthday so I got a whole bottle to myself (yippee!)

So if you ever take it into your head to explore Madiran wine country, head down to this wonderful little eatery just outside Maubourguet. It may not be the cheapest place to eat, but it’s certainly one of my favourites.

Oh, and if you both want to drink: never fear. This restaurant has rooms. Book yourself in for the night, stuff yourself silly on good food and great wine, and thank me in the morning.

 

Dining with Local Hunters in the Midi Pyrenees

The Société de la Chasse are basically a bunch of local men who grab their shotguns two to three days a week and wander into the woods to shoot at things. This can be a bit scary when you’re out walking the dogs and suddenly you round a corner to see a bloke with a shotgun, who gives you a nonchalant “bonjour”. It’s not so scary when they pop a leaflet through your door inviting you to their big meal; a six course extravaganza for the princely sum of  €18.

Nothing says 'bon appetit' like the image of a fox mourning over its dead friend

If you’re a local food afficionado, it doesn’t get much more locally sourced than this!

So we packed our glasses, cutlery, and crockery into my handbag (it was ‘bring your own eating utensils’) and headed to the mayor’s office: where the meal and obligatory lotto was set to take place. This was when we realised that the man we thought was the mayor (a Santa lookalike) was actually just a friendly neighbour. The real mayor, to my delight, was the spitting image of Larry David. There was a bar selling port, beer, suze, pastis, and other aperetifs, and a Spanish keyboard player/80’s pop song crooner who reminded us both of The Wedding Singer.

Fabulous atmosphere, and great entertainment from El Robbie Harto

Santa popped over, aperatif in hand already, and invited us to sit with him and his friends. Two lotto tickets bought for the raffle, and we were soon nestled at one of three long tables. Thankfully we brought our appetites with us! I didn’t take any pictures of the scran, because I didn’t want to look like a tourist. Also the food was all pretty ugly. I’ve found some creative commons images to illustrate, though, because who likes walls of text?

First Course: Garbure

This gascon soup/stew is very popular in the South West of France. It’s a cabbage and veggie broth, which often has a confit duck leg lurking somewhere within its murky depths. It’s not exactly my favourite thing to eat, but I managed to polish off a bowl. This one also had creamy haricot tarbais and a zingy hit of tarragon. The pot was left on the table, but I restrained myself and didn’t go for seconds.

Second Course: Assiette de Charcuterie

Image courtesy of capl@washjeff.edu

This is when I finally got the balls to pour a glass of Madiran red wine for James, Santa and myself from the big 2l bottle sitting beside me. There seemed to be one for each group of six, along with a smaller bottle of rosé (which they drink here instead of white, I’m sure Lynne would be pleased to hear!).

The charcuterie plate was lovely, and featured a couple of cured meats as well as a home-made game terrine. There was a vinegar and grated carrot salad that complemented the smokey chorizo and rich sausage. There was also a bottomless basket of bread to enjoy with the terrine. James noticed the other men at the table didn’t eat their lettuce, and he then felt a bit inadequate.

Third Course: Venison Stew

Big bowls brimming with rich stew were laid down in front of us, and we helped ourselves to a plate each. The tender, juicy venison was perfect in its rich red wine gravy, and we both decided it was the stand out dish of the night. There were no veggies in this stew, which made me a happy Jemma. Sopping up the last of our gravy with the fresh baguette, we didn’t take seconds. With three more courses to go, it would be unwise to fill up now, no matter how delicious the stew was.

Palate Cleanser

Pic by stu_spivack : our palate cleanser was far boozier 😉

You could clean more than just a palate with this! We were all handed a wee plastic shot glass with a potent mixture of pear sorbet and whiskey inside. It was similar to the Northern custom of the Trou Normand: breaking up a big meal with a shot of calvados brandy.

When I posted about this course on Facebook, my friend’s dad said “whiskey? Not Scottish then?” to which I could only reply that I had no idea and it was probably brewed in one of the hunter’s bathtubs. It was actually pretty good, and I noticed a few of the men going back for seconds.

Fourth Course: Grilled Wild Boar

Pic by stu_spivack

Huge silver platters laden down with boar chops and potatoes arrived twenty minutes after our palates had been well and truly cleansed. The chops themselves were pretty tasty; like a gamier version of pork (no surprises there) but I really loved the potatoes. Creamy, garlicky, crisp, and delightful, I went back for seconds of these (although I refused a second chop!) I was a bit confused about what to do with the bones, as nobody would be clearing our plates away, then I remembered Cassie: the big German Shepherd waiting for us at home. Lucky girl.

Fifth Course: Cheese & Salad

The French have a bit of salad with their cheese course, which I think is a nice way to round out a meal. James was pleased to see that this time round, all the other men ate their greens too. The cheese was pre-sliced, and I think it was probably a Tomme Noir. I was a bit disappointed that there was only one cheese, but it was actually a really nice one. Creamy, piquant, and melt in the mouth, it went perfect with the cherry jam served with it. Pleb that I am, I whacked mine on a bit of crusty bread. At this point Santa, James, and I, had just about finished the wine…

Sixth Course: Custard and Biscuits

I’m not very good at desserts, and clearly the chasse aren’t either. We were all given a little trifle dish filled with crème Anglais with some wee shortbread biscuits for dunking. It wasn’t the tastiest dessert but with all the awesome food that came before, and with so many mouths to feed, who can complain?

Coffee & Lotto

The meal was officially over as the serving women came around with pots of thick, dark espresso and boxes of sugar. They poured the hot coffee into the now empty wine glasses. Although I’ve started taking a wee coffee after a meal, I decided to say no this time because it was well past midnight and caffeine isn’t the best idea when you want to get to bed before 3am.

Clean plates all round!

We didn’t win anything in the raffle, but we were pretty thankful for that! There was a real feeling of community in the hall and as outsiders we wouldn’t want to butt in. It was honestly so lovely and I felt myself wishing that we had something similar in Edinburgh. Then I realised that our neighbourhoods are too big so it would never work.

The meal started at 9pm, in the village hall around the corner from our house. We staggered home at 1:30am. Awesome.

The McCamembert Burger

Caussade Riviere: a quaint village slap bang in the middle of the French countryside. Idyllic. Peaceful. And not an ounce of bloody broadband to be found.

Thankfully, there’s a saviour. A saviour with golden arches and a penchant for fried food. Aye. That’s right. I’m talking about McDonalds.

Oh how I reviled McDonalds when I lived in Edinburgh. As my hungover flatmate begged me to drive her ten minutes around the corner so she could indulge her hunger for Big Macs, I said no. “Please!” Emma whined, “I’ll give you a tenner!” I just laughed in her face and went back to bed.

The first time I thought McDonalds was alright was when we were en route to an aparthotel in Toulouse and our sat nav sent us to the wrong street. After heading to the building that was apparently our hotel and seeing that it was quite clearly a residential house, we knew something was up. Quick bit of wi-fi stealing from McDo’s and we were on our way.

The second time I thought maybe McDonald’s wasn’t so bad was when I saw how many French people actually eat there. If you fancy a timely burger at lunchtime, forget it. Queues out the door. The French are supposed to have pretty good taste in food, so that’s a good sign, right?

We now live in a house with no internet. With a growing client list, a dwindling savings account, and only a few gigs of data on our 3G connection, their free wi-fi saved our bacon yet again.

So when James had to take a Skype call with a client last week, I skipped along behind him overjoyed that I’d be able to finally upload all of my Christmas photos onto Facebook. And that’s when I saw it.

The McCamembert. *

*not what it’s actually called, but what t’internets is referring to it as anyway so let’s roll with it!

The Guardian has already done a piece about it, and being just as highbrow as them I knew I had to order it.

In France, there are these cool little self serve kiosks where you can type in your order without having to speak to anybody. My French is good enough to order scran, thank you very much, but I’m an anti-social pig so the machine it was. After we ordered our meal it tried to upsell us coffee and dessert; cunning move, Maccy D’s, but not cunning enough.

So how was it? I think the best way to figure that out is to steal Adam Richman’s famous B.I.T.E scale from that highbrow piece of telly entertainment called The Best Sandwich in America. Hopefully I’m not going to get an angry lawyer letter.

I opened the box lovingly, and looked inside.

Bread: The Camembert burger arrived on a ciabatta roll. Lightly toasted, it had a soft interior. The crust was nice and chewy too and lended (loaned?) itself well to the burgeryness inside.

Interior: Inside was a standard McDonalds burger, topped with two slices of camembert, and a wee bit of frissee lettuce. I thought there was meant to be some sauce, but there wasn’t. Fine by me, I don’t like saucy burgers.

Taste: Damn good! Ok, maybe not ‘damn’ good, but better than standard McDonald’s fare all the same. I’d agree with the evaluation that it tasted a bit like brie but I didn’t mind. It went better with the fatty meat than the usual processed slices. This burger is very, very, very, rich.

Experience: All in all, a pleasant experience. I only had half because James is a cheapskate and only got one between us, but the half that I did eat left me feeling good. Unlike the inevitable McDonald’s headache kicked in half an hour later.