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19th February

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Edited by Cathy Winsor, Sunday, 19 Feb 2012, 12:25
I flew back to Toulouse after a busy week in Bristol, stopping for just a night before setting off early for a trip to Bordeaux. It didn’t start as a planned sightseeing trip, Philip bid for and won (no other bidders) a piece of furniture on eBay…a Zanzibari chest, not because we especially needed one, but because when we lived in Oman thirty odd years ago we always intended to get one, (they are used as dowry chests by Omani women, made of teak with lots of decoration using brass studs.) At that time they weren’t easy to find. We had to collect it from near Bordeaux so decided to stay the night there to give us time to see the city. Our old Rough Guide wasn’t very flattering about Bordeaux, but in the last 10 years it has had a makeover, thanks to a Mayor who managed to extract millions from the government for renovation projects and the construction of a network of tram lines. It reminded me of Bath, so many beautiful stone buildings, a preponderance of churches and basilicas and narrow streets. We thoroughly enjoyed the walking tour and the tram ride in and out of the city. We collected the chest in the evening. Collecting any piece of second hand furniture always gives a glimpse into another life. The seller was a man in his seventies, whose wife had recently died, he’d lived in the Middle East, where he’d bought the chest and was downsizing to a smaller property in the city centre. We could have talked for hours about Oman etc but we turned down an invitation to join him for a drink, some of his friends arrived so it didn’t seem unkind. We had supper in Ikea which was next to the budget Etap hotel where we spent the night. The next morning we made an early start to a see Blaye, a citadel town on the coast. It seemed somehow incongruous that people were living in small village houses within the citadel, and sad that so many of the properties were falling into ruin, despite it being a major tourist attraction. Evidently, unlike Bordeaux, their mayor is unable to pull strings to extract funds from the government. We had a second purchase to collect, bought on Leboncoin, which is France’s equivalent of Gumtree. We met the seller at a village church not far from Blaye and followed her along dirt tracks through vineyards, feeling just a little anxious. She had stored furniture from her parents house in a shed attached to a tumbledown house, there were lots of small faces pressed to the window. We loaded the sofa into the back of the van, happy with our bargain, and then continued our tour of the area. It was so interesting driving past the chateaux with names familiar from wine bottles, some of the chateaux were beautiful grand buildings with turrets, some were humbler crumbling properties and so many of the vineyards were for sale. Wine consumption has halved in France and many of the growers are going out of business. The medieval village of St Emilion is a show case for the local wines; most of the shops lining the steep cobbled streets are either Caves or macaron shops. We did a complete tour of the village, admiring the views, roman stonework and old tiled roofs, stopping at a bakery to buy bread for our picnic lunch. We did think about buying a case of wine but decided we should do a wine tasting course first. The drive back home was without incident, we arrived home to a welcoming committee of six hungry cats. Despite the milder weather the conservatory builders haven’t put the glass in the roof frame; it is still sitting in a trailer next to the house along with the battered van containing their tools. Oh well, maybe next week.
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