December – “Bonnes fêtes de fin d’année”
December – “Bonnes fêtes de fin d’année”

December – “Bonnes fêtes de fin d’année”

Bonjour mes amis,

 December – “Bonnes fêtes de fin d’année” – it’s a mouthful isn’t it but that’s what everyone’s saying here this week to each other – “Happy Celebrations at the end of the year”, except me, who keeps getting it wrong – I’ve been saying “Happy End” to most people – forgetting the entire phrase time after time.  To all our readers, we wish you a Happy New Year for 2023 and really hope you’ve had a joyful and a calm Christmas after, what feels like, a year of upheaval in the world. Here’s a few festive scenes at la gare and out & about.

Fortunately, the lovely French folk in our village tolerate our badly memorised French phrases and inability to string a full flowing conversation together, smile and nod back at us, laugh with us and probably at us but they know that we are trying and nobody minds, especially at Christmas.  The miming helps loads of course, and I think we could give Marcel Marceau a run for his money – (who knew that he was a member of The French Resistance – we recently watched an American film called “Resistance” which covers this time during his life).  Not cowering away from the locals at the bar or in the shop or from our neighbours also helps – we just get stuck in and blabber on the best we can – I think the locals love the entertainment – nights at the bar are often loud and giggly.  We take a little gift up to our neighbours each Christmas, our third “Noel” living here at la gare de Sos,  along with our phones for google translation and whilst it might start off a bit uncomfortable, sitting in someone’s home without being able to chat freely, we’re soon having a right laugh.  This year we talked about the amount of weight we have piled on during 2022 and discussed all the possible reasons for it including Tracey’s broken wrist, the horrendous heatwave, less full-on DIY because we had guests in etc etc, all the while glugging the local apero “Floc”, munching cashew nuts and chewing on saucisson sec! Hmm, how indeed have we got so plump I wonder! You can still get a bargain 3 course lunch here for 15 euros and here’s a pic of one such lunch – we reckon the homemade prune dessert had fifteen euros worth of armagnanc in it! The other restaurant pic is a gang of friends from Sos and beyond – we got together for a pre-Christmas shindig at Bistro Sotiate.

So, the BIG diet starts in earnest in January 2023.  Lee and I over-consume when it comes to food and wine, we love both and we know this is the cause of our current curves in the wrong places. We always knew that this moment would arrive – when we actually have to do something about it for our health.  Motivation for Tracey comes from sitting with our petite neighbour, who is 10 years older, but fitter and slimmer than a teenager with a washboard tummy and not a wobbly bit in sight – she told me – “je fais du sport – je ne regarde pas le sport” – which means “I do Sport, not watch sport” when I foolishly enquired if she’d enjoyed the World Cup.  She seemed absolutely flabbergasted to hear we’d watched every match. So my “go-to” fat burner DVD is ready for the New Year jig about The Warehouse and you’ll see the photo of Clarence, contemplating joining in, in the picture gallery below.

Warning for Daphne then, longer and faster walks are just a few days away.  And so is a reduction of our food intake and maybe a dry January.  We are definitely going to try a month without baguettes – it will be ridiculously hard not to head into the boulangeries, but it should help kickstart some weight loss. A group of us are having one final blow out on Friday 30th, then supporting each other to keep the “No Booze, No Bread” regime going throughout January with the help of a Whatsapp group – and that is exactly what a diet is called here “un regime”.  Quality food, just a lot less of it is the general plan.  It should help reduce our grocery shopping bills too, which, like everywhere else, have sky-rocketed.  There are days where I long for a trolley full of cheap goodies from Home Bargains or Poundland – especially at Christmas – You know what I mean – bags of chocolate gold coins, After Eights and Chocolate Oranges – three for the price of two – but, alas, they are not to be found in this bit of France so we had an expensive box of Lindt chocolates to ration out. (There’s none left – we ate them in one go).

Christmas dinner was a piece of local pork and the veg that was available at our little Sos Wednesday market. Our lovely fruit & veg seller gave us some freebies – including a big bag of lychees – which we’ve never even tasted fresh.  A couple were refreshing but after that, they started to taste a bit like dishwasher tablets to us.  We did have an indulgent M&S Christmas pud for dessert that I managed to order online to remind us of a UK Christmas dinner – it was divine with custard.  We also splashed out on a Vielles Vignes Cotes du Rhone red – something a bit different to the local reds – and we were not disappointed – as close to a Châteauneuf-du-Pape as you’ll get without the hefty price tag.  A red wine that feels like silk sliding around your mouth, without any furry-carpet-y aftertaste, rich and juicy and very-big-smile-producing. From vines that are 80 years old too.  We were able to take our Christmas Day aperos outside, under blue sky and in bright sunshine – must have been 18 degrees.  Tracey also managed a cycle ride on Christmas morning and we had the whole of Lac de L’Uby to ourselves, bar two fishermen.  Here are some of our blue sky photos from December and Christmas week in Sos and at the local lakes. The only frost came on 5th December – all the leaves came down after that. Fortunately, help arrived, in the form of our nephew to help with leaf collecting, read on… Notice the plane trees at Nerac, infront of the church, beautiful autumnal leaf colours one day, then after the frost, none at all – not even on the ground – the council do a pretty good job of leaf clearing which I was able to watch every week in Autumn whilst waiting for my physio sessions.

Back to our language efforts then, Lee is thriving on the DuoLingo app, winning medals and everything; I overheard him to talking to the builder a few weeks ago and from where he was when he first arrived (oui, non, merci, bonjour ) it was a massive improvement. He used to run round looking for me like it was a dire emergency when a builder or delivery driver spoke to him, now he actually goes up to greet the postie.  Well Done Lee. We have learnt that you just have to take “le plunge”. 

I am pleased to see the back of 2022 but very grateful for what I have back in terms of wrist and hand flexibility thanks to six months of excellent physiotherapy here.  Back in June I was a miserable wretch.  I found that I actually enjoyed putting a Christmas tree up this year and having a bit of sparkle around the place (I usually moan at all the effort of clambering over motorbikes to get to the tree and decorations in the garage and put it off and off in the hope that Lee won’t notice).  Tracey-Grinch, away with you!  Our nephew Pip had some downtime from university and got the cheapest no baggage allowance flight from Birmingham to Toulouse for £40.and came for a week with us before Christmas – no other motivation needed to get out the shiny things.  It was wonderful to have a young person around to help Lee with leaf-picking, to cook & eat some really nice meals together, including an early Christmas dinner, to catch up with family news, to get our IT problems resolved and watch films and box sets and The World Cup Final.  We also had some lovely walks with Daphne and a few visits out and about, including a disused railway line near Riscle with an amazing Eiffel Bridge and we took in some medieval construction methods – Pip is studying Civil Engineering.  It’s good for our family to see this place in Winter and understand that it’s not “Sunny Station Vacation Swimming Resort” all year round. We enjoyed evenings in The Station with the log burner roaring away. Apparently, according to the young person, we have a cool Google TV and, apparently, it does a lot of cool things. We had no idea! (I thought having an Aunt & Uncle that gave me Corona Cream Soda was cool when I was young – it wouldn’t impress today’s young uns that).  Nephew Pip, also started to appreciate and enjoy drinking wine – something his younger brother has appreciated from about the age of 7!  Pip was able to join us on “the works Christmas meal” – we treated the good friends, that supported us earlier in the year, when Tracey was disabled by her broken wrist, to a meal at our local Bistro Sotiate and we had a really good evening of delicious food, good company, fizz and wine.

There were no extra days off here as Christmas fell over the weekend – only Alsace & Moselle region had the Monday as a Bank Holiday – it really is a bit of bad luck when holidays fall at the weekend here.  The church bells started ringing on Christmas Eve to call folks to an early mass at 9pm.  We didn’t go up to the village, having been out partying the night before, but it would have been busy with families gathering at the church – it really is magnificent to hear the bells on special occasions and see the church come to life with light and people at Christmas and Easter and All Saints.  The School part of the village becomes quiet over the holidays and the church side of the village gets livelier. 

The day after Christmas Day then is just a normal day here and we were back to work – Lee is currently juggling a couple of projects – building the log store attached to the side of The Pump House and rubbing down the level crossing gate.  Tracey is still trying to sort the headboard in room 102 – the decorating is complete though.  We’re making the most of the decent weather to do the outside jobs, log chopping and some vegetation cut back. The boiler / store room is complete and it’s great to have some storage for the Station cleaning stuff.  We await the builders to start the construction of The Engine Shed in January – the base is down.

We’ve looked through all our photos of our first year in business at Station Vacation – what lovely memories we have of our guests in 2022.  Here’s two that stand out – sorry, I have a cycling bias – our youngest nephew to visit so far, cycling down the old railway track, the photo captured the warm Autumn day perfectly, taken by little nephews big brother. And then, this mother and daughter gloriously happy picture – a pootle along a traffic-free old railway line really does wonders for the body & soul.  Post Christmas Gascon Bliss! 

Best Wishes All, please get in touch with any of your news or any holiday enquiries – we love hearing from previous guests and new ones and we look forward to welcoming folk here again in 2023.  Advance Notice – husband has plans for a private narrow gauge railway at la gare de Sos, stage one, 130 metres of track and a turn-out into the engine shed!

As usual, a couple of cute pet photographs to share with you. We are happy to report that Clarence has not had a cat fight for well over a month.