Friday, April 18, 2014

P - Pyrenees

My husband spent nine years of his youth climbing in the Pyrénées, a Mountain range that creates the border between France and Spain. I love these mountains, and not just because my husband does. There is just SO much to do and see! We’ve enjoyed “Canyoning” a mix of climbing and swimming, discovering restaurants, and the “devil’s bridge”, and an old fort called the “Donjon des Aigles,” (Fort of the Eagles) renovated to house and show birds of prey. Small sheep/goat/cattle farms like those at Sost, make and sell their own cheeses. Andorra is another country set right between France and Spain, where gas (and almost everything) is cheaper than in the bigger neighbors because it has ski resorts and no sales tax! The Pyrénées on the Spanish side are much drier and surprise you into thinking them a different mountain range all together. On the French side the countryside changes continuously from one region to the next, speckled with ancient forts and castles like Foix. Here you’ll find Lourdes, where the waters and grotto draw pilgrims all year long, not to mention the spa town of Luchon and the distinctive horses of Merens-Les-Vals. The Atlantic end has the BasqueCountry with its distinctive architecture, history, and colors. The Mediterranean end sports towns like Collioure, a perfect example of life in the sun with a touch of history. Not to mention beaches stretching out like half-clothed women in the sun. Trekking, climbing, enjoying the views is always in demand and one such place is where the Pyrénées’ rugged spine is broken and called the “Brèche de Roland.” Legend has it that Roland broke through with his sword and marched on to a glorious win against the Saracens in Spain.

The Pyrénées have just about anything you could wish to see… Okay, stopping now!

Canyoning in the Pyrennes

The water is cold but the rock formations magnificent.

Le Pont du Diable, The Devil's Bridge near Foix

Le Donjon des Aigles near Tarbe.

A mad dash for the hills in Sost!

Yep, that's a cow going by right outside the car window. We had to stop to let the herd pass.

The farm at Sost, owned by the famille Sost for nine hundred years! New buildings here of course...
A village on the Spanish side...
The gorge for canyoning on the Spanish side


The distinctive Merens horses.
St. Jean de Luz, the Basque Country
Collioure at night

Collioure's colors...
Hiking in the Pyrenees, Elizabeth Barwick during her first trip to France.

Mountain islands among the clouds at sunset...

Do you see the sheep dotting the mountainside?
Le Breche de Roland, Roland's Break, very clear to see here...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O - The Opinel Knife of France

Today I’m going to introduce you (if you haven’t been introduced already) to a knife. Now this is no ordinary knife and many French people will tell you this knife is the ever-ready, typical French knife that everyone knows about even if they don’t own one themselves. I’m sentimental about this knife, but there’s so much information online about it, I’m not going to go into the details here of why it’s so famous. Check out this link for its HISTORY.  What I will write about is why I’m sentimental. It’s very French (since 1890), and I love it, and yes I do own one. The name of this amazing instrument is “Opinel.” (pronounced oh-pee-nelle)
When I met my husband thirty-two years ago he carried an Opinel in his jean or trouser pocket, like my dad, who carried a pocket knife all his life. Most men in the southern (and western?) US carry a pocket knife. Most would feel practically naked without it. I don’t know about northern men, but in the south it’s a staple. The don’t-leave-home-without-it, original “all in one” tool. My husband, when I met him, used it mountain climbing, in the kitchen, at work, anywhere he found a need. He showed me his when he made dinner for me, the first meal we had alone together in his apartment in Bordeaux. His best mountain-climbing friend and father of “our” goddaughter, Jean Paul Delmas, gave the knife to him after he’d lost his own during one of their mountain treks. He still has that knife 31 years later, and we still use it. Our whole family owns at least one. Mine is special to me because another of my husband’s best French friends, Guy Clement, gave it to me a few years ago. I hugged him tight when he said I could keep it. His gift of his knife felt personal and I cherish it, and use it every day in my kitchen!  
Enough, go check them out for yourself if you’d like, and in the meantime, enjoy the photos!
P.S. Another knife used in France and very famous is a Laguiole  (pronounced Lah-yee-ole)and yes, we have those too…

The special knife Guy Clement gave to me.

My son's Opinel, bought in Etretat the year France won the World Soccer competition. This is a collector's edition now.

My daughter's, a different form, more feminine and thinner.

Our collection of Opinel. My daughter's very first tiny one, her's now, mine, our son's and the last two are my husband's. The largest is the one Jean-Paul Delmas gave him in the Pyrenees while hiking. You can see the difference in the blades, stainless steel and the regular which tarnishes.