Vocab post about coughs and colds hijacked by coughs and colds! Splutter.

I had planned to get a post written and scheduled for tomorrow about coughs and colds but – wouldn’t you know – this week has been hobbled by them! Not all week. I’ve been a little distracted from my French learning this week thanks to an exciting new venture in the form of my new business, Languedoc 121 Tech, which will offer personalised home and small-business computer services and training. Most spare moments have been dedicated to that. The site’s not quite done but it’s getting there. If you hop over to take a look, please let me know what you think – both of the site and the concept.

But back to the cold. Actually, it’s a cough. Knowing I was in for a busy week I planned to work on this new post at some point today and then this evening. That was before my gorgeous little DS was up for a good few hours coughing his little lungs up. It was a wet, sticky cough in the night that had turned into a dry hack by the morning. He was a bit wheezy too and obviously, feeling under the weather, a proper little cling-on. No free time for me then.

What I have discovered though – and this is definitely something of a cultural inauguration – is the power of the suppository. We just don’t do those in the UK, except as a last resort but here and in most other countries in mainland Europe they’re just another method of administering medicine, no big deal. At the chemist to source something for DS’s cough – wanting to avoid another disrupted night, if possible – the dispenser persuaded me to buy a suppository called Coquelusédal. That’s what we normally use, she said. I wasn’t 100% sure I’d use them but for 4 euros, why not? I bought them. Then at ludothèque shortly after a couple of the mums commented on DS’s chestiness, prompting a recommendation the very same stuff: Coquelusédal. Oh yes, they agreed, it worked very well. I was on about 90% persuaded now. If it worked, why not. Better than a trip to A&E at 1am, right?

DS was shattered after a busy morning after his restless night the night before, so fell asleep on the way home. An hour later he woke up in a pretty bad way. His chest sounded really bad and he couldn’t stop coughing. He kept saying “poorly poorly” in the saddest little voice you’ve ever heard. I was thinking we’d be off to the doctor shortly. Time to try the Coquelusédal? James wasn’t keen but I’d done research while DS was asleep and discovered a few things about this particular medicine and suppositories in general.

One, it is an old herbal remedy typically administered for bronchial problems and asthma. The two active ingredients are Grindelia and Gelsemium. I’m a big fan of “old” remedies like this: two of the most effective medicines we use are J Collis Brownes and Gees Linctus. Sadly the latter is becoming harder to come by, which is a shame because it’s incredibly effective. (If you do ask over the counter for them, expect a sideways gaze from the pharmacist before they are handed over.)

Two, the reason it’s given anally not orally is because the compounds are harsh on the digestive system, so it’s not safe to give it orally, especially not to a child.

Three, suppositories are an incredibly effective way to get medicine into the system at home. Especially with a small child who will often resist. They work quickly as they are designed to melt at body temperature and are then rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. A mum online, whose child refuse oral medication, reckons a paracetamol suppository can bring a fever down in 15 minutes.

Armed with these factoids I informed James that I thought we should try it, despite his reservations (which concerned bodily autonomy, which I agreed with.) He agreed I could give one and if it made no difference, we’d bin the rest. So I administered my first ever suppository to a screaming, sobbing toddler. Following the instructions I’d read online, once I had some light on the situation it was pretty quick and easy (definitely not something to try and do in the dark!)

The result? Not 20 minutes later (and after one enormous poo) DS was transformed – an entirely different child. He was riding his bike again, talking, running around the room. And not coughing at all. Nothing. I was expecting it to work and was just happy that he was obviously feeling better again. James was surprised that it had worked so well – conceding that we would not be throwing them away after all.

And today, after giving him another before bed last night, he’s totally back to normal. There was some coughing in the night. We were awake for a while but today he’s got some colour again, no coughing, his breathing is fine. I’m sold.


So far winter is a hygge-fuelled knit fest

December was a busy month for me. With the run up to the Christmas there was extra shopping, crafting, and multiple trips to La Poste, in addition to a bunch of admin tasks I was determined to clear from my to-do list by the end of the year. Getting things done was in some ways greatly aided by a run of fairly bad weather – Manchester weather, by all accounts! Grey, windy, pretty cold, more often than not rain, plus a few days of snow. Because we’ve been cooped up a lot this month, I’m extra grateful to be in this warm and spacious house in this quiet and friendly hameau: this would have been a terrible year to come to France and rent that draughty little gite where we spent the winter last year. If we had, I think we’d be seriously considering coming back! Having a warm home for winter is so important here.

I think it’s because I’ve been feeling all cosy and hygge, that one of the many things that’s kept me busy this month has been knitting. I picked up my needles a few months ago, inspired to knit presents for some of Holly’s friends, starting with a hat pattern I thought would suit one of them. I decided to knit a test hat first using a spool of yarn I’d picked up for a song (£2) in a bargain bucket several years ago. I’ve always liked the colour of it but never really knew what I wanted to do with it but I thought it would work nicely with the Capucine pattern. And I’m sure it would have if only I was still capable of following a pattern correctly. I swear, something has happened to my brain since I last sat down to do some knitting and I lay the blame entirely on lack of sleep and general parenting fug, because somehow I managed to knit using both the wrong number of stitches and the wrong size of needles for the yarn resulting, not surprisingly, in a hat that was not quite the desired size. In fact it was considerably smaller; only just big enough for DS!

Undeterred (it’s powerful stuff this hygge) and feeling confident that I had figured out (albeit too late) what I’d done wrong I embarked on a second attempt. This time using the right number of stitches on the right sized needles. Except I managed to muck it up again. Introducing a hat suited only for the largest of heads. It’s huge! I haven’t bothered sewing the ends in as it’s I will repurposed it at some point.


Capucine done badly: one too small, one too big!

But unlike the overwhelming urge to never ever make anything ever again that occurs after making mistakes with sewing, for some reason it just made me want to knit something else. Next came the bumblebee hat – a yellow and black version of the Luuk pattern, which had been on my to-do list for a while. Cute and pretty much to the pattern but sadly almost too small for DS. I did consider gifting it to a friend but I’m not sure I like it enough – plus the yarn’s not great for a baby, being of unknown origin from said bargain bin. So I keep putting it on DS. And he keeps taking it off. I the long run, that’s one for the Magasin Gratuit, I think.


A Luuk Hat for Sam – “Bumblebee”

Still not ready to quit, my mum and I reached for the needles to knit socks. It was snowing. We had no Internet. My kids only had thin socks for their wellies. So we sat by the fire and knitted. It was very hygge but, sadly, not very productive. As I didn’t have the right sized needles I made mine on slightly smaller ones and my mum made hers on slightly larger ones than the pattern stated were needed. Sadly, this did not turn out well. We each finished one then tested them on DS who, without shame, screamed when I tried to put them on him. So that was that.

Then I realised that DD didn’t have a scarf or any mittens. I started on the mittens, got distracted, and – having stumbled across a nice pattern on Make And Do Crew – decided to also make her a cowl. Following the easy pattern would be too simple though, so I went off piste creatively and used the 4 rows knit, 4 rows purl method from the Luuk hat, as I figured that might sit better. The result is a super-bright and super-snuggly cowl. I thought it was too big for her when it was done and was all ready to frog it and start again but she loves it. At last, a wearable product! I definitely want one of these for myself and James has requested one too, although probably in a more subdued yarn than the one DD has (it’s Cygnet Seriously Chunky in Macaw.)

Colourful Child's Cowl

A MakeAndDoCrew/Wurm hybrid design – very snuggly

After that, back to the mittens. They’re made with some really very natural, which translates as itchy, wool from Cornish Organic Wool recycled from the failed sock experiment. I originally bought it to knit a soaker for DD when she was small and I was experimenting with night-time reusable nappy solutions. It does soften nicely over time so I figured it’d be perfect for mittens given my intention is to shrink them a bit and then lanolise them so they can be worn in the snow and keep small hands warm. I found this pattern but of course impatience got the better of me to so I decided to make a start on slightly smaller needles than recommended since I didn’t have the right size. I made the 4-8 year old size, which have turned out to be just right for DD. I hand-felted them a bit (I got bored after 10 minutes) and haven’t found my old, stiff tube of Lansinoh yet, so they’re yet to be lanolised. There’s no rush since DD was given several pairs of stretchy gloves and some super-soft mittens for Christmas (thank you, Grandma) so refused to wear the pair I made because they’re too itchy. DS is happy to wear them though, bless him. They’re huge on him, of course, but can be made to fit if I sew some synthetic fleece liners inside. He needs mittens anyway so it’s worked out quite nicely.

A picture of some child's mittens in cream wool with an orange stripe across the palm

First attempt at slightly-felted mittens


I think once they’re done that’s it, I’ll be all knitted out for a while. Then it’s back to the sewing machine for a bit.

A Quiet Christmas in France

It’s Christmas! It’s the first year that DD has really grasped the concept and for the last two weeks she’s talked of little else than Père Noël (Father Christmas) – when will he come, how does he get in, will she hear or see him, etc. It’s wonderful.

This time last year we were crammed into a tiny gite that was barely habitable during the winter. In hindsight we were stupid to stay there at all. DD had only started at the school a few weeks before so although we went along to the Fête de Noël (a band and a buvette) and the party for the children (lots of cake and an incredibly tedious story teller!) our language skills weren’t all that and it was difficult to know what was going on. We didn’t really have the internet and we weren’t feeling all that Christmassy. Plus the weather was better.

This year we’re much more settled into daily life – and with worse weather it somehow feels more like Christmas. Maybe that’s how it will always be for the Brit abroad at this time of year. Christmas just doesn’t happen here like in the UK, not out here in the sticks anyway. Yes, there’s a Christmas aisle at the supermarche, but it’s nothing like the barrage of festivity that you get in the UK. If you go to a Christmas market of course, Christmas is on, obviously, but otherwise, apart from the appearance of the Christmas markets, the brass bands that play there, there’s not much to know it was Christmas. It’s quite nice. I get the impression that Christmas here is much less about shopping and more about spending time with family and friends. I may be wrong, but I’m not feeling any of that sense of pressure to spend, to shop, to provide, that I used to get in England. And because we generally have less to do anyway we’ve been able to make time (and in doing so, save money) making presents and cards when maybe in the UK we’d have just bought them without thinking so much. I made mince pies for the teachers and then, because I couldn’t find a way to package them (or anything to package them in that didn’t cost a bomb) we made some pretty gift boxes using some fabulous card and the instructions on this other blog. They came our really well! Likewise, cards. A charity pack of five cards was going to cost 8 euros, so we made those too.

Handmade Gift Boxes

As far as lunch goes, we’re staying at home, cooking a chicken big enough to feed the four of us, going out for a walk while it cooks, then curling up by the fire to watch a film. Simple. And no Christmas TV, which is the scourge of Christmases at my parent’s house! James took DD to the park while DS slept and I managed to get everything wrapped and ready. That worked really well, much better than leaving it to the last minute then sitting up until 1am, trying to stealth wrap, because DD won’t go to sleep – which is what happened last year. We’re ready!

So that’s the practicalities.

For the children I’m trying to keep presents to a minimum, following the rhyme:

Something you need, Something to read,
Something to wear, Something to share.

This is a bit of a get out when it comes to Christmas as it means we are mostly buying things that would be bought and provided anyway. When I first heard this rhyme, it was:

Something you want, something to wear,
Something to read, something you need.

But then what would Santa bring? So I’ve outsourced the Something You Want to Santa, who they’ve been told brings only one present. That works fine. I like the idea of them having a shared present. I like that they’re not expecting Santa to fill the house to the rooftop with everything they want (DD has quite a list!) Otherwise we buy something they want and then Santa brings something else on top. That’s just too many presents in terms of both expense and clutter. 

Then there’s a stocking each, of which the contents looks like this:

  • A handful of nuts and a mandarin (satsuma)
  • A few chocolate coins
  • A Schleich animal
  • A tube of bubbles
  • Some socks and gloves
  • A new lunch box (for DD) and a harmonica (for DS)

I had planned to put a tub of Playdoh or something crafty in each one too but I ran out of time. I think they have enough stuff anyway so am happy that I didn’t manage to get more.

They also get new pyjamas. I would have given them those this evening, by way of encouraging them into bed, but DS had been running a temperature for the last two nights so sending him to bed in super-fluffy winter jammies was not the best idea! Luckily DD didn’t need any encouraging. They can have them tomorrow instead.

On the festivities front, DD has been learning some French Christmas songs at school so we’ve been listening to them on Spotify so she can teach us and so we can learn a few more. Our favourite album (of the weekend, at least) is French Christmas Carols (The Best Christmas Songs) by the French Young Singers.

Our top three songs, which coincidentally are the ones DD has been learning at school to perform at last Sunday’s Fête de Noël last Sunday afternoon – are:

It’s really fun trying to sing along and to learn the lyrics of these new songs. Even if the tune is familiar because the language moves differently, they’re not so easy to sing!

It’s interesting just how different the songs are despite having identical tunes. For example, vive le vent, which is sung to the tune of Jingle Bells (learn the lyrics here), is all about the wind and the weather – no bells or reindeer anywhere! I suppose the other way around the French will be surprised to know that we don’t have sing about the wind in our version 🙂 Most of the traditional English carols and Christmas songs have French equivalents – so there are many to learn. As far as that one goes, I rather like the French version: it’s romantic than. I like the idea of generations connected by memories carried on the winter wind.

And with that thought it’s time for bed. Night night. And Joyeux Noël !


Year Ahead Blogging Plan

This past few months I’ve struggled to make time to keep up with the blog but that’s not for lack of thinking about it. I am constantly distracted, thinking of things to write about and frustrated that I never find the time. As such I always feel “behind” – even though this is a personal project and I’m not accountable to anyone. I also feel like there’s quite a lot of drift and a lack of focus because I write about anything at any time. With that in mind  I’ve decided that a plan would make it easier for me to stay on top of things and also give the blog some much-needed focus. Given my current mission is to improve my French, I’m going to plan to write one post a month focussed on a specific subject that is useful to me right now, thinking about the main areas that I need to work on. That way the blog becomes a tool that enhances my language learning rather than another thing on my to-do list. So here’s the plan:

Illnesses and body parts. This is so necessary because since early December there have been many bugs going around. I need to be able to confidently talk about and understand any conversations at creche or school that relate to DD or DS’s health. That’s why this is top of my list.

This is usually a dark and dreary month, even in France (at least it was last year) so I’ll try to brighten my days by thinking about trips and outings for the rest of the year, so the focus for this month will be making plans.

Winter in the mountains. This is my favourite time of year to go snowboarding but this year, if finances permit, I’d like to try a few skiing lessons. We also want to ensure the two littles can make the most of the snow while there’s good access to the mountains as the warming sun means the roads will be clear on sunny days. DD loves sledging and it will be DS’s first year, so there’s lots of fun to be had.

I always get an urge to start spring cleaning so I may put some vocab together about that. More likely though I’ll talk about all activity that is taking place in the natural world as the flowers start to grow, the trees come into leaf, and we do some work on our vegetable patch, whether that ends up being on our own land or on a small plot we may ask rent from a neighbour.

French holidays and festivals. It’s not just the UK with bumper public holidays in May; France has more than its’ fair share too. This month I’ll take a look at the various public holidays here in France and try to find out more about their origins and any traditions surrounding them.

This is the month of the summer solstice, so I’ll take a look at traditional celebrations that take place in France as well as language related to the moon cycles and any pagan influences in the language.

It’s the holidays! In July the schools finish and the long holiday, les grandes vacances, starts. Time to drift around, swim in the lakes, spend a day or two at the beach or go camping. (That’s is our kind of holiday, anyway.) And there’s the Tour de France, of course.

It’s hot, hot, hot – and likely to be busy. I’m English so naturally I’ll want to talk about the weather.

La rentrée! It’s the end of the holidays and parents across France breathe a sigh of relief as the 8-week summer holiday comes to an end. This month will be all about going back to or starting school in France.

This is always a bit of non-month for me but this month there’s a big mountain bike event in the nearby town. I’ve wanted to take part for the last two year so hopefully this year I will get my act together. This month will be all about bike chatter.

In the UK it’s bonfire night, but that doesn’t happen in France (no Guy Fawkes, no bonfire night!) so instead of writing about James’s favourite time of year I’ll focus on the other big event in my life this month; birthdays (DD will be five!)

It’s Christmas, so of course that has to be the theme this month.

In between times I may also try to write other posts about my experiences navigating the different cultural and administrative landscape – as well as any updates on our land-buying/house-building plans (if the status of any of that changes) – but otherwise the focus will be on these 12 themes and language learning. That’s my number one to-do for 2018.


Where’s all the free stuff?

It’s been a busy week here. On top of all the usual to-ing and fro-ing, parenting stuff, trying-to-set-up-a-business stuff, and day-to-day stuff, I signed up the #naturehackchallenge on Facebook, which has meant allocating some time each day to decluttering (day 1), letting in light and thinking about the different play spaces in the house (day 2), building a nature table (day 3) and now, on day 4, sharing how we incorporate nature objects in our play (short answer: currently, we don’t.)

Today one of the other nature hackers in the group posted a link to a US-equivalent of Freecycle or Freegle; all popular sites that allow use to give away things we no longer need and also to find things we do for free. Of course! I was quite active Freegler when we were at our old house. In fact I dread to think what the value of all the stuff we gave away when we cleaned ot before our move. Probably enough for a holiday! Yes, we felt virtuous at the time. It seemed like a good idea, giving away lots of our low-value things that would cost more to move than to give away and re-find once we arrived. But that was without knowing that, it seems, no-one gives anything away here and everything that is no longer needed is sold for as high price as they can get! Even at vide greniers price are high. Maybe it’s because there are so many Brits here. I don’t know. But I have always had the sneaking feeling that there’s information I don’t have: part of the one price for the English (who are usually happy to pay “too much”) and the price for the more budget savvy French. Instead of paying through the nose on one of the (mostly expat driven and therefore expensive) Facebook sellings groups, or the French equivalent of Gumtree, called Leboncoin, there was something out there for those who wanted to give away their unwanted possessions rather than profit from them?

So I Googled. Of course, various sites turned up:

Not a bad start. Whoopee! Now perhaps I could find some of the bits and bobs I need to finish off declutter (which of course somehow necessitates accumulating more stuff in the name of getting organised: boxes, baskets, and the like.)

Shame then when I find that although there are groups in Limoux and Carcassonne, there isn’t a single listing local to me. The Donnons site wasn’t quite as bad: one listing, 45 minutes from here, someone selling a bunch of drop files. Whoopee.

That leaves me having to plan a day trip so I can visit the Emmaus superstore in Pamiers (it’s not called a superstore but I’ve been told its gigantic so I’m setting my expectations high.) Hopefully I will be able to search out the bits and bobs I need to finish my #naturehackchallenge home decor changes and also potentially drop some off bits I want to get rid of. It’s just a shame because as much as I’m happy to support charities like Emmaus there was always something so simple about Freegling unwanted goods, often things you wouldn’t think to donate, like yarn or fabric scraps, broken but repairable electricals, that sort of thing. It was always nice to meet fellow Freeglers who would turn up at the door to drop off or collect something: some would stop for a chat, others it was quite matter of fact, formal and over in a flash. A few times someone I’d met before at an event but not seen since would arrive, so we’d have chance to catch up and arrange to connect in future! It had something of a community built around it. I’m convinced there is something like this here but am going to have to try harder to find it. I will report back!

In the meantime, here is the result of day 1 and day 2 of the challenge, the whole point of which is to re-evaluate space to encourage and enable creative play, bringing more nature into our homes as a way of facilitating this. It’s Day 4 today and I’m supposed to be sharing pics and inspiration about how we use natural loose parts and instead I’ve written this blog post. Time to catch up!




48 Hours in Narbonne – with kids

Ah, the city break. Before having kids we were quite big fans of city breaks: meandering around back streets, in and out of cafes and the odd bar, heading out in the evening for a meal in a cosy looking restaurant. Oh, those were the days. Not that we had them very often but, being country folk at heart, we always quite enjoyed a few days in the hustle and bustle before skulking off back to our quiet life in the sticks. So it was that we were looking for somewhere to go for a few days away in the holidays. Our first instinct was to look to the mountains. James was keen to explore the area around Les Angles, having talked to someone who regularly goes there for holidays, so that was the first place we looked. If it had just been the two of us, fine, no problem. But out of season, with cold weather approaching, possibly in the wet, what would there be to do with two small children? After trawling the Internet and having a good look at various maps, we hadn’t found anything that was much different from our regular life here. If we struggled to get out for “proper” walks where we live, which is pretty wild as it is, spending a couple of days somewhere even wilder might not be much fun. I also didn’t want to drive too far. I don’t think it’s fair on the kids to spend too much of the day in the car and would rather just get somewhere than take up too much of the holiday travelling.

The idea of a trip to the mountains just wasn’t cutting it. Then were remembered the city break. Why not!? We’d really enjoyed a few days in Cahors on a trip back from the Charente earlier in the year and there was the added bonus that it would probably be warmer than out in the sticks and have a few more wet weather options. But which city? We haven’t been to any French cities, ever – other than a trip to the Carcassone to register the car. Toulouse was an option but in the end we decided on Narbonne as we could also easily reach Gruissan, somewhere we had wanted to visit in the summer but had decided against due to the travel factor and being unable to find accommodation for a short camping trip (and also not having the bottle for a camping trip!) I found a nice-looking apartment a short walk from the city centre, promptly booked it, and that was that: we were going to Narbonne.

As with so many things these days the whole trip was a bit flying by the seat of our pants. For example, it was only as we approached Narbonne that I even looked up the address of the place to get directions. In days gone by I’d have printed maps and had a least some idea of where it was. No more. It was a miracle we all ended up in the car, frankly, as the morning we were due to set off did not go well! James had done a little bit of research previously but hadn’t turned up anything particularly good to do with kids. Just the usual site-seeing stuff: old buildings, city tours (for the full list, check out Trip Advisor). I did a bit of Googling while we drove down and managed to write a very small list of child-friendly things to do, thinking also that it might be cold and wet, so with wet-weather as well as child-friendly activities. Here’s what I found and what we did.

Narbonne Swimming Pool

Narbonne Piscine Municipale

Website: http://www.espacedeliberte.fr/piscine/ 

Top of the list was a visit to the swimming pool. DD loves swimming and is as happy as anything splashing about in arm bands. The pool looked quite impressive, with some fantastic outdoor facilities (not open in November, of course) as well as some fun indoor things, like a waterslide and a play area. The reviews weren’t great with some people saying it was a bit dirty, but there was only one way to find out whether that was true. So off we went.



And it was great! It seemed pretty clean to me, plus it was warm in both the changing rooms, the pool area, and the water. I hate a cold pool! There was plenty of room in the small pool, which started at 40cm and then dropped down to 70cm, which was perfect for both DD and DS. There wasn’t a massive queue for the water slide, so DD went on three times, twice with James and then with me, and DD enjoyed the play area once the water sprayer went off. Once she discovered how fast she could go on the small slide, she really went of it! We passed a happy hour there and only left because DS was getting hungry and showing signs of tiredness. We’d definitely go back!

Pricing was hard to find on their website though. For the four of us (two adults, one 3 year old and a one-year-old) we paid 11 euros 30 cents. Not bad. It’s a bit more than we pay locally but there were more facilities. You’d definitely get better value for money in the summer, given the access to the outdoor facilities, but really it was perfect for us on a grey and stormy looking afternoon.

Other facilities at the same site include a skate park – very popular, looking at the numbers on it – and an ice-skating rink, which DD was fascinated by. Another one to revisit if we end up in Narbonne again.

Google Maps reckoned it was a 30 minute walk from the centre, so we drove. I’m glad we did because it was dark when we came out and everyone was tired. There are supermarkets near by as well as a few fast food places, if that’s your thing.

As far as refreshments go at the pool, there’s a restaurant (open for lunch and dinner) and a couple of vending machines in the foyer.

The Indoor Market

Les Halles de Narbonne

Website: http://www.narbonne.halles.fr/

An indoor market wouldn’t have been my first choice with two small children but as it was we struggled to get DD out of there. She loved it, especially the lobster tank (kids, or at least my kids, really don’t care about the killing and eating thing) and the baskets with all the strange-looking shellfish, including the very odd looking (for a foodstuff) sea urchin. Who would want to eat those!?

The nice thing about the market is that there are also a few cafes and bars – more wet weather places to hang out. And you can also do your shopping while you’re there. We didn’t but a few stalls that caught my eye included one selling moroccan food, with various tagine-cooked meals for sale, and an Italian stall with some really tasty calzones and pizzas. DD was very interested in some the cakes, of course.

The Playground

This isn’t really an official tourist destination of course, but anyone with small kids knows that you can’t beat a play ground. The kids get to let off steam instead of being dragged around the streets (or around boring churches and museums) and you get to put your feet up. The play area was clean – fenced off from the main park – and within a small, quiet park. We had a happy 20-minutes here.

It’s only a few minutes walk from the centre, just past the Cathedrale Saint-Just et Saint-Pasteur, behind the MJC building on Place Roger Salengro. Pick up a coffee then take a seat on the bench while your kids run about.

The Roman Road

Via Domitia of Narbonne

Website (Trip Advisor Review): https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187155-d11548276-Reviews-Via_Domitia_of_Narbonne-Narbonne_Aude_Occitanie.html

This is a section of the original roman road in the main square that has been exposed. What’s particularly nice is that you are able to walk on it – it’s not just something to look at. The striking thing about it is the depth. Roman Narbonne existed a metre or two lower than the present day. Also the stones are giant compared to anything we would consider road-worthy today. Cobbles these rocks are not.

On a quiet autumn day there’s space to sit while your young ones jump around all over the rocks. Again, DD was very happy there and could have stayed longer (in fact I’ve just remembered we promised to go back later on – but didn’t.)

Gruissan Beach

Gruissan Plage

Website: http://gruissan-mediterranee.com/escale-nautique/les-plages/ 

On our last day, after leaving the apartment, we drove down to Gruissan Plage. We’d been given a map with some walks on it and wanted to look for some flamingos! Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great for walking, so we just headed to the nearest beach after driving through the small town of Gruissan and ended up on the Plage de Chalets, which was interesting in itself as I’d almost booked up as place there before deciding we’d be more comfortable in town, given the time of year. Anyway, with the wind blowing a gale, the sea was choppy and the kite-surfers were out in force, which both DD and DS loved. Obviously, given it was November, the beach was empty, so both kids had a really nice play: DD playing horses, galloping around, and even going in for a paddle, and DS rolling around in the soft sand! We picked up some shells and a short walk up the beach and back. DD walked on the rocks and DS on the wall. Both were happy (simple pleasure!) Afterwards we sidled into the “beach bar” which also happens to be the surf rental shop. We had a couple of coffees and they made a couple of babycinos for the kids (hot milk with chocolate sprinkles.) It was a bit of a rip off (12 euros!) but then it was a tourist spot.

From here it was an easy drive back to the auto-route through the salt marshes on the D32. Happily, really only a 100 metres from the bridge out of Gruissan, we saw some flamingos, stragglers stuck inland, most likely waiting for the wind to change before setting off. That rounded things off nicely. And we’ll definitely be back in warmer weather when the flamingos will also be in abundance for the walks around the Etang and other nature areas.

Royal Kids Play Centre

Royal Kids Parc de Jouet

Website: https://www.royalkids.fr/parcs/narbonne

This was on my wet weather reserve list. As it was we didn’t end up visiting as it was dry the next day so we were able to visit the beach, but we visited one of these when we were up in the Charente earlier in the year and it was a great place for the kids to let off some steam, especially before the journey back. Soft play, slides, and a cafe. We used to visit these almost weekly when we were in England but they’re few and far between here, usually just the odd one close to the city, so it would have been quite a treat for them to go. Another one for next time.


So there we have. We easily filled our full day there and I was happy that we also made it to the beach and saw some flamingos! The old town in Gruissan looked nice and in warmer weather we would possibly have walked a bit more and stopped there for a look around.

Narbonne itself, despite finding things to do, wasn’t our favourite destination. It was just too dirty. With two small children who like to touch everything and occasionally, spontaneously, throw themselves on the floor and roll/crawl around (while channelling a horse or a dog, presumably) it was one of those parenting-on-high-alert type experiences. It was marginally more relaxing once they were both on our backs in slings but still, as James pointed out, we weren’t getting to see much of Narbonne because we were constantly looking at our feet. It was dire, actually. Every wall had been peed on, recently, it seemed, and you could barely walk 5 metres without coming upon another patch of dog poo. Yuck, really yuck. On that basis, it’s unlikely we’ll go back to the town. The beach, on the other hand, and the area around Gruissan was clean, so our next visit will be to there, I think.

Have you visited Narbonne as a family? If so, what did you do? Have I missed anything off my list?



Language Learning and Energy Drain

Moving to a new country is exciting, yes, but it’s also incredibly tiring to live somewhere where you don’t (yet) speak the language. You need time to learn, obviously – and I’ve been short on that – which means every encounter has to be planned and prepared for. This makes so many of the little things we do day-to-day extremely tiring and time consuming, things we totally take for granted when we’re a native or fluent non-native speaker. Things like going to the bank, the post office, the school. The shop, even. Even if you’ve been in this situation before you still have to rehearse, to check yourself, to brush up a bit, to ensure you correct any mistakes or answer any unanswered questions left over from the last visit.

And then there are entirely new situations where you need to learn new vocabulary. Like my recent trip to the docs for my slightly overdue smear test. In a second language that I’m currently a bit hopeless at it was pretty interesting inasmuch as I spent the whole appointment more embarrassed about my terrible French than the act of having the smear test. (It’s called a le frottis vaginal, if you’re interested, and is just as undignified with a French doctor as an English one.) It was a little overdue because there’s only so much I can do admin-wise and it took me ages to get round to booking a doctor’s appointment. On the one hand I didn’t have the confidence to do it over the phone but then I never seemed to have the time to pop in and do it face-to-face. In the end I braved a phone call just to get it done – and it went just fine, thankfully! But that in itself is an example of the extra mental load of being a language learner living in a foreign country. You can’t just pick up the phone and sort shit out!

And then there’s the headspace all this takes up. I realised the other day as I was driving to school to collect DD that possibly one of the reasons I feel so tired some days is because of the extra mental load this whole language learning process requires. On that particular day I was driving to the school but first had to pop to the bank to pick up a cheque book and pay some cash in. Ordinarily I’d just be driving the car, minding my own business, watching the road, maybe singing along to something on the radio, doing a mental check about whether I’d picked up my wallet or my phone, but this particular day I was running a conversation in my head along the lines of…

“What’s the verb for collect? Okay, er, so I want to collect my cheque book. Cheque book is probably un livre de cheque. Yes, that will work. So maybe, “Je besoin de colliere ma livre de cheque.” Is that right?? Is it ma or mon livre. Maybe I should say “Est-ce vous-avez ma livre de cheque?” Is that better. Have they got our new address? I should probably check that too. I’ll have to check it on my phone when I stop. So I’ll say…”

And on and on and on the conversation went in my head.

I got to the bank, went in, said something that may or not have been correct but was the best I could do, picked up my cheque book (so whatever I said worked), checked the address on the account then got back in the car – feeling very pleased with myself indeed. But it doesn’t end there, you see, because now there’s a new conversation to be had: the post-discussion analysis which goes along the lines of…

Did I say that right? What did they say? Did I understand that right? Next time I should say X instead of Y. Or would Z work better? What was that verb they used? So the past is.. Oh, I can’t remember. I’ll have to remember to look that up.” 

And so on. It’s exhausting! On the upside, the fact that I am actually having these conversations in my head – and using my terrible French out loud in the real world whenever I have to get the chance – is evidence that I’m making progress, but I can already see how greatly life will be improved once I have a good handle on many of the everyday interactions that we normally take for granted.

It’s given me a new perspective on the lot of an immigrant and I really feel for them. When talking about immigration the lack of language is something that people often whinge about but now I totally get how people who move to a country manage not to learn the language, especially when the natives tend to be hostile to immigrants and not particularly helpful. Because it will always be easier to hang around with other first-language native speakers. Of course it will. To put yourself into situations where you are struggling is not all that pleasant. There’s the mental toll before and after and the high-probability that you will humiliate yourself in between. But that’s how we learn. Kids don’t learn to walk or talk by imprisoning themselves in their comfort zones. They learn because it’s really frustrating to be stuck on the floor in one place staring across the room at your favourite toy, or having someone feed you apple when what you really want is carrot and a drink. So I take my inspiration from my kids. Both of them. Both of them are busy learning French and they don’t even know they’re doing it. DD is at maternelle and DS is at creche. Neither of these places have English speakers so they really are immersed in the truest sense of the word. DD has embraced it so well that she now says, proudly, “I’m French, not English.” She watches all her movies in French and  I’m pleased to say that the last time I watched Happy Feet with her I found myself listening to the audio more than reading the subtitles. So I can take all the extra hours it takes to figure out how to ask for my cheque book or book an appointment with the doctor over the phone. To learn the language is one of the reasons we came here, after all!

I first mentioned this in another post a couple of months back but as with everything there hardly seems to be time and most days it feels as though we’ve been busy-busy but accomplished very little. Perhaps energy drain is part of that equation? I won’t know I’ve cracked it until the first time that I manage to march into the bank or the doctors or wait at the school gate without all the mental chatter before, during and after. I have a feeling it will feel like being on holiday – mentally, at least. Until then I’ll just have to keep working at it.

The featured image used for this post is “help” by Patrick.
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