Sunday, June 3, 2012

The end of an amazing year in France!

Last I left off, we picked up my friend Caroline in the pouring rain and were headed back off to Le Pompidou. Since I had to make up 15 hours from the 3 day essential oils training, I had to work a fair bit every day. At first, it was unbelievably freezing cold and raining a lot. Because we were in the mountains and the house was on top of a mountain, the wind whipped right through the house.  However, this has been a particularly bad spring, with lots of rain and cold all over Europe. Anyway, because of the weather, we stayed indoors most of the time, helping with bottling the essential oils mixes. One day we also spackled a room. The walls of the room had a lot of cut outs in the wall; Caroline told me she thought it looked like work someone did right before doing some stone work. We had to fill in all the cut outs with spackle and cement. At first I thought it was fun, and Caroline was really good at it, but it grew a bit boring for me after a while. However, we got it all done in a day. And later on in the week we got to paint it! By the end of the week, three rooms were spackled and painted.

When it began to get nice, we went out into the garden. There is always a lot of weeding that needs to be done at organic farms because they don’t use any chemicals to fight off weeds. So I did a ton of weeding. We also did a bit of planting, but not as much as the last farm I was at. In terms of work on the farm, I think that’s pretty much it: fixing the rooms, bottling (a lot of bottling), and weeding (a lot of weeding).

We also went swimming one hot day after work. Near their home there is a small river with a waterfall and they dropped me and Caroline off to go for a swim. It was so beautiful, and apparently when it gets very hot in the summer many people go there for a swim. It was so freezing from all the rain that it was pretty hard getting in.

Caroline and I also went for walks after work, and one day we walked to a local goat farm. It is run by a widow and her son, and we happened to catch the woman while she was milking the goats! She let us walk around and pet the goats, the sheep, and her dog. The goats seemed really excited to see new people. It was a riot! And I got to watch her milk the goats. I’ve never seen that. The goats come up, udders all swollen, and know that when they go up, the put their heads down to eat and a wooden latch slides down and keeps them locked in. Then, while they’re happily eating, she put this suction thing on their udders (she doesn’t milk them by hand) and it draws the milk. Then she unlatches them and herds them out and the next group gets to come in.

On Saturday, we went hiking with the two sons and the wife (her name is Hilde) of the farm. I didn’t realize it was be such an intense hike! The trail follows a really pretty brook, though some of the trail had collapsed in some parts and so we had to do some climbing, jumping, and balancing. I was so impressed that Hilde, who’s fifty, did everything with us! It was steep and her sons were moving fast, and sometimes we had to walk over thin, wobbly logs to traverse the stream.

Along the trail, there are also ruins of old stone homes that used to be there. What’s really cool in these rural places all over France is that the homes are all made from stones from the region, so they last forever and you could actually identify where in France you are just by looking at the stones (assuming you know the regional stones of France, of course). At one point we passed an old chestnut roasting house. Apparently, the bottom half of the house was used for a fire and the top half they put in chestnuts, which are all over the forest. They roasted the chestnuts and then used them for bread.

At the end of our hike, we stopped at a source, which is a natural spring where you can drink the water fresh from the mountain. Here, we happened to see a friend of Hilde’s who’s over eighty years old and still going strong. He grew up in the region and used to be a lawyer in Montpellier and now is in retirement, though he still farms! He also knows everything about the area and loves to talk about it. We walked back with him to his home (which, by the way, is up hill and it was now very hot, and in typical old man fashion, he was wearing long sleeved button down shirt and khaki pants- amazing!) where he showed us three kittens his cat just had about a week prior.

Afterwards, we passed by the goat farmer’s home where she makes and sells the goat cheese.  The goat’s cheese is so fresh, and we were able to by some of the freshest batch, and she told us we probably watched her get the milk that was used for this batch! You can have really fresh goat’s cheese, which is similar to the most amazing cream cheese you’ll ever have. You can also have it very old: Caroline and I got to try goat’s cheese that was 6 months old! It was very strong and yummy as well! The woman explained to us the process of goat’s cheese making, but I don’t remember it too well. All I can say is that you can’t get anything nearly as delicious if you try to pasteurize the milk, which is why we don’t have these amazing cheese in the US- non-pasteurized milk products are illegal, and apparently if you try to sell them the government will come down on you with a S.W.A.T. team and put you to jail like you were selling hardcore drugs (makes sense to do that, doesn’t it?).

Anyway, on Sunday, Caroline and I went for a short hike on our own. We walked through a meadow on the top of the mountain, and then descended down the mountain through the forest. We stopped at a source that was next to a house that is in ruins, but there is clearly someone who comes by from time to time because there is fresh grass that is matted down from someone walking and there are some construction stuff there as well. We walked all around the house and explored it (it was really big). There was also a nice vista with a stone bench that I’m guessing that person made (there was a symbol on the bench that could also be found on the house). We then walked along a small path through the rest of the forest and to the house to have a snack. We helped a bit with finishing one of the rooms, and while we were doing that, it began to hail! I’ve never seen really big balls of hail like that! Apparently the plants weren’t damaged, so that was good. After it hailed, it poured. Good thing we weren’t on a really long hike!

On Tuesday we woke up ridiculously early (6am!) and headed to the market in a town one hour away called Saint-Jean-du-Gard. We helped to set up, and then Caroline and I got to walk around. The market is really big, with all sorts of stalls, with lots of food, handmade products, second hand products, and products from around the world. It was a lovely morning and there were many tourists- I was surprised how many people there were for a Tuesday, and apparently in the summer there are even more people.

Around 1pm I left Caroline (she was staying two more weeks in Le Pompidou) and went to Montpellier. I was staying again with the same Couchsurfer I stayed with last time. Iarrived in the late afternoon, so we mostly just hung out and had dinner, and the next day we drove about 45 minutes outside of Montpellier to the River Herault where you can go swimming and jump off high rocks. It was a beautiful day and so fun! I didn’t think I would actually jump off the rocks (I’m such a chicken!) but I did it. And there were some people jumping off a bridge there, about 30 feet high!

I headed back to Le Havre on Thursday. I took the high speed TGV train to Paris (only 3 hours to pretty much go all the way from the bottom to the top of France! That’s about 450 miles!) and then the regular train to Le Havre (another two hours). The weather’s been pretty nice, so I got to go to the beach the other day. Just been mostly relaxing, saying goodbyes, and trying to pack (emphasis on the trying). Moving out Tuesday morning, and then my flight is early Wednesday! Yikes! I’m excited to come back, but so sad to leave!

I’ve uploaded loads of pictures, here they are:
Second Farm Part I :
Second Farm Part II: