The Last Baguette …

It’s 4 a.m. and I’m bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in my hotel at Sydney airport. In just a couple of hours I’ll be on the final leg of my travels home to Narooma. And as I contemplate the wonders of the last three months I find I’m yearning for the chorus of bird-song, the susurrus of the sea and the purrs and nuzzlings of a small grey cat. What lies ahead has the allure that the Temple of Hatshepsut and Châteaux Comtal had for me back in April.

So quickly does memory dissipate, that what has passed already seems incredible to me. I’ve visted Giza, Thebes, Karnak, Dendera, Kom Ombo, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Cairo, Prague, Kutna Hora, Český Krumlov, Munich, Lyon, Toulouse, Narbonne, Trèbes, Moissac, St Hillaire, Sainte-Marie de Villeneuve, Brousse-et-Villaret, Perpignan, Marseilles, Cassis, Limoux, Paris – and, of course, Carcassone. And I’ve written a book.

The whole adventure was so long in the planning that it seems very weird that it’s now over. Reality is about to set in.

Before I turn the final page on the trip, however, I should report that HWB and I managed to cram in a few more extraordinary experiences in our last week. As foreshadowed, Carcassonne put on quite a show to celebrate the completion of my book. What others might have noted as the 14 Juillet fireworks were truly spectacular. La Cité was illuminated, and at one stage appeared to be burning, much as it must have done in the famous seige of 1240. In fact, there was a bit of a contretemps when things got out of hand and an actual fire broke out in the Tower of the Inquisition. The pompiers managed to contain it but there will need to be some reconstruction work.

HWB and I enjoyed stellar views from our apartment where we held a small gathering with our new friends from Mexico, Lainey and Eric. It was a fitting send off.

On Wednesday we took a day trip to lovely Limoux, a small town about half an hour by train from Carcassonne. As previously recorded, Limoux lays claim to being the home of bubbly and we enjoyed a meal in the town square accompanied by a bouteille de blanquette.

Lovely Limoux

But the piece de resistance, of course, was our swansong sojourn in Paris. Ah, Paris!

Hello Paris!

The was my fourth visit to the city of love, but the first with HWB and we galloped around doing all the touristy things – Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, Moulin Rouge – and an afternoon exploring the works of Monet and Van Gough at the Musée D’Orsay. I also managed to squeeze in a feed of escargots, though my aspiration to eat frog legs remains unsatisfied. I guess that just means that I’ll have to return to France one day.


The grand finale of all grand finales was a night out at the famous Lido, where HWB and I goggled at the gorgeousness of long-legged, feather-fluttering young women doing the can-can. and the incredible illusions of a Marcel Marceau-type mime artist.

And so, my French sojourn concludes.

I’m packing up my putative French speaking skills and relinquishing the savour of chevre frais, but most of all I’m mourning the loss of my daily baguette. I will miss Monique’s beaming face each morning as she greeted me, and the taste of the best form of bread known to humankind. For all its splendours, Narooma doesn’t have a boulangerie.

The last baguette …

I’ve been writing of the journey being over, but perhaps it would be more correct to say that Phase One is complete because there’s a whole new world of exploration ahead. I was overwhelmed by the generous outpouring of congratulations I received from family, friends and colleagues around the world when I announced my final full stop, but I know that in fact the writing of the book may have been the easy bit. As I return to work, I am now contemplating the daunting reality of seeking an agent and publisher while keeping my eye on the ultimate goal of holding my printed book in my hand.

The journey continues …

Ma Vie en France…

At the end of my first week home alone in Carcassonne I feel like I’ve lived here for ages. I’m a creature of habit, and I like having an established routine, especially now since I have set myself a major task that can only be completed if I plod steadily and consistently forwards each day. So, I thought this week I’d share with you the shape of my days and weeks here.

Each morning I’m woken by the bells of Église Saint-Vincent, the 15th century gothic church which is literally outside my window. The bells, which begin tolling at 7 am. and wrap up for the night at 11 p.m., are setting the pace of my day. On Sundays there is a perfect riot of bells for several hours – they are pealing now as I write.

Because I’m full of the excitement and wonder of being here I leap forth from my bed with gusto and go for an early morning walk. There are several lovely routes to chose from and my favourite so far is the waterside walk along the River Aude which flows between La Cité  and the Bastide. Spring has well and truly sprung here and we’ve had some lovely days. I’m fascinated by the small trilling songbirds here, so different from the avian chorus I’m used to at home. On Wednesday I spotted a grey heron scouting for fish.

Riverside ramble

On my way home I stop in Place Carnot at Chez Felix, an institution which has been dishing up café to the locals for 70 years or so. I had the thrill of being greeted by name and having my double espresso predicted and brought to me without ordering on Friday. I smiled smugly at some tourists at the next table.

Next stop is Les Délices de Je, my local boulangerie, where they are also now able to predict my standard request for une baguette. The smell of freshly baked baguettes is mouthwatering. I think I’m really, really going to miss this daily indulgence when I return home.

Baguette heaven

On Mondays and Thursdays I’m going to pilates at Zen Yoga Studio which is just around the corner from the apartment. Philippe, the instructor, speaks no English so getting myself enrolled there and following instructions has been a considerable challenge for my rudimentary French skills. I’m across inspirer and expirer, jambe, bras, nez, bouche and périnée and picking up more words each class.


Then, of course it’s down to business. Rain, hail, or shine I am determined to produce 2000 words per day and – this week at least – I’ve nailed it. The grand total is now standing at 20,041 – or a quarter of the way there! The magical view from my window continues to inspire and my desk also now features a bunch of flowers from the Saturday market. I don’t know the name of this week’s selection, but the heady yellow blooms were paired with eucalyptus leaves and I’ve been transported, a little, back to Narooma.

Weekly floral delights

Saturdays are my day off so yesterday, after a happy foraging expedition to the market, I took myself for a three-hour hike to see a bit more of the countryside. From La Cité I headed east through rolling hills covered with vineyards and small farms with herds of goats, gazing horses and one belligerent donkey who clearly objected to my gazing over his fence.


A stiff climb was rewarded with panoramic views across La Cité, the Bastide and the Aude plain towards the Montagne Noire in the far distance. I sat on the hilltop for some time, dreaming dreams and recharging my batteries. In coming weeks I plan to intersperse local walking adventures on Saturdays with forays to nearby towns. I have my eye on Narbonne for next week …

Sunday is blog day and will also feature as bath indulgence day. On the corner of my street is a delicious shop selling soaps, creams and bath salts, all organic and made locally. I’m treating myself to a weekly bath bomb – tonight’s is orange scented 🙂 I think that as I wallow in the fragrant oils I can be just a little bit proud of what I’ve achieved so far.

On my hike yesterday I was fascinated by the array of wildflowers growing along the roadsides and in the furrows between the vines. The poppies in particular caught my attention – a poignant reminder of blood-bathed fields of war – evoking a response in a way that the plastic reproductions in Australia never have. Wild jasmine, hedge roses, diminutive daisies, purple pimpernels – it was just lovely. And as I examined some baby grapes I reflected that they will ripen and come to fruition around the same time as I finish my book.

On my way home I came across a cluster of superbly fat and fluffy dandelion seed flowers. I made a literary wish of course, and watched the seeds scattering on the wind, but I know that it is going to be sheer grit and determination (along with a smattering of inspiration) that is going to get this book written.