Albi, the exceptional | Albi, France

The town of Albi, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was so breathtakingly beautiful that I couldn’t help but take my eyes off the ground and look up and be smitten by its rusty pink townscape: the old brick houses, huddled together along the banks of the River Tarn; the graceful church of Saint Madeleine and the Saint Salvi cloisters; the remarkable cathedral of Saint Cécile, which – having been built over a period of 200 years is still the largest brick building in the world, the millenium-old bridges; and, of course, the imposing Palais de la Berbie, which looked more like a fortress than a palace, with its perfectly symmetrical and “remarkable” French garden.

The views were so stunning that even I was compelled to make an exception and temporarily abandon my preoccupation with taking pictures of feet.

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Well, ok, not entirely. And only temporarily.

When I did manage to look back down at the ground, I discovered that, luckily for me, Albi’s grounds didn’t disappoint either and were as filled with the character, detail, history, layers and colors as its architecture.

[Thanks, Emerich, Adeline and Naomi, for the tour and the gracious hosting. :)]

Hello, Eleventh Avenue | Lodève, France

On our way from Montpellier to Albi, where we headed for a few days of New Year’s Eve festivities, we made a short stopover at the small, sleepy, quaint – and very French, town of Lodève. As I came out of the car, parked on a street in the town’s center, I came face to face with a door: above it, inscribed with tiny tiles was the word onze (‘eleven’) and below, on the ground in front of it was written ‘ave’.

As in, you know, Eleventh Avenue! As in, you know, New York City! In this town that couldn’t be any less similar to the Big Apple. (I already wrote about the tendency to (often mistakenly) ascribe familiar meanings to that which is unknown, here).

Believe it or not, though, it turned out that there is no Eleventh Ave in Lodève. (The roads there, if you must know, have perfectly appropriate and very French-sounding names, like for example Avenue de la République, Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville and Chemin des Amoureux.) In this case, the onze was simply the number of the street where the building stood, whereas the ave before the threshold did not signify an abbreviation for avenue, but rather a greeting salutation, an old way of saying hello, or hail, if you will (same one as in Ave Maria). So, there you have it.

Strangely enough, at roughly the same time last year, I found myself standing on New York City’s streets on the outskirts of Sofia. I’m going to go ahead and assume this is a sign that I need to renew the tradition of spending New Year’s Eve in New York, which I did for much of the past decade.

Happy Christmas!

Another year, another Christmas spent in un-Christmassy weather and surroundings… But, like last year, snow and pines and cozy fireplaces and sparkly garlands come only second to the joy brought by spending the holiday with people I love, eating good food and feeling all festive (and mushy) on the inside.

Hope you are doing the same. Merry Christmas!

Martian, like the planet | Lake Salagou, Languedoc Roussillon, France

The landscape around Lake Salagou was decidedly martian, or at least it came really close to how the landscape on Mars looks like in my mind. We went there just before dusk. The whole area was deserted, it seemed like we were the only people for miles and miles. The slopes that descended into the water looked like sand dunes and were swept by a constant, strong wind. But most of all, it was the strangely intense, deep copper red color of the ground around the lake that made it seem like we were on the Red Planet and not on Earth.*

At places, the soil was gravel-like, spilling over onto the paved road…

In other spots, the dunes turned into terraces of solid rock with a sharp, jagged surface.

On the way down to the lake’s shore, where the red soil bled into the water and made its blue color murky with a rusty hue, things got ever more outer-worldly.

I don’t know if it was the spots where the rocks had cracked, thousands of years ago, and now looked like the scales on the skin of a snake, with fossilized shells forever trapped in them.

Or maybe it was the pile of moss-covered stones that looked like they were dropped there by an invisible hand.

Or it could have been the strange plants that seemed like they belonged either in the desert or on another planet, but which somehow grew…

… although they often looked like they were pinned into the rocky soil artificially.

As the skies began to darken, and pink, purple and yellow patches peeked brightly from between the thick and voluptuous clouds, we hurriedly climbed back up towards the road, then got into the car and drove back to Planet Earth.

[Thanks, Kentin and Natacha for taking me and showing me this place. And for the delicious bread.]

*And just so you don’t go away having read all this and learned nothing, here is some factual information: the red hills in the area, called ruffes in French, were created over hundreds of millions of years by a series of geological events and apparently used to hide – in addition to the fossilized shells, dinosaurs’ footprints until they were destroyed by humans. The reason why the plants in the area look so particular is the high levels of iron oxyde in the soil, which incidentally is the same compound that gives the planet Mars its reddish appearance. So, don’t say you never learned anything from me.

CBB*: A geographical (and culinary) shift

Remember the two-way, three-person Cross Balkan Blogging Project we were doing with my favorite twins in Slovenia? Well, it is still going on, but this time there is a slight shift in geographical positions…

Here is my latest guest post on fine2meline (warning: it features delicious food, likely to make you drool), which – technically – comes not from across the Balkans, but rather from across another mountain range from where they are. So, maybe a better name for this one would be Cross Alpine Blogging Project?

Either way, enjoy! If you like this one, you might also like to see a similar food-related guest post I did for them from India.

* More about the Cross Balkan Blogging project and all posts from it.

Raining cats and dogs | Toulouse, France

It rained the proverbial cats and dogs in Toulouse, but in fact the only thing falling from the clouds was – disappointingly, although rather not surprisingly, water drops. The skies did not open up to shower us, as advertised,…

… with neither a rainfall of candy…

… nor of birds.

Now that I think about it, though, a possible explanation for my disappointment may be that I simply didn’t stand in the indicated spots long enough to witness the promised candy or birds falling from the sky. At any rate, it wouldn’t have been the first time that happened.