Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Trip to France - Monday

Monday December 17th 2007

Chateau de Rodie, Courbiac, France

Last day at the chateau and no need to rush - just soak in the atmosphere a bit more. No doubt at all, this should be an excellent location for next year and I'm already thinking about doing a longer break the year after!

I had time to call in a couple of places on the way down to Toulouse airport. First stop was Montaigu de Quercy to fill up the car with fuel. Much to my surprise, the tourist office there was open and I was able to pick up a couple of dozen leaflets on local attractions that should allow me to build up a much better list of things for people to do. One leaflet was for a cave site quite close to the chateau. If I'd known it was that close, I might well have tried to visit it.

Then on to Lauzerte to visit the Tourist office there. This turned out to have more or less the same information as the one in Montaigu. But nice to see the centre of this little city again
From there down to Moissac, which contains one of the areas most famous sites - the cloisters next to the Abbey of St Peter. I arrived during the long lunch break and after quite a bit of walking around I was finally able to find a restaurant that was open - and jam packed it was too. It did do a very nice pizza though.
Then back to the Abbey and a walk around the cloisters. I do always enjoy walking round cloisters for some reason.

The Abbey of St Peter

Views of the cloisters

Then off to Toulouse airport with plenty of time for some reading and listening to music.

This has been a really useful trip and confirmed to me that we definitely do need to see the properties in Italy as well. Don't know when though - maybe February?

Trip to France - Sunday

Sunday December 16th 2007

Chateau de Rodie, Courbiac, France

After the efforts of yesterday, today would be far more of a recuperative day. A short 20 minutes or so of yoga first thing - mainly based on one of the "energizing" sequences from Tara Fraser - then a long bath while working through loads of notes for one of next year's theme. Breakfast at sometime around 10:00. It had been a colder night than the last couple and the swimming pool had frozen over.
The frozen swimming pool
The chateau from the main road that runs past it to Courbiac
My trip out today was pretty short but did cover some good stuff. First down to Montiegu de Quercy, only about 4km away, for a look round the "Ecomarket" supermarket which opens for a couple of hours on a Sunday morning. This does have just about everything we might need in a emergency, so its good to have it so close. The town also contains a bank with cashpoint, a pharmacy and even a tourist office.
Next on to Lauzerte, a well-preserved medievel "city" on a highside about 20km away from the chateau. This might be a really good place to point people towards on their first full day - somewhere really nice to see yet not involving too much driving. I was able to buy a guidebook to Quercy which looks really good as it has loads of sights close to the chateau, rather than just focusing on the major sights that are slightly further a field.

The Church in the main square in Lauzerte

Some of the older buildings in the main square at Lauzerte
Then back to the chateau and a final run round all the rooms checking I'd taken the pictures I wanted in each, and could remember the full layout. The occasional new view is found, such as the roof detail below.

It had actually warmed up rather nicely by early afternoon and so I decided to tackle the walk around the entire property, something that takes about 90 minutes. Firstly up onto the hillside opposite and along the top in search of a good view of the chateau

The chateau from the hillside opposite - virtually all the visible land belongs to the chateau
At one end of the hill opposite, there was a small clearing in the trees and a long view out towards the Atlantic, which can apparently be seen from here on a very clear day with binoculars. The nearby hilltop town of Tournon D'Agenais is on the far horizon, slightly right of centre, just where the mist kicks in.

On the way round the southern tip of land, I came across a whole area filled with cut logs, which had remained covered in frost all day and looked really interesting. So I spent an hour or so taking 50 or 60 close up pictures of wood, leaves, moss and so on. None quite to the standard of, say, Andy Goldsworthy, but an interesting way to pass the afternoon

This would probably look very nice printed to A3 size.
Back to the chateau just as it began to get a bit darker. Spent a couple of hours going through my notes from yesterday's trip out - only about half of which are fully legible! Then a trip down to the "professional" kitchen to look at the various bits of equipment this has. It is quite small but will be ideal for our use I think. I am particularly taken by the large skillets, which I will definitely be making lots of use of I would think.
Dinner again tonight with the family. A totally amazing scrabbled eggs starter (due to the use of their own eggs) and then another chicken meal with roast potatoes and sprouts with chestnuts. All very nice. More 1E a litre red wine and more pointers on what we might face next year from our guests. Apparently some people can be awful - but I guess that is inevitable. Paul and Pippa's comments on this will be taken very seriously.

Trip to France - Saturday

Saturday December 15th 2007

Chateau de Rodie, Courbiac, France

One of the most challenging aspects of our plans for next year is due to the decision to run back-to-back breaks in a single country, moving from one location to the next on a changeover Saturday. When we tested the run in Spain a month or so ago it was a pretty long trip but certainly do-able in the time available. However, in the last week or so, I have come to appreciate that the France changeover was an even longer journey, and might be quite difficult to do in the time allowed. Today would be an initial test run for next year.

So I departed the Chateau at about 6:30am with the temperature at -5 degrees. It was pretty slow going for the first hour as I made my way back to the motorway, but then things speeded up quite considerably once I did get on the toll roads. The road sign that said Montpellier was 275km away was an unwelcome reminder of just how far my planned jourmey was. It was brightened a bit by some fine views of Carcassonne from the motorway, as well as some decent music on a French radio station.
But just after Montpellier, it actually started to snow! Now this hadn't really been something I had expected so close to the Mediterranean. For an hour or so it was actually quite heavy and my speed took another dip. Once off the motorway near Avignon, I stopped and took a couple of pictures of the snow on some baby fruit trees.

Another highlight was a brief glimpse of the Palais des Papes in the centre of Avignon - a definite visiting priority it seems to me.
Once past Avignon I was making my way towards Apt - the nearest decent sized town to La Moliere and containing a large supermarket and at least two wine co-ops. But I didn't really have enough time for a longer stop, making my way straight out of Apt and up to Saignon, perched on a hillside above Apt.
Saignon from the Apt road
Saignon was totally deserted - not a single place open. So when I did meet up with Tim, we had to return to Apt for something to eat. Tim wasn't totally sure of the way to La Moliere from Saignon but we found it ok. We met two people on the property doing some work outside and then hit rather a snag. They didn't have the key to get into La Moliere and they needed to try and call a local cleaner to get it. So while I wandered round taking some pictures, they made a series of increasingly frantic calls to various people
The view towards Mont Ventoux, hidden by clouds in the distance

The central courtyard of La Moliere, such a contrast to the summer views when all the vegetation is in full bloom

In order to allow more time for the cleaner to get our message, we went down to the sister property to la Moliere, just through the olive trees. This would also be available next year if we wanted it, should we sell out. Oddly enough, we did have a key for this one and so had a good look round. I thought this one was pretty good inside - 7 double or twin bedrooms, all en suite, a decent kitchen, etc. Tim assured me that La Moliere was decorated to a higher standard that this one, so it should be fine.

La Moliere from the swimming pool area of its "sister" property up the hill

But the main concern when we knew we wouldn't be able to get into La Moliere was my failure to be able to draw some sort of plan of the interior so I could get an idea for room allocations, etc. So we will have to try and cobble something together over the coming months and then link them back to Tim's photos of the interior. Not ideal. However from what we could see from peering through windows, La Moliere is really lovely inside and so none of this should really be a major problem.

One other thing though could be tricky. Apparently, this part of France will get completely jammed up on certain weekends next summer as people from Northern France make for the south for their holidays. This could easily double the length of the journey for us and it is about 5 hours already. But we think the first holiday weekend is the week after we make the journey, so maybe we'll be ok

After being dropped back in Saignon, I decided to have a short drive back to La Moliere to make some notes on directions, etc. Then I drove down to Apt and stopped at one of the wine co-ops, "Chez Sylla". This turned out to be a very good move as they had loads of detail about local wines as well as many other leaflets for things in the local area. So I am fully stocked with info now. And this place also sold numerous wines by the litre, priced around 1E each. So definitely a good place for us to buy from I think.

I set off back about 5:30 intending to stop for a meal somewhere. But my progress was pretty good and I made it back to the Chateau just after 11:00. A total journey of just over 1,100 km taking over 10 hours. French radio broadcast an opera this evening which helped pass the time and Carcassone looked great lit up as I passed by. But a very tough day overall.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Trip to France - Friday

Friday December 14th 2007

Chateau de Rodie, Courbiac, France

The temperature dropped well below freezing overnight and there is a thick mist around the Chateau this morning. After a quite late night and a long day, I slept really well and had a very leisurely start to the day. A bit of yoga first thing, some reading in the bath and breakfast in the Great hall at 9:00 or so.
First photo of the Chateau , the view from the apartment across to the gallery first thing in the morning and -3 degrees
I discovered this morning that the children are home-schooled and their routine is set around their work on the farm. I am very interested in home-schooling as we would have done this for Emma if we'd had to stay in London longer than we did do.
Pippa had time to give me a quick tour of the entire house and then she had to take one of the dogs to the vets. I was free to explore as much as I then wanted to. So I have started to draw a plan and take the first few pictures of what will probably be loads. The Chateau has a very complex design and it is actually quite hard to really see how it all fits together. But it is an amazing place and will be perfect for us for next year, I can tell that already.

The Great Hall

One of the twin bedrooms - this one is the Tour Forge
After a long and detailed go round the entire property, I took a walk down to the far end of the valley on the pool side of the property. This shows just how vast and imposing the place really is.

The fog seemed to be clearing slowly so I then set out for a drive to Villeneuve-sur-Lot. I hadn't got very far before the fog descended again and rather wiped out any more photography for today. Villeneuve is a biggish town about 25km away and had quite a pretty cathedral in the centre. I was mainly looking for hypermarkets (of which I found two) and tourist offices where I could pick up loads of leaflets for local attractions. There was a Christmas fair in the centre of the town with a very cute highland calf.

As it would be dark by about 5:00, I didn't stay long and travelled down to Agen and across to Moissac. I should have come through this town on the way last night but missed it somehow. On the way back to the Chateau I had a call from Linda and Emma who had reached Boston in a blizzard, which might cause problems for their return if there is more snow. When they rang they were waiting for Victoria's Secrets to open, so seemed well set for some shopping.

Back at the chateau and two hours spent drafting some ideas for the "Learn to Relax" themed week, listening to Amina on the ipod - an Icelandic group I saw supporting Sigur Ros and one of my favorite new bands. I have a very rough outline with one or two sections beginning to get filled in. Today's work was mainly on introductory ideas. Also, in order to get myself better acquainted with the chateau, I have been trying to sketch out our introductory talk to the group, explaining everything they'd need to know.

Another terrific dinner with the family this evening. A thin soup that was delicious (not sure exactly what it was, but it may have just been a homemade chicken stock), followed by chicken and vegetables. Pippa called it typical local "peasant food". Given the conditions, it was perfect. And interestingly, the house red wine, which I'm really enjoying has turned out to be from a local co-op and can be bought in 10 litre plastic bottles for about 1E a litre! This will be an excellent way to serve wine on our breaks.

An earlier night tonight before tomorrow's early start and huge drive.

Trip to France - Thursday

Thursday December 13th 2007

Chateau de Rodie, Courbiac, France

An early start - 4:15am - to take Linda and Emma to Heathrow for their flight to Boston, then onto Gatwick for my trip to France. I have about five hours to wait for my flight but have already checked in for the flight and only have hand luggage, so I can go straight through into the departure lounge. We are hoping that some of our travel next year can be done with just hand luggage and so speed us up considerably.

My journey was pretty uneventful. Gatwick was very quiet but then so was Toulouse airport when I got there. No queues at the hire car office for instance. I tried to follow the suggested route to the Chateau given by Google maps but this was harder than it could have been in the dark. The last 30 km seems very slow, passing through many tiny villages (some of which seemed very nice looking I thought)

I arrived at 8:45 and was met by Pippa and her youngest daughter who I think is called Janine but seems to be known as "Mole". The chateau looks amazing already, even in the dark with a couple of spotlights on it. The chateau is battened down for the winter and only a few of the rooms are being heated so it does feel quite chilly walking round to find my room. I am in the "apartment" which is the room they recommended that Linda and I have next year. It has two bedrooms, and a lounge and kitchen of its own, so it will be better for us for running the business, etc, when we are there.

Dinner is held in the Great hall with all the family. I meet Paul (Pippa's husband) and Uncle Richard who is down for a few days, plus the two kids, Suzanne and Mole, and several dogs. There is a huge fireplace at one end which is kept going all day at the moment with some very large logs. We have hot mulled wine and a three course meal which is really delicious. I start to explain where we are up to with everything - how things have changed and developed since the summer when we had our first contact, how we still have gaps in our planning but that things are falling into shape. Already I am getting lots of useful points to bear in mind, mainly because they have had courses of various sorts run at the Chateau before. So, for instance, it is very important that rooms be allocated to guests in advance so guests don't try to race down to get the rooms they want! Apparently that has happened before.

So we stay up till after 12:00 chatting about stuff. I'm sure already that this is going to work out really well.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Lots of things . . . .

Friday December 7th 2007


A varied few days with plenty of interesting developments/ideas. We have had quite a few telephone messages requesting information on the breaks next year. Are these people who don't have access to the internet? I am not expecting too many people to get in touch with us directly - at least until they want to talk about a booking - as the website contains so much info. We do have a rather nice brochure, available off the website, and this does print well. But we don't have glossy, professionally printed brochures.

On Wednesday this week I went up to London to see Elena. We are hoping to finalise the new Teach Yoga Syllabus document over the next few days. As always, Elena has loads of interesting views on things. I get her firm views on a range of course topics and should be able to finish the document now. We met at Pret a Manger at Marble Arch, sitting upstairs as it poured with rain outside.

Thursday morning was spent finishing the changes to the syllabus document and giving it a last polish. I sent it to Camille for comments and she got back to me quite quickly with a few interesting thoughts on more general matters. She hopes to review the syllabus over the weekend.

And then an email from one of my yoga course fellow participants, with some questions about the most recent weekend. We exchange a few emails over the course of the evening and more interesting points arise.

In respect of Well Being Breaks itself, this week has been mostly about finalising the last of the planned ad spend for this time of year. Now to sit back for a month or two and see what response we get. The last couple of ads we signed up for were one offs for quite cheap rates, one in the launch issue of a new magazine called "Soul and Spirit" and another in a free magazine distributed around some of the posher bits of London.

The website still needs some stuff completed as well, but I haven't really made much progress on this over the last week. This time next week I will be at the chateau in France that we are renting next summer. I am hopeful I will be leaving a relatively clear slate at that point.

Now to get ready for Linda's Christmas meal out with her colleagues from Active Pilates!

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

More yoga teacher training . . .

Sunday December 2nd 2007

Yoga Teacher Training Course, Victoria, London

A change from usual today as I drove up to London for my yoga weekend. At 8:00am, the A40 flyover at Paddington is already congested - not idea why. For once I am a bit better prepared for this weekend, mainly as it is a weekend I am pretty nervous about. Four hours of posture labs each morning followed by a four hour assessed practicum each afternoon - all the standing postures.
So the morning is spent with Camille teaching. The posture labs are aimed at being a sort of revision session for each posture. This would be fine except that many people haven't been able to prepare their initial working sheets and so have nothing to revise against. This is mainly due to now knowing this was the course procedure until quite late on.
Course attendance is also down as there are just 8 of us today. Most people seem to be under quite a lot of pressure from the course workload. But that said, there are clearly some people who are relatively well on top of things. Romana and myself are fully prepared and one or two others have quite good notes, even if they are not complete. But most people are saying they are doing little in the way of actual yoga practice at the moment. I have had a dry cough for the last few weeks and this has certainly been enough to stop me doing anything else. But this lack of practice does meen that a day like today is really tiring.
Camille's teaching is really focused again and I'm sure we all feel that is really good at this stage. We cover 7 postures today and have 6 more to do tomorrow. My draft posture notes certainly get loads of new points and embellishments. My main concern is the lack of practice on adjusting and modifications - something I expect to fine really hard.
After lunch, our practicum is with Elena. We are split into two groups and have a go each at teaching the postures from this morning to each other. Elena stops us every so often in our groups to run through some detailed points, and at other times she calls the whole group together to run through a few things. This usually involves her picking someone to demonstrate a posture and then have the others critique the posture. My decision to initially test myself on the postures I find personally to be the hardest therefore backfires slightly as I then have to demo the ones I am worst at - for instance, parivrtta parvakonasana.
Mid-session, Elena pauses for a brief digression into the dangers of overworking in yoga and the effect it can have on your immediately relationships. She and husband Rod are off to Thailand for three weeks over Christmas and there seems to be the suggestion that Rod had insisted on this in some way. I can certainly relate the the impact lost of teaching can have. Linda is out four night's a week teaching and is usually not in the best mood when she gets in - tired and with various grumbles about things - and it does have an impact.
By mid-afternoon I am feeling pretty low. There is so much to know for each posture and we are continually being picked up on what seem like dozens of points. But by later in the afternoon I feel a bit better. My attempt to teach the entire class one posture without notes actually goes better than it might have done. Elena's format for the afternoon also encourages us to be a bit less serious and more relaxed, even thought he practicum is technically part of the continual assessment marking for the course.
As the course finishes, I am entrusted with key duties for tomorrow but within half an hour I have lost the codes for the doors. I have to call Linda to find Camille's mobile number and then leave it with Camille to sort out for the morning. I am totally exhausted and was barely able to drag myself out of the hotel and find somewhere to eat. I am in bed by about 9:00 in what has to be the worst room I have had so far in my times up in London. I certainly won't be staying here again
Awake early after quite a good night's sleep. The exhaustion of yesterday obviously needed fixing. I've time to read some of my current book - Kenny's The Great Books - then off to collect the car and drive down to Victoria. I passed a girl walking close to to the hotel who looked very worse for wear - either drink or drugs related. She said she was ok though and wobbled off in the opposite direction to me.
It is raining quite hard as I sit in the car outside the Light Centre where our course is held, waiting for Camille to show up hopefully with the code numbers. Sarah and Bridgit both arrive as I'm waiting and sit in the car with me, before Camille arrives on her motor bike. She managed to speak to Elena only 20 mins earlier, but at least we are able to get in. Otherwise our class might have to have been held at Victoria station!
Six more standing postures to revise today. Victoria and Rhea don't make it in, but Christina and Eve are here today - so 8 again. Today's lesson also includes much more anatomical info on the postures than we have had before and I, for one, think this is really good. Word leaks out as well that we have all passed the anatomy test from last time. Camille thinks this test should be more related to yoga postures and I would be inclined to agree. I felt I had definitely passed the anatomy test, but, at the same time, I don't feel that I really know the material as well as I'd like to. So I am going to try and keep doing some anatomy reading, maybe from one of the books specifically aimed at yoga teachers.
People are increasingly tired as the day goes on and we are all crashed out in restorative postures when Elena arrives after lunch for our afternoon practicum. I am paired up with Romana, Christina and Claudia for the afternoon's session. Things proceed as they did yesterday but with a slightly greater emphasis on making adjustments. I am paired with Romana for the first of these little adjustment sessions. She and I generally sit next to each other on the course and get on pretty well - lots of teasing of each other but quite friendly (I hope). Then later I am paired with Christina for Warrior II. Christina always looks really great when she is doing the postures but I make one or two little adjustments and this goes ok as well. I still think this will be a really hard part of the course though.
This afternoon's breif digression includes a chat about how long people on the course have been married. Sarah is missing the next weekend as it is her wedding in Cape town. Elena is coming up to 10 years I think, but everyone seems surprised that Linda and I have been married nearly 20 years. This surprise is mainly due to those people who saw Linda at the Yoga Show and thought she looked really young. Linda didn't believe me when I told her this later on!
At the end of the afternoon everyone is pretty exhausted again. We now have a seven week gap till the next weekend and I am filled with good intentions of getting up to date and even a bit ahead. Elena reminds us that we ought to be well advanced in our thinking about our chosen elective and that we can send her a one-page summary so she can check it is suitable. I have already done my first draft of the slide presentation for this so it would be unfortunate if it turned out I couldn't do this topic. But they are not due till April so everyone does have a lot of time left. I might try and write the text for mine quite soon and get it out the way.
Elena and I have arranged to meet up in the next week to go through the last points on the new syllabus document, which she wants to use on the course beginning in February. As she is away a lot till January, it would be really good to get this finished for her.
No quiet trip home tonight where I can sleep on the coach. Instead I have a drive to Cambridge to collect Emma whose term finished last week. Luckily she has some friends on hand to help carry boxes down the three flights of stairs and we are soon sorted out and on our way home. And as we haven't had an photos on the blog for some time, I thought I would put up a couple of Emma rowing for her college team in the Fairburns 2007 event a few weeks ago.

Emma looking like she's been working hard

Emma's team competing in the Fairburns 2007 event in Cambridge. Emma is the third rower away from the cox and is about to get covered in water from the rower in front!