Saturday, August 17, 2019

The last day in Île de Ré, "Nokia reuniting colleagues" the end of the Cousinade, home to La Teillée, RIP Bruce and our road trip back to Madrid, EU no longer on UK passports, lady in red and other stories.

Sunday 18th August, 2019
4 generations of the Lieven family at Île de Ré last Sunday at Aunty Olga's house
Good morning everyone,

It's hard to think that last Sunday it was the final day of our big cousinade in Île de Ré, that beautiful island on the south west coast of France that I promise to go back to one day. It's just so heavenly.

Everyone woke up really late that morning, except for me. I woke up to rain. In fact it would pour it down all morning. I had no rain clothes whatsoever, no umbrella or coat and so I ventured out into the market street with just my yellow hoodie. First things first of course and I went to buy a rain coat and an umbrella. I bought them at the same shop where I had bought some clothes the day before. I had actually spied there a typical striped one that all of the island people seemed to be wearing that morning. You could get it in blue, white, red or yellow. I went for blue as I think it's the more traditional type. It's very French and I love it.

With my lovely new coat on and protected from the rain I went to post my father's post card which of course would arrive in Madrid after we got back, and then went to have breakfast. I could have had it at the big house "Paix" with everyone else but no one would serve fresh croissants and that day was my chance to have a really typical French breakfast, my favourite in the world. Here it is; café au lait, baguette with butter and Bonne Maman strawberry jam, fresh orange juice and of course the proverbial croissant.
My petit dejeuner at a café in Les Portes en Ré last Sunday
That morning we were all free to do what we wanted apart from those responsible for that day's lunch which was my cousin Masha and her girls. By the way, to distinguish us, they call me "baby Masha". I was called that at home as a child too to distinguish myself from my mother's youngest sister also called Masha.  Thus all the younger generation here call me that hahaha.

Suzy and the boys were fast asleep as they had been out late that night. Thus it was the perfect moment to go and see a long lost Nokia colleague, Xavier who, very coincidentally, happened to be on the island when I was there. His parents have a lovely old fishing house at the next village to ours in Ars-en-Ré, just 8km or so from Les-Portes-en-Ré where we were staying. I hadn't seen him since I left Nokia in 2005. At the time, he was Nokia's Director of Communication for France and I was Nokia's Director of Communication for Spain. Today he works for Microsoft after the latter bought Nokia quite a few years ago now.

I drove in pouring rain and could hardly see beyond my nose but I got there. We were to meet in Place de d'église at a lovely little French café called Tour du Sénéchal. His house turned out to be just behind it. He told me his parents had bought it in the 70's. My cousins' families had bought some of theirs in the 50's when the island was not as popular as it is now and when houses went for a song. Today you can get nothing for less than about 450.000 euros and that would be a tiny house. Imagine what the big ones cost; millions of course.

We were very close colleagues when we were at Nokia as we were part of the European Communications team and as we drank our coffee we reminisced about the "golden days" with Nokia when we had the most fabulous meetings at amazing locations; in my case in Shanghai and in both our cases in Marrakesh and of course many in Finland. We spoke about those happy days and about many of our colleagues and we did so with much affection. We were a lovely team and we worked well together. Nokia had a slogan which you all know and is "Nokia Connecting People" but inside the company we used to add two others. One was "Nokia disconnecting families" as we worked so hard and the other was one which fitted our reunion that day; "Nokia reuniting colleagues". There was nothing nicer for us when we worked for that great Finnish company in its hay day than the people we worked with and it is the people, like Xavier and me, that make companies.

Later Xavier took me to his house to meet his wife and parents and children, although I only met his youngest "Priscille" as all the others were sleeping - they had been out the  night before like our "children". I had to speak French and I was pleased with myself that I was able to do so quite fluently. I'm sure if I stayed in France and was surrounded by only French speakers, my French would improve by leaps and bounds. It was getting late and I had to be "home" at my Aunt Olga's huge big house on time for lunch, so after taking a few photos, courtesy of Xavier's daughter, we parted with a great big hug. It was great to see Xavier, my ex colleague but also my friend, after so many years and it was also great to see him looking so well. He said the same about me.
Nokia reuniting colleagues in Ars-en-Ré last Sunday - Xavier and I meeting for the first time in 15 years.
Xavier then walked me back to the harbour where I had parked my car and we said goodbye again and went our own ways, remarking that we must meet again; hopefully in Madrid if Xavier gets to come here for a Microsoft meeting some day.

I didn't go straight back as I wanted to visit the market I had been told was a very good one. But first I took a look at the lovely little harbour, imagining I had a house of my own on the island. Wouldn't that be nice?
The little harbour at Ars-en-Ré last Sunday
By then the rain had stopped and the sun would come out later. I ambled towards the market where everyone was buying fresh produce. I wanted something to take home and a present for little Elliot to take to Olivia. I found a beautiful white ceramic bowl with big blue spots which I loved and snapped up immediately. Eladio and I have a tradition of buying beautiful salad sized bowls on our trips and this would be one more to add to  the collection. Every time we use them, we remember the places we have travelled to. So this lovely blue and white one will remind me always of my stay at Île de Ré. I came across a beautiful baby stall where I bought some very original little presents for Elliot, my first presents to him. Everything was hand made and I got a bib, a comforter, a tooth biter and a little embroidered bag with  cotton mouth wipes which I hoped Olivia would like.

From the market I walked back to my car and drove home to Les-Portes-en-Ré to find everyone at home doing their own thing. Masha and the girls were putting the last touches to the Russian lunch they were preparing and everyone else was milling around, most of them with a glass of wine in hand hahaha. There was an awful lot of wine drunk at the cousinade I can tell you.

We all sat down to a table heaving with Russian fare, including a meat loaf with runner beans and rice. At the start there was  a fruit cake literally made only of fruit for one of Masha's girls, Sophie, whose birthday it had been on the 5th August when she turned 28 .  She was plied with presents from her family too.
Sophie's fruit birthday cakes 
After lunch we all went into the garden to have coffee, tea and some delicious Anton Berg chocolates Masha had brought. My Aunty Valya, who her great grandchildren call "Koka", was enjoying being surrounded by her family.  It was the perfect moment to catch her on camera with the four generations of women from the Lieven family together with her. Next year, if Oli comes with Elliot, we could do a photo of 5 generations. That's the one I have chosen for this week's feature photo. But we took others such as this one with Suzy and her great aunt, smoking together!
Suzy with her great aunt (Aunty Valya or Koka to her great grandchildren) on the last day in Les-Portes-en-Ré
The big cousinade was soon to finish and it went off with a bang. Masha's girls, Marie, Anne, Sophie and Elisabeth, had arranged to do a Russian traditional welcoming or honouring drinking ceremony for some of the people. This was the first time Suzy was to experience it and she just loved it. A man kneels down in front of a woman and offers her a drink which she has to down in one go. This is accompanied by chanting songs and laughter of course.  I was in for  a surprise too when the cooks were honoured with the same tradition. I had seen the ceremony before but had never had it performed on me. I have to say I loved it and welled up with a very strong feeling of my Russian roots.
The Russian drinking and honouring ceremony 
That symbolised the end of the big cousinade after which we had a group photo taken as we do every year. I would love to reproduce it here but this year I'm afraid I wasn't the one to take it and whoever did hasn't got round to sending us a copy yet.

Then it was time to get ready to go and when Suzy and I had packed we said goodbye to everyone. Zuka and Sasha her son went off in their cars with my aunt and the children and Suzy, Katty and I drove back in my Mini which for some reason everyone seemed to love, probably because of my Union Jack side windows hahaha.

So off we went and crossed the island and the bridge to La Rochelle, more or less traffic free thankfully. We were home by about 8 pm when guess what? It was time for an "aperitif" - i.e. more wine drinking.  I call my cousin's house "home" as that is what it feels like to me. So, yes it was nice to be home again. It was to be the last night of our stay in La Teillée for Suzy and I with our Lieven cousins and the end of the smaller cousinade; my favourite actually. Sam started playing the guitar and Katty and Suzy sang and you know what? It made me cry as all I could think was how much I wanted to have my mother and her sister, my Aunty Masha, with us because they loved singing. At that moment I missed them so much that I welled up again and couldn't stop crying with emotion.
The singing session on our last night in La Teillée
I felt better when Ruby and Sasha started telling jokes to cheer me up. My favourite was this one. "What do you call a Mexican without a car? Carlos" hahaha. We sat down to a great dinner of bangers and mash and roast red peppers. It was followed by ice cream - pistachio flavour in my case and in Suzy's - and the remains of the giant meringue I had bought last week at the market in Lezay.

We chatted outside on Zuka's terrace after dinner for some time. At about half past twelve I just had to call it a day and go upstairs to sleep.

Monday morning came and it was to be our last day in La Teillée as we were leaving  for Madrid but not until after Suzy's lessons and lunch. 

Monday was 12th August, the "glorious 12th" and would have been the birthday of Zuka's husband Bruce who died some 16 years ago aged just 59. Zuka had been keeping his ashes for an appropriate time to bury them at La Teillée although she may move them to be with her when she goes if the house is ever sold. That was the morning she chose to bury her beloved husband while both her children, Katty and Sasha were there with their children. I joined the small and intimate ceremony but unfortunately Suzy couldn't be there because of her lessons. My Aunty Valya was driven the very short way to the burying place, beneath a beautiful holly tree. Chairs were taken for my Aunt and Sam to sit on  -he would play a guitar piece during the ceremony - as well as champagne and glasses along with, of course, Bruce's box.
Bruce's box
Under the trees and some rain we all had a glass of champagne to toast the life of Bruce, a wonderful man, husband and father who I knew very well, in fact since before he married my cousin. He was a Yorkshireman and successful business man whose work took him all over the world, mainly in the Middle East. He had looked forward to retiring at La Teillée, his dream house, but it was not to be. His death, just before his retirement, was very cruel. Both he and Zuka had looked forward to their retirement together and suddenly Zuka found herself a relatively young widow and has had to fend for herself since then. She does a great job of it but misses him every day as does his family. Zuka made a lovely little speech and so did Katty. Here is Zuka taking the box out of the car just before the ceremony.
Zuka with Bruce's ashes on Monday morning
I was happy to be there to give them some comfort and to salute the wonderful man Bruce was. If you read my father's book you will find out just how they met and it was by chance but entirely thanks to my mother.

Later I went to the supermarket in Lusignan to get some food for our journey back. Katty, Ruby and Sam joined me on what would be our last excursion together. We came home to have lunch, cooked by Sasha - barbecued steak with salad. By then Suzy's lessons were over and at about 3 pm we all sat down to eat our last meal together. 

Then the time to go came, the time we dreaded. We really wanted to stay but had obligations at home; not to mention we knew we should be with Olivia who could give birth any day between now and the beginning of September. It was with a very heavy heart and some tears that we all hugged each other. Then Suzy and I got into my very full mini. As we drove out of the gates, there was my Aunty Valya who had walked from the terrace - a long walk for her with her stick - to wave us off. Then the children came running up for last minute kisses. Zuka was on the road to say a final goodbye and Katty had walked further up the road to surprise us. As we drove slowly, Ruby ran behind the car not wanting us to leave. We didn't want to leave either. They gave us the most beautiful sendoff it touched our hearts and when we got to the end of the village, both of us welled up. We just couldn't help it.

We had a long drive ahead of us - 900 kilometres which we did in 9 hours including stops. I had my own private concert nearly the whole of the way as Suzy sang to her play list which I have to say was a little loud at times. The Spanish border was the approximate half way mark. We had paid at 5 different tolls to get there and there would be 2 more in Spain. We only stopped to get a bit of petrol in France before crossing the border at 1.68 euros per litre. We later filled up in Spain at 1.38 euros per litre. That's quite a big difference.

I had bought sandwiches and fruit but Suzy wasn't hungry. So I ate my sandwich in the car. Google Maps played a trick on us after San Sebastián and instead of putting us on the Vitoria Burgos motorway, it took us off the motorway and along a very mountainous road to Vitoria. This was to add at least 25 minutes to the journey which was supposed to end at 1.30 a.m. However Suzy would speed up and we made it by 1.20. The mountain road in the dark was a bit of an unwanted adventure. I could hardly believe we drove along the Urkiola mountain pass, one I remember well from my cycling sponsorship days.

The last hour or so to Madrid became very uphill figuratively speaking and I dozed off just for half an hour. I didn't want to sleep so as to keep Suzy company but I couldn't help it.  We were home, as I said, at 1.20 to find a quiet and dark house. We had lots of luggage and bags to unload. The dogs greeted us in the kitchen as we put food away. Pippa was ecstatic as was I to see her. 

Eladio woke up when I walked into our bedroom and I gave him a kiss goodnight. I was in bed by 2 and slept until 7 in the morning but would feel dozy much of the following day.

On Tuesday morning, the first thing I did after breakfast was to greet my father and take him a printed version of my last blog post all about the cousinade. He was thrilled to see me and told me he had been looking forward to seeing me and that he had thought about me while I was away. He's not often that sentimental and I loved his words and told him so when I hugged him.

While I was away, as you know, his new passport had arrived, the one he needed for his bank account in Spain to remain open. It had come along with his old passport and Eladio pointed out to me that the new one, although still burgundy, no longer has the words European Union on it. I was gutted and thought it totally wrong as the UK hasn't actually left the EU yet. In fact I was furious at the pettiness of it. This is just not on as the UK is still officially in the EU!!  
The old passport with the European Union on it.
The new passport with the words European Union gone!
But the country is acting as if it had already happened. Just last week the UK pulled out of Inter rail, another nail in the Brexit coffin. It was first introduced in 1972 when I remember my brother George using it for just 25 pounds. The following year I followed suit and it cost me 32 pounds to travel around Europe for a month.   Later this week I also read that the Erasmus programme is a big question mark for 2020 and of course will end very soon. The British who voted to leave have shot themselves and everyone else in the foot.  Those of us who don't want to leave and those who like I live in the EU but couldn't vote in the Referendum, have been stripped of our EU citizenship without a thought of the consequences. We weren't even taken into account, the same as the Irish border was never taken into account.  It makes my blood boil. 

The house was full of guests, an English family from Wells; Helen, her husband Max and two daughters, Olive and Catherine and younger son Jake. They were a lovely family. Bless them they had read my father's book of which there is a copy in all the guests' rooms. They had enjoyed our house and pool so much that they stayed here most of the time. That day they chilled out all day by the pool to enjoy it before they left on Wednesday morning.

I did some quick shopping with Eladio so as to have food for lunch but would do the proper food shopping the next day as I just wasn't up to it.  Suzy had her lessons so couldn't join us for lunch which we had with my father. Later I had a siesta, a much needed one, but only slept for about 1 hour.

The afternoon was spent in the garden on the pink sunbeds reading. Suzy joined us and I had to have this photo of her with Pippa.  Lovely aren't they?
Suzy in the garden with Pippa
We spent the rest of the afternoon there enjoying the quiet and also the weather. It was warm but not hot which was bliss.  That, though, was just a respite as it would get much hotter as the week went by. 

Suzy had a date out that night - the mother of her bosom  friend Copi, Celeste, was to celebrate her birthday in the company of Copi who had come from Vitoria for the occasion to surprise her mother, along with other friends, including Oli and Miguel. We were not to see Oli until the next day.

Our guests went out to dinner on their last night and Eladio and I had the place to ourselves. We enjoyed our quiet dinner on the terrace and then went up to bed. We watched a bit of New Amsterdam Hospital on Amazon Prime until we fell asleep.

I was up at 7 am on Tuesday feeling quite refreshed although if I think about it I did still feel tired after the return journey from France. It certainly took its toll on me. That morning, Eladio and I resumed our habit of an early morning walk with the dogs and they were raring to go. It was quite cool when we left but got quite warm when the sun came out.  I came home to find Suzy back from her night out and making her coffee. I joined her then had my shower. However, it was interrupted as our British guests from Wells were leaving earlier than I had thought. Both Suzy and I saw them off. They were very good guests and really nice people. Our next guests were not coming until the next day so joy of joys we had the house and pool to ourselves until then.

Eladio and I did the main food shopping and I came back to make a big lunch for us all as Oli and Miguel were coming. I made  broccoli and mushroom soup followed by "bitki" (Russian hamburgers) which we had with home made tomato sauce and potato puré. It was nice for once to be all together that day and I know it made my father happy.

We all went to have a siesta afterwards and I could hardly believe it was 6.30 pm when I woke up. I had slept 2.5h. It was obvious I needed the sleep. I joined the rest of the family in the garden where we chatted until it was time for dinner. Miguel and Oli stayed for dinner and it was another long family meal.

When I went upstairs afterwards I saw that Miguel and Oli had installed a cot in her room at home for little Elliot. Seeing it made his arrival feel real to me. I could hardly believe that in 3 weeks time or so he would be sleeping there. This is it.
Elliot's cot in Oli's bedroom at home 
Miguel and Oli are very prepared for his arrival and have been given nearly everything. They have also bought lots of things in preparation for his birth. They will have to have nearly double of everything, for their flat and for our house.  They were lucky that a lot of it has come from a friend of Olivia whose children have grown out of it and they are moving to Switzerland. This is just some of the stuff they have. The photo was taken in Elliot's little room in their flat.
Everything is ready for Elliot's arrival. This is just some of the stuff Oli and Miguel have acquired for him. 
They are much more prepared than I was when Suzy was about to be born. It's funny but when I was pregnant for the first time, I could hardly believe I was and didn't have much ready. I didn't even prepare a suitcase to be taken to the hospital and the poor mite had to be dressed in hospital clothes when she was born. In a way I am having the same feeling with Oli's pregnancy. Yes, I can see she is very pregnant but just won't believe it until my grandson is here. Only three weeks to go now. 

I slept quite well that night waking up at 7 a.m. on Thursday morning. Thursday was 15th August, a big holiday in Spain and in France by the way, The Virgin of the Assumption and also the midway mark of the August holidays, a very busy time.

We would have new guests that day coming to enjoy the "puente" (bank holiday weekend); 2 couples with a small child each who are Brazilian but live in Madrid and would be coming for 3 nights. I was rather dreading them as babies and small children can be a challenge. In my house rules I state we don't accept children under 5 but no one reads the rules. It meant we would have to keep poor little Pippa hidden all the time. Oli and Miguel fled until they went this morning as Oli hates our house being invaded by Airbnb guests.

We had a quiet morning  before their arrival. We went on our walk. After my ablutions, I decided to wear my new red dress from Les-Porte-en-Ré. I wore it with my Cuban bean necklace and matching bracelet and it looked like I was ready to go out but I wasn't. I just felt like wearing it. At one point in the morning I was sitting on our red sofa in our study with its red Jordanian cushions which we brought back from our holiday there in 2010. Eladio took a photo as everything was so red and you know what? I think he took one of the best photos of me in recent times, despite the wrinkles on my neck. I was the proverbial woman or lady in red in but in a red background. It's funny but both the red tones were exactly the same. Here I am in a photo I rather like.
"Lady in red"
I dead headed the roses that morning and picked some of the better ones for the guest rooms. I also prepared a plate of fruit for each room.

Our guests arrived just as we were about to sit down to lunch and of course I had to welcome them and show them their rooms and the house. They immediately set about preparing a huge barbecue. We thus ate in the dining room with Pippa well hidden.

The guests enjoyed the pool all afternoon while we had our siesta and later read in the garden. It got quite hot that day with temperatures rising to 35ºc.  We would have had our dinner on the kitchen terrace but it was just too hot and also there were too many flies - there seem to be more of them than any other year and I'm not sure why. Thus we had dinner in the air conditioned dining room that night.

Friday was another quiet day with not much to report really. The house was full of the Brazilian families and it was a very hot day. Suzy left in the late afternoon to spend the night at Elenita's as the next day they were going on a trip to the mountains of Madrid with Oli and Miguel. I had some work to do that afternoon and while I was engrossed in it I got a sudden Airbnb reservation for a slot at the end of August for which I had a cancellation. I could only work out that my guests were from Israel as the name was in Hebrew script: אריאל ידוובסקי. Google translate didn't help at all in this case although it usually does. The person who booked told me that he or she did so after seeing such good reviews. I have had 5 star reviews all summer with some lovely comments from our guests, including the British family from Wells who wants to come back next year.

Being Friday night, Eladio and I went out for dinner. At the last moment we chose to go a new restaurant very nearby called "El Tinglao".  The food is excellent I have to admit and we should go more often. Eladio went for their so-called fish and chips and I had two first courses, a fancily cooked artichoke followed by the most divine foie. The dish is called "a dessert of foie" as it is literally ground to look like sand and it can be eaten by the spoonful.  This is it.
The foie at El Tinglao
I had lemon pie for "pudding" and it was superb. We came home to watch the final two episodes of New Amsterdam and were left wondering what we would watch next.

Saturday came. The girls went off to Lozoya, about an hour from Madrid where family of Elenita owns a house. I asked for photos and was rewarded with this one. It's funny to see all three girls wearing a similar white t-shirt.
The girls, Oli and Suzy with Elena and with Miguel in Lozoya yesterday
Suzy told me they were planning to go kayaking like we did in France. I was a bit worried about my pregnant daughter but neither Miguel nor her seemed to think it was at all dangerous so I can only hope they had a good time.  They did have a good time and later sent us photos of the 4 of them kayaking. I'm glad Oli was alright. They will be home for lunch today.
The girls and Miguel kayaking yesterday near Lozoya
After our walk with the dogs which had to be on the road and not on the fields because of the shooting - the glorious twelfth is on 15th August here - and after leaving lunch in the good hands of Lucy, Eladio and I went out on a few errands. One was pretty urgent. His HP computer of a few years was playing up. The keyboard doesn't work and we have tried everything. At the IT customer care section of El Corte Inglés we were told it would cost about 200 euros to repair but probably isn't worth it as the operating system is Windows 7 for which there will no longer be any updates from Microsoft next year. Gripes I thought, mine is Windows 7 too. We shall probably both have to buy a new PC now, not money we want to spend. There is always something isn't there? I later tried installing Windows 10 drivers in my PC and am still in the process. Fingers crossed folks.

Sunday came, the day our Brazilian guests would leave which means that we will have the house to ourselves. As I said the girls will be coming for lunch and hopefully we will all spend the afternoon by the pool together. We shall need it as today the temperatures will rise to about 36ºc again. We are thinking of going to Montrondo next week to escape the heat. Let's see if we do. No doubt you will hear whether we did or not in next week's post.

So that's it for now folks. I've come to the end of the stories of this week. Amazing to think this time last week we were still at the big cousinade in lovely Île de Ré. How time flies.

I shall leave you now to print this for my father and then go on our early morning walk with the dogs.

Till next week,
Cheers to you all,

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Road trip to France with Suzy, time in La Teillée, our Kiwi family came, kayaking in Vivonne, cycling with my cousins and this year’s cousinade in Île de Ré.

Île de Ré, Sunday 11th August, 2019

Cycling in Île de Ré  - first time I have ridden a bike in more than 30 years!
Dear all,

Here I am in the lovely area of Île de Ré where the well heeled Parisians flock in the summer. It is a beautiful island in South West France where some of my cousins have family houses in the village of Les Portes-en-Ré. It's the first time the Cousinade has taken place here and it's been great so far. Today it ends and we shall be going back later in the afternoon to La Teillée and then it's back home tomorrow.

It started last Sunday when Suzy and I set off on our road trip to France to my cousin Zuka's house in the little village of La Teillée near Saint Sauvant (in the Poitiers region and about 2h north of Bordeaux). It was to be a 900 km hour drive and our satnav told us it would take us about 9 hours. We said goodbye to everyone, the dogs included and I felt like a criminal for leaving little Pippa behind but she would have hated the drive as she doesn't like the car. Eladio took this great photo of us both just as we were setting off which was at around 9.30 although as we stopped at Carrefour Market to get some fruit and water for the drive, our road trip didn't really start until 9.45.
Setting off last Sunday
Suzy drove the whole way and what a champion driver she is. We listened to music, made stops for coffee and for stretching our legs and of course filling the tank in Spain before crossing the border as petrol is much more expensive in France. We stopped for lunch on the motorway just before San Sebastian but the place was awful and there were only really sandwiches for sale. Thus I used the option to find a restaurant on our google maps route and it took us to a place off route in Anoeta to a restaurant that was closed. Luckily there was a bar opposite which served acceptable food and had a menu of the day. Here we are sitting on the terrace surrounded by cars. It was not my choice of restaurant and I thought perhaps we should have gone into the centre of San Sebastian or to the port to have tapas but that would have delayed us a lot, so we went for what there was at the modest little bar in Anoeta just outside the city.
Lunch on the road near San Sebastian
We continued our journey, crossing into France and hardly noticed we had passed the border and I thought "oh for the joys of belonging to the EU".  What we did notice though were the multiple "peages" (motorway tolls) and I think we stopped at least 5 times between the frontier and Bordeaux to pay an extortionate amount of money. The roads though are good in France and there was not much traffic on our side of the motorway. What were not good though were the "aires" (places to stop on the roadside). I found them filthy and the loos were of the Turkish type which of course I didn't use, preferring to go behind a tree.

We continued our drive and when we took the turn off on the road from Bordeaux to Poitiers, into deep French countryside to La Teillée, a tiny village, we encountered narrow little roads. Without the satnav I'm not sure we would have made it. But even the satnav had problems when it made us turn off onto a track across a field in the middle of nowhere. We were literally off road and had no idea how we would make it to Zuka's place. I had to take a video of the last kilometre or so through the fields of our 900km road trip, for the fun of it. You can see it here. It might have taken us off road but it did take us to our destination which we reached at 7.45. Zuka was amazed at how fast we had got there. I think we were too.

Waiting for us with Zuka was her mother, my Aunty Valya, the wife of my mother's youngest brother, Kolya. She is aged 94 and still smokes like a chimney and drinks wine every day. She has good hearing too and looked in good health. At the end of each cousinade every year when I say goodbye, she always says "I hope I will see you next year". So when I hugged her on Sunday I laughingly said to her "it's good to see you are still here". I think she is eternal and would love to be like her if I ever reach her age.

Also there was a young Ukrainian woman called Oxana who is Zuka's home help. She is my weekend carer, Zena's daughter and the arrangement for Oxana to work for Zuka happened when my cousin came for my father's 100th last May.
With Oxana, Zena's daughter in La Teillée
A lot had happened since my last stay in July last year. Most noticeable was a new swimming pool, a fence around the garden and the fact that Zuka had bought more of the land and buildings surrounding her plot and now has 6000m2 of land which includes, if you count the house, 5 buildings. I am encouraging my cousin to start being an Airbn host as the place she has is spectacular.

What I always love when I am in La Teillée is "aperitif" time with Zuka and her mother and after the hugs and welcoming, we all had a glass or two or three of lovely chilled white wine.  I was so happy to have brought Suzy with me. Aunty Valya, her great aunt hadn't seen her for 20 years when Suzy was 15. It was at my mother's funeral in 1999. This time the reunion was far sweeter. We had to capture the moment of the four of us together, 3 generations of the Lieven family that evening. And here we are.
3 generations of the Lieven family reunited in La Teilée this week
I only wished my mother could have been with us. Oh how I missed her at that moment. I also wished Olivia could have been with us but of course she couldn't as no way could she have risked the 900km journey at 8 months pregnant.

We sat outside on the terrace with our white wine, something I never do as I usually get a headache from wine but luckily that night I didn't. We had a delicious late dinner and carried on with the wine afterwards talking until nearly midnight. I had been up since 5 in the morning but I wasn't tired. I was just happy.

Suzy and I slept in the same room together. She fell asleep immediately but I unpacked and got leisurely ready for bed. I thought it would be difficult to sleep but I was lucky and slept well and only got a slight headache from the wine. In fact I slept so well I didn't wake up until 7 o'clock the next day.

Monday was one of the most relaxing days I have had in a long time. At home I am in charge of all meals, have to look after guests, etc and at Zuka's place, although I helped a lot, I was a guest and it was a wonderful feeling not to have all the normal responsibilities. Thus I had a leisurely breakfast and later wondered into the garden, or rather my cousin's enormous plot of land and took photos to send to the family. This is an overall view of the house and just some of the barns as well as of the new pool.
A view of Zuka's house and garden in La Teilée
The morning was spent leisurely too. Meanwhile, Zuka's daughter, my cousin Katty and her children who I call "our kiwi family" were on their way here from New Zealand but were stuck in Hong Kong. Because of all the unrest 200 flights were cancelled including theirs to Paris. The whole place was in chaos but luckily they eventually were put on a new flight leaving there at midnight and getting to Paris on Tuesday in the early morning. They took the metro or train to Montparnasse station to catch the 9.07   TGV to Poitiers. They would be with us before lunch on Tuesday and we couldn't wait, especially my aunt and cousin who hadn't seen them since last year. Both Zuka and I can commiserate as both our daughters live on the other side of the world. However, they see each other quite often as Katty is an air hostess with Air Zealand which takes her to Bali quite frequently where she and Suzy meet up. 

It was a lovely warm day in La Teillée but far cooler than Madrid which was a relief for both Suzy and I. She had her lessons of course to her Chinese kids which she gave from our bedroom. When she came down for lunch at 2.40 she was quite shocked as during the last lesson, her 8 year old Chinese pupil had shown his "willy" to her. She had to immediately report the situation to the company who employs her who in return would have alerted the parents. It was a sort of funny situation but also rather alarming.

In any case we all had lunch to look forward to. Oxana had made a delicious Ukrainian dish of no name. It was a sort of courgette pancake cake which she decorated beautifully. We loved every morsel and I shall have to learn how to make it. This was it:
Oxana's courgette pancake tart 
In the afternoon, Suzy and I went for our first walk since our arrival and we were in much need of it. I was keen to show my daughter just what a beautiful area La Teillée is located in. We walked along the old paths past farm houses until we came to a forest path where The Chair of Moses is located and which is a famous landmark around here. I'm afraid I don't know its background. We both had to sit on it of course and here is a photo of Suzy doing just that.
Suzy on Moses' chair
I recognised all the paths and roads we took from my walks every year here with Katty but they always look the same to me and if I went on my own I would get lost. We came to a lovely old farm house with blue shutters and doors which even has its own well. Suzy was bowled over by its prettiness. I love it too. We stopped to take photos pf both of the house and the well.
The old French country house with its blue shutters and door
The pretty little well
We walked past corn fields too and were struck by this one by its absolute vastness and we had to have a photo there too.
Suzy in the corn field
I have always been a country girl rather than a town girl and I remarked to Suzy that I could quite easily live in a small village in the country. There were some old farm houses for sale which go for a song in this area; some at only about 45k pounds or euros but of course they need restoring. I just love the peace and beauty of the area and of course the slow pace. We hardly saw a soul on our way, just a few farmers and a man grooming a beautiful horse.

Then we came upon a small patch of grass with children's swings, slides, a roundabout and a seesaw. That's when the child in me came out and I told Suzy I wanted  to have a go at least on the roundabout. She was game for it and once on she took a video which you can see here. I always loved roundabouts when I was a child and it was such fun. But then I spied the old fashioned wooden seesaw and I had to go on that too. Here we had a ball and took  more videos as we were having such a great time. If you want a laugh, click on video 1  and on video 2 here. Oh how we laughed while we were going up and down both of us being reminded of our childhood. 

Somehow we found our way back and came home all hot and sweaty after an hour's walk in the sunshine. Zuka was in the pool and we soon joined her. Here she is enjoying the cool of the water. Well, actually she had heated it. Her pool has all the mod cons I can think of or didn't even know existed like her water exercise bike. 
Zuka in her new pool
Later we sat by the pool drying off and enjoying the sun. Back home, there was a bit of fun going on too. Eladio sent us a message to tell us that a delivery man had come with his van bringing lots of parcels of stuff for little Eliott that Oli and Miguel had bought at the weekend. Eladio told us the man had driven the van to the garage, unloaded the parcels and then driven off. Half an hour later he drove back to deliver, guess what? Norah, our beagle. She must have got into his van when no one was looking. She was apparently quite nonplussed about her little adventure. Oh naughty, curious Norah I thought but was relieved she was brought back none the worse for her little adventure. That was just so funny. 

Soon it was "aperitif" time on Zuka's terrace where she plied us with delicious chilled white wine and the four of sat talking. One of the main topics here is of course about my mother and her family's past. Aunty Valya is a mine of information as of course she knew my mother since she married my uncle just after WW2. She even came up with my grandmother's passport issued by the Russian authorities in Bulgaria in 1922. What a document. She was 36 at the time and her children who had been born - she was to have two more -  Zuka's father Nicolai and my mother's youngest sister, my Aunty Masha - are all included in the passport; her eldest son Alexander (Sasha) aged 10, Olga aged 9, Darya aged 5 and my mother, Elena, aged just 2. This is it. It's only a piece of paper, not a proper passport. It will come in handy for the book I shall be starting on about my mother and the family saga shortly.
My grandmother, Princess Sophie (Sonya) - her passport issued in 1922 in Bulgaria and where her children are mentioned including my mother. 
The "aperitif" time at La Teilée is my favourite time of day there. It's when I get to talk to my Aunt who as I say is a trove of information about the Lieven and Stachovich family.  We had dinner late, a beautiful salad made of lettuce from the garden and then went out onto the terrace again chatting until past 11 pm. We went to bed earlier that day and I read a bit while Suzy was on the phone to a friend and I had another good night's sleep. It must be the air or my state of relaxation in La Teillée that helps me sleep better.

I was up at 6.20 on Tuesday morning. By 7.30 I had a message from Katty to say they had arrived safely and were on their way to Montparnasse station to catch the TGV to Poitiers where Zuka would be waiting to pick them up. No doubt she would be in a state of nerves, after all she hadn't seen them for a whole year. Soon we would be all together.

Meanwhile, Suzy and I took the time to go to a local market in small village about 12km away called Lezay where they hold a market every Tuesday. We went in search of good French bread, tomatoes and anything that might take our fancy. At the bread stall they were also selling lovely tarts and huge meringues. I had to get an apricot tart and some almond meringue; I just couldn't resist. Here I am paying for my purchases.
Buying bread and cakes at the market in Lezay on Tuesday
Apart from shopping I also enjoyed practicing my French which everyone tells me has come on since last year. There was time for a "café au lait" too with Suzy at a little French bar in the market square. Next door was a post office and there I bought some stamps to send post cards to my Father. As a family we always sent post cards to each other on our travels and it is a tradition I have continued.

At the market we also had a look at the clothes and apart from the usual rubbish you see in markets all around the world there were actually some rather nice garments. Suzy bought a yellow and black spotted dress and I could not resist a straight tunic style summer dress that caught my eye. They had it many different colours and it was difficult to choose. Here I am trying them on inside the van of the stall owners, hahahaha.
Trying on dresses at the market in Lezay
In the end I got the white and green one and wore it the next day and in Ile de Ré.

Soon it was time to go home as we did not want to miss the arrival of our "kiwi family". We had to wait a while though as after arriving they went shopping in Poitiers as that is where all the big supermarkets are.  They arrived just before lunch and oh how emotional the reunion was. But we were in for a surprise. We knew Katty was coming with Ruby (10) and Sam (15) but we had no idea Luc (17) was coming too and we were overjoyed. For Suzy the reunion was even more special as she hadn't seen them since 2010, 9 years ago.

We all had lunch  and it was so lovely to be together. In the afternoon the kids swam and then Suzy and Sam got together and he played the guitar and Suzy sang. It ended up being a beautiful jamming session. It was a joy to see them together making music and taking off where they had left off 9 years ago and feeling like family.
Suzy and Sam singing and playing the guitar
But soon our kiwi family began to get very tired. After all they had left Auckland on the 4th August and spent a whole day in the chaos of HK airport and two very long haul flights, not to mention the time difference of I think 11 hours. Both Ruby's and Katty's eyes began to droop at around 7 pm and they went to bed and wouldn't get up until the next morning. Suzy had to work so that day I had to go on my walk on my own.

Not knowing my way around this area very well as it all looks the same and not having a very good sense of direction I decided to take an easy way and walk on just one path and turn back again. On my way I only saw a hare and a man on a horse.
The man on the horse on my walk on Tuesday
What I saw a lot of though were corn fields and sunflower fields. The latter are synonymous for me of summer in France and conjure up images of Le Tour de France. I had to have a photo but unfortunately the flowers were facing the sun and away from me.
A sunflower field as seen near La Teillée. They are synonymous for me with a French summer
I came back to have an aperitif with Zuka and my Aunt while Suzy was still working. For dinner that night of the kiwi family only Luc and Sam stayed up, determined to get rid of their jet lag by going to bed at 10 pm and sleeping the night through. Suzy, Zuka, Aunty Valya and I stayed up drinking more wine I'm afraid until it was just Suzy and I left. For some reason we were not tired and that day went to bed at nearly 1 in the morning talking and having mother and daughter time.

Wednesday came and I woke up to rain. It rained very strongly for about 2 hours and then thankfully the sun came out again. That morning, "the girls"; i.e. Katty, Suzy, Ruby and I, went on a walk together with the aim of taking Ruby to the roundabout and seesaw for a bit of fun together.  We actually found a bit of fun before getting there when we spied blackberry bushes and saw that some of the berries were quite ripe. They were a bit high up so we got Ruby to sit on Suzy's shoulders to pick some of them. Thankfully I had a bio bag in my little purse to put them in.
"The girls" having fun picking blackberries on our walk on Wednesday morning
We picked as many as we could and Ruby and I decided we would make a fruit crumble later in the day. We did get to the children's playground to go on the seesaw and roundabout. However, we realised that it was private property and had to ask the owner's permission to go on. We asked for permission for Ruby who is only 10 and was the only child and then gradually we joined her. The man who was mowing his lawn didn't seem to mind thank goodness. 

We came back to chill out and Suzy went off to give her lessons. Lunch was late, even later than Spanish times, at 3.30 or nearly 4 pm hahaha. Later we lazed in the garden and Suzy, Katty and her kids lay chatting and making plans for new activities to do together. Suzy took a selfie of the moment. 
Chilling in the garden with our kiwi family
Soon another cousin arrived, Marie Helene with her German husband, Christophe, who works in Saudi Arabia. Zuka had to go shopping and took the girls with her while I sat and chatted to Marie Helene and Christophe catching up on our lives from when we had met a year ago at the last cousinade.

The "girls" came back from shopping and while Zuka made the main meal for everyone, Ruby and I made our fruit crumble from the blackberries to which we added bilberries, raspberries and peaches. This is what it looked like when it came out of the oven.
The fruit crumble made by Ruby with my help on Wednesday
We were 10 or 11 for dinner that night. I got Oxana to take a photo of the group of us all together. This is us, just part of the cousinade but still a lot of people and aged from 10 to 94!!!
Dinner with my cousins in La Teillée on Wednesday night
We all agreed the fruit crumble which we had with ice cream - I insisted on buying pistachio flavour which is my favourite and hard to come by in Spain - was just delicious. Later, gradually the children crept up to bed as they still had a bit of jet lag. 

I stayed up to see off Marie Helene and Christophe who were leaving in their 2 cars for their house which is a spectacular "maison de maitre" in the Cognac region just over an hour from La Teilée. However, one of the cars wouldn't start as the battery had run flat. Zuka couldn't find her jump starter. Christophe tried all sorts of tricks but nothing would start it. Thus Marie Helene had to drive home alone and her husband stayed overnight so as he could fix the car in the morning with a neighbour's jump starter.

I went to bed late to find Suzy asleep and leisurely got ready to go to bed myself. On the home front that day, Eladio had called - that's news as we don't often call each other hahaha. He told me the English family that was coming that day for a week had arrived ok. The good news of the day though was a message from the Passport Office in Belfast to say my father's passport application had been approved and that the passport would be sent on Thursday. That's a lot less than the 4 or so weeks I had expected the process to last. 

I woke up on Thursday morning at just past 6 and was happy to read I had a new Airbnb reservation from 3 Honduran students who will be coming in September for 10 days. New reservations are always uplifting because it means the "business" is working hahaha.

Thursday was a wonderful day. In the morning Suzy and I went on our walk in the beautiful countryside of La Teilée and were joined by our "kiwi family", Katty, Luc, Sam and Ruby. This time we didn't pick blackberries and concentrated on a fast pace as we all wanted the exercise. We got some more exercise too of a different kind when we went on the seesaw and roundabout again, hahaha.
On the roundabout
What fun it was.  It was also fun to do a "jumping photo", Olivia style. My youngest daughter loves them so we did one for her.
On the roundabout
We came back to chill out and while Suzy was giving her lessons, Katty and I went off to the local supermarket at a village nearby to get provisions to take to Ile de Ré. We also went to the local "boulangerie" as I was determined to get some good French bread which is much better at the local bakeries than at the supermarkets.

After lunch, at Katty's and her kids' suggestion, the 6 of us drove to Vivonne to go kayaking. The kids go every year when they are here but neither Suzy nor I had ever done kayaking. I was a little reluctant thinking it might be a sport a bit beyond me at my age but actually I loved it. Here we are all ready to go.
Ready for action
The kids are naturals and were to be our teachers. We did the 5km course along the river which was so beautiful it was breathtaking. We were lucky too as we had the river to ourselves. Katty dared take her phone with her and it's thanks to her we have the pictures of our adventure. It was a total first for Suzy and I and although we didn't actually take to it like ducks to water we soon got the hang of it. It's not difficult to do. What I found difficult or tiring was swinging the oars for 2 hours as my arms are not used to so much exercise. Here are Suzy and I in a great picture laughing our heads off.
Suzy and I kayaking 
It was all quite simple until we got to the first waterfall. Ruby went first and sailed through as did everyone else. I'm afraid my kayak capsized and I fell fully clothed into the water. All I could do was laugh. Dear Luc came to the rescue and after that little surprise, I had no more incidents. I managed the next waterfall and this time it was Sam who capsized. The rapids were a little challenge too but I got past them ok. However after a rapid the kayak seems to have a mind of its own and thanks to the currant takes you to the shore and you have to paddle your way back onto the course of the river.

Katty even took a video of part of the course which you can see here. The 2 hours seemed eternal and by the end my arms and hands were aching. Zuka and Oxana were waiting for us when we all got out of the kayaks. I was soaking of course but thankfully had brought a towel.

We came home to swim - some of us - and I had to take a well needed shower and wash my hair. I also had to wash our clothes as unfortunately Zuka's washing machine had broken down.

Of course after the shower it was "aperitif time" and we had a ball, drinking, talking and Sam playing the guitar and Suzy and Katty singing. We had dinner late on the terrace and ate lovely Ukrainian dishes Oxana had made for us. It was to be her last night here as the next day she was going home for the summer. She would be taking the bus from Paris which must be a very long journey.

It had been just a wonderful day, exhilarating, fun and just sheer pleasure to be in the company of our lovely "kiwi family".  The next day we would be off to Île de Ré for more fun and excitement, this time in the company of the rest of the family, our cousins from the "Stachovich" side; that is the side of my mother's mothers family.

I was awake at 6 and came down to have my fix of caffeine for the day from my Nespresso machine which I had brought with me from Madrid. Soon people were up to as some of us had to be off early. Zuka's son, Sasha, and his son Miles had arrived the night before at 1 a.m. after having driven all the way from Lancashire. Thus the Lieven side of the family was complete. At about 8.45, Suzy, Katty, Ruby and I were off to Île de Ré in order to avoid the mid August holiday traffic and be there on time for Suzy to give her lessons. Thankfully she cancelled them that day and there was no stress to get there. The others would leave later; Zuka being the last to leave with my 94 year old Aunty Valya as my cousin had so much to do before setting off.

It was  a lovely girly road trip to the beautiful island in the South West of France where we were told hordes would flock this weekend and to be wary of crossing the bridge as it gets very congested. The warnings were for nothing in the end as we encountered little traffic and got to the little village at the far end of the island, Les Portes en Ré, within 2 hours. And a beautiful island it is. It's about the size of Formentera, some 85km2 with a  population of about 15.000 people all year around. That figure must go up a lot in the holidays. People here go round on bikes everywhere as the streets are narrow and on many of them cars are not allowed. In Formentera, people go around on mopeds. I far prefer the former.

Katty was our guide as she had been to the island before and stayed at the family houses which once belonged to Aunty Olga and Aunty Nastushka - my mother's first cousins on her mother's side. Aunty Olga's house is called "Paix" (peace) and Aunty Nastushka's house is called "Paradis" which is exactly what the latter is. With a little difficulty Katty found "Paix", a great big rambling house with a huge garden but no one had arrived. Both houses have been in the family for many years but after the death of Aunty Olga last year "Paix" and  "Paradis" are on the market  so this would be the last time the our group of cousins could use them. We were lucky to have had the chance to come and stay here otherwise I would probably never have visited this magical place.  I couldn't imagine the family ever wanting to sell either of the properties but then again it is understandable as there are quite a lot of siblings.
Suzy, Ruby and Katty at Aunty Olga's house
Aunty Olga's house from the back
Thus we went off  to find "Paix" where we found Marie Helene's brother, Paul, and his family moving out for us after their vacation. And what a beautiful place it was and so clean and tidy. I loved it immediately.
"Paradis", the house we stayed at and it was paradise I can tell you.
After greeting Paul and his family, we decided to amble around the centre of Les Portes en Ré which was full of people and bikes but a beautiful village. There was a market on, as there is every day and things looked enticing but expensive. The island is expensive too. A cup of coffee here costs 5 euros, more than double than in Spain. We had a little something to keep us going until lunch which would be late as people were arriving at different times.  By the time we got back to "Paix", Marie Helene and her husband Christophe were there sorting things out. The Aunts were in charge of different meals on different days and it was their turn on Friday. They made salads and a lovely chicken casserole. Here we all are around the old kitchen table.
Lunch on Friday with the first arrivals to the cousinade in Île de Ré
After lunch we all went walking into the village apart from Marie Helene and Christophe who had to do some food shopping. We were the first arrivals and all the rest would be arriving at different stages that afternoon and night. I never counted but we are about 20 people. The boys wanted to go biking so off we all went to find a place to hire bikes for them. In the end, I think it was at my crazy suggestion, we hired bikes for all of us. I had not ridden a bike for more than 30 years and I knew I would feel wobbly. Thankfully though the bikes were a bit vintage with handle breaks and they were very comfortable. The only thing was I was wearing a dress which is bit awkward on a bike. If I had known we would go cycling I would have worn shorts or trousers but I had to manage. It was a wonderful sensation to be cycling along the old streets of the village "en famille" so to say. Oh, wow, I can't describe it. Sasha was at the rear, looking out for me - bless him and at one stage I said I'd love a photo of us on the bikes. A minute later he rode over to me and took the photo which I have chosen as this week's feature photo. I was so happy at that moment, feeling free as a bird and like a younger woman.

We all rode to the beach, Katty at the front and Sasha, her brother, at the back as they both know the area quite well from childhood holidays here. They took us to a lovely beach where we parked and locked our bikes and went down to the sand and rocks. It was here I spied a Pippa lookalike, a miniature chocolate coloured dachshund. She was trembling by the shore of the sea - dachshunds hate water - as her owners, two French ladies, were swimming. Both Ruby and I went to stroke her; she was very friendly and the ladies told me her name was "hola" (hello in Spanish). They asked us to look after her while they bathed which both Ruby and I did with pleasure.
Ruby and I on the beach with little "Hola".
Everyone did their own thing on the beach. Suzy sat on a rock contemplating the view, Luc went in search of crabs which he caught, Ruby picked up shells and we all generally just enjoyed being together in such lovely surroundings.
Suzy on the beach

Part of the group on the beach
As you can see we were all dressed and none of us swum because it wasn't really warm enough - about 22c. When we had had our fill it was time to get on our bikes and ride home as some of the others had arrived. Here is a photo of part of the group with our bikes which I love.
On our rented bikes by the beach on Friday
We rode home, incident free which was quite an achievement for me precisely because I hadn't ridden a bike for so many years. My mother used to say remembering a language is like remembering how to ride a bike; it's something you never forget even if you get rusty. That piece of wisdom was much on my mind as I rode with my cousins along the lanes and streets of the village. I was pretty proud of myself at having gone cycling aged 62. I wondered what the next activity would be after kayaking on Thursday and biking on Friday. I really have to thank my Kiwi family for all this. They are so adventurous. Also, all being so young, I think some of their youth rubbed off onto me hahah.

We came "home" to "Paix" to find Marie and Anas had arrived. We had last seen them at their wedding in Geneva and in France (they had two weddings, one a muslim ceremony in the Swiss city and one, a Russian Orthodox ceremony at a beautiful chateau in Haute Savoie in France). Like Suzy, it was to be their first time at the cousinade and it was great to see them. Soon we were all glasses in hand sitting and standing in the garden when Zuka and her mother, Aunty Valya, finally arrived. I have to say that my 94 year old Aunt is an example of healthy long living. Believe it or not she smokes and drinks alcohol and has done for a long time. I just hope I can be like her if and when I reach her age. Here she is drinking a glass of wine and smoking a cigarette and looking the picture of health despite what the medical world says. She, at least, has proved them wrong and enjoys these little pleasures in life.
My amazing 94 year old Russian aunt, "Tyotya" Valya with a glass of wine and cigarette in hand at the cousinade in Île de Ré on Friday evening.
Before dinner we of course had aperetifs. Here I am, glass in hand, wearing my Lezay dress and chatting to Marie Helene. Her husband Christophe had taken the photo while we were not looking.
Aperitif time in Ile de Re. Here in my Lezay dress  with my cousin Marie Helene, our hostess.

Katty and Ruby had brought lots of wigs and party glitter and make up for the cousinade and that evening they started dressing us up which was huge fun.

Katty and Zuka 

Suzy, Katty and Ruby

Zuka and her grandson Luc
Marie and Anas getting into the spirit of things
As you see the cousinade got off to a great start. It was definitely party time in Île de Ré for us that night. More cousins arrived, Anna, her husband Chouchou, who was ill poor thing, and their darling baby boy, Maxime, Sophie, Marie's sister and her partner Olivier too. However their mother Masha wouldn't arrive with their youngest sister, Elizabeth, until nearly 1 in the morning. My poor cousin had landed in Paris that morning from Siberia and then had to drive all the way here.

We all had dinner and there was lots of after dinner talk until we all felt so tired it was time to go to bed. Suzy and I after many changes were to stay with the boys, Marie, Anas and Sophie and Olivier at Aunty Nastusha's lovely house, appropriately called "Paradis" which had just been cleaned that morning. There was even a Nespresso machine there.  How wonderful to sleep in "paradise" I thought haha. We all got our beds ready, unpacked, etc and I came downstairs to set up my PC. The other added advantage of this newer house is that it has wifi. Yes, my friends, something I can't live without. Later, Luc and I sat outside in the delightful patio and were joined by Miles. We talked until nearly 1.30 when I just had to crash out and get some sleep.

I was, of course, the first one up on Saturday morning and had the house to myself. There was a lot of "peace" in "paradise" I thought haha. I made my coffee and then sat writing my blog and uploading some of the photos. Soon Suzy joined me and then Marie. We decided to go out for breakfast as there is nothing I like best in France than a café au lait with a croissant in a bar. Later Anas joined us, Suzy went off to cycle and the three of us explored the market. We then split up as they had to go to the supermarket and I was keen to look at the clothes. I bought a red linen dress, a green smock and some lovely pink and white spotted summer trousers. I then ambled to the big house, Paix, to find Zuka and co making lunch as it was her turn that day. Mine would be dinner that night. Here we all are in the garden having lunch on Saturday, the main day of the cousinade.
Lunch on Saturday
Later Suzy, Ruby and Katty helped prepare the meal I was to make that night. Suzy and I had decided to make a Spanish dinner consisting of gazpacho, tortillas, roast peppers, ham, chorizo and "lomo" with a green salad and followed by a water melon we had brought from Spain. Making tortilla for 20 is a challenge, especially in a kitchen that is not yours and a dubious frying pan. It took me from about 3.30 until nearly 8 pm to have everything ready. As I was so busy working in the afternoon I missed out on the afternoon cycling excursion. I also missed out on the hairdressing activity where Katty plaited both Ruby's and Suzy's hair. I have to say they looked so sweet.
Suzy and Ruby with their plaited hair
By about 8.30 my tortillas were ready and I have to say they looked yummy.
Some of the tortillas I made for the Spanish dinner on Saturday night.
They turned out well, juicy inside and with the right amount of salt. Sam took a photo of the dinner table which was a difficult task as it was impossible to get everyone in and all the food on the table.
The Spanish dinner last night
It was such fun round the table. I sat with Marie and Anas, Ruby and Sam, Luc, Suzy and Miles. Miles is a joke a minute and had us all in stitches with his very British humour even though he has lived most of his life in Germany and South Korea.
Suzy and the boys. From left to right: Sam, Luc, Suzy and Miles
When everyone had had their fill it was time for people to perform party tricks. Ruby did an amazing gym number after which she went to bed as the poor lamb was tired at the end of the day. Later Suzy and Katty sang to the tune of Sam's guitar. Then my Russian cousins, Masha and her girls, Ana, Elizabeth and Marie joined in and sang a variety of lovely Russian songs using harmony which took me right back to my roots and to memories of singing with my Mother and Aunty Masha. Suzy remembered a couple of songs her grandmother taught her years ago and soon we had a choir going. Oh if only Oli had been there too to join this lovely family choir. It was just the perfect end to a perfect day. It was after midnight when the party finished, mainly because we were tired and it was getting cold. Thus Marie, Anas, Suzy and I walked the short distance back to "Paradis" to go to bed, except that Suzy didn't. The boys were there, about to go out to have a drink in the village and Suzy went with them. I would have gone but was just too tired after nearly 5 hours cooking in the afternoon.

With everyone out or asleep I got slowly ready for bed and to help me fall asleep I read a bit of my book on my kindle. I didn't hear Suzy come back and woke up at 5.55 with a splitting headache and only 4 hours sleep. So I took a tablet, applied some tiger balm and slept another hour. I woke up again and this time got up to go down and make my coffee. I was surprised to see it raining outside and as I write it is still raining.

Today is the last day of the cousinade; all good things always come to an end.

You will of course hear about the end of the cousinade in next Sunday's blog post.  I sincerely hope you have enjoyed today's.

Cheers then friends, family and readers until next week,