Elizabeth and I left India in 2018 after almost a year there helping family and enjoying the state of Kerala. We had started our travels in 2016 but after spending some months with family only travelled for a few months before stopping in India again. This meant our travel bug was not quite as satiated at this point relative to our original plans and we wanted to make up for that. Back before Covid19 when this was possible, we therefore set out from Kochi, India and explored South East Asia, bouncing between Singapore, Penang (Malaysia) Hanoi, Hoi An & Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), Taipei, Taichung & Alishan (Taiwan), Busan (South Korea), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Lombok (Indonesia) and finally Hong Kong & Macao (China).
After all those cities with lots of time in smog but little time in fresh air, we felt we needed both to slow down a bit to work more and to enjoy some greenery. So it was in Lombok that we had a Skype call with a wonderfully friendly British couple to organise an extended house-sit in the Gers region, Occitanie, southern France. It was sadly minutes later we were almost killed by the 2018 earthquake as our bungalow collapsed - this Skype call has been lodged in our memory as we moved from the elation of agreeing to arrive in November that year to bricks hitting us from through the ceiling in the pitch black. However, with several hundred deaths recorded on our small island that day, to escape with only cuts and bruises is not a blessing to take lightly. (Click here to read about our experience).
We flew immediately back to Kuala Lumpur to recover for a few days with the help of new Dutch friends we met on our travels, and then to Hong Kong to see Elizabeth's eldest sister. From there, with an end-goal in mind, we flew to the UK to see family and then on to Lyon, France (with Vien's eldest sister), London (with Elizabeth's parents), Vienna (Austria), Bratislava (Slovakia), Munich (Germany), and Toledo & Madrid (Spain) and finally...landed in Toulouse, southern France. It felt surreal to arrive on the other end of that earthquake Skype call!
We spent the winter of 2018-19 on an estate in the Occitanie region, bordering the French Pyrenees which, on clear days, loomed over the grape vines and sunflower fields. A house-sit where we walked and fed two excitable, lovable Labrador dogs each day, plus some mowing - 'some' meaning acres of lawn and making some paths around the 150 acres (60ha) of fields and lake for easier dog walks. We also spent a few days visiting the French ski town of Barèges, enjoying the snow and ice, and then gratefully returning to spring and blossoms.
In exchange we had our three-bed cottage on the hill, heated with a wood-stove and complete with cosy sofas, dog beds, jigsaw puzzles and a large, well-equipped kitchen with dishwasher. During our time in SE Asia shopping in a supermarket, and sometimes in the markets, was more expensive than buying cooked food from restaurants and street vendors, and so we had done very little cooking for a very long time. So it was an exciting and unexpected bonus, the ability to cook and bake all sorts of French and international dishes with all the specific and fun utensils we needed.....plus lots and lots of salads! Something the French do very well!
Another unexpected education was in the realm of duck: Duck was everywhere. On every restaurant menu, in large dedicated sections of supermarkets, and quacking at the farm-factories nestled in-between fields - there was DUCK. The joke for the Gers is that as soon as they figure out a duck dessert, there will be nothing else eaten! We still don't know if duck is a white or dark meat, but we know it is delicious. This is also the longest-lived area of France, with a huge amount of duck and the darkness red wines. We vaguely remember being told that the oils in duck are similar to that of olive oil, which is also what they say about the high quality Iberian pigs fed exclusively on acorns (and the Spanish also are some of the longest-lived in the world). It seems the Mediterranean diet still wins for a extended life, even if you have to rely on pigs and ducks for your "olive" oil!
The region has the lowest population density in France, which with twice the land size of the UK and the same population is already not the highest. This meant even when we did go out, we often didn't encounter other cars at all. It felt both positive and strange after so long in some of the world's largest cities. The nearest town with a supermarket was 20 minutes away and for us, this was exactly what we were looking for.
With the hosts' generous community of friends, Elizabeth found a kind and generous British-Andorran couple who were happy for Elizabeth to come out riding to help exercise Vanilla the Arabian horse. The dogs were just too cute and the horses too elegant to shoehorn into this already larger-than-normal gallery so they will make up an entire album for themselves to be published in the future. ;-)
It was as it sounds....idyllic. Beautiful sunrises and sunsets, blue skies reflected in the blue lake, and it turns out, kilos and kilos of weight lost with all that hill walking and restaurants so far away! And perhaps eating all that duck?
So please enjoy this collection by clicking on the image above or: https://500px.com/p/vientiene/galleries/occitanie-france-2019
Once on the first image, we recommend tapping the Full Screen icon top right.
P.S. Interested in seeing other galleries? https://www.travellingfortea.com/photography
Our IG travel photography feed: http://instagram.com/radiant_travel
Our US loose leaf tea shop: http://MatchaAlternatives.com
Our adventures in tea and travel: https://instagram.com/travellingfortea/
For any photography enthusiasts or professionals reading: I use a Panasonic G95 (micro four-thirds), a 20mm f1.7 pancake, 42.5mm f1.7 portrait lens. In terms of zooms I have a 12-60mm f3.5-5.6 standard zoom and a 45-200mm f4-5.6 telescopic. (For all these figures double the focal length of a MFT lens to get a full frame field of view equivalent.)
The best camera is the one you have with you!