14 March 2019

LOOKING FORWARD BY LOOKING BACK - LE PETIT TRAIN

 
Le Petit Train is a French phenomenon that we are particularly fond of.  It's a small train - actually a car dressed up as a train - that pulls small open carriages through the streets of many towns in France to take tourists on sight seeing tours of the main "attractions".  We love it.
 
 
On a beautiful day in late September last year we decided to do the tourist thing and visit a town we had not been to for several years, Saumur.  There we noticed that the petit train was still running until the end of the month so we decided to take a ride.  As always it was magical.
 
 
It crossed the bridge over the Loire and took us for a trip on the other side from the town.
 
 
From the train we had a magnificent view of the château.
 

 
Back across the bridge we went, through some of the little streets lined with cafés still busy for the time of year thanks to the good weather.  Then the train chugged its way up the hill and stopped right outside the château for people to get off and have a good look round if they wanted.  They would then be picked up by the train on its next tour to be taken back to town.  All very civilised.
 
 
We have ridden on Le Petit Train all over France.  It's a great way to see the main tourist spots of any town and learn a lot about it from the running commentary that comes over the speaker system, usually in French followed by English.  In some towns the trains squeeze through impossibly narrow streets, passing close enough to tables outside the little cafés and restaurants to read the menu and choose somewhere for lunch.  It was on Le Petit Train in Tours that we discovered Rue Colbert, a street with dozens of restaurants and many different cuisines. 
 

 
Having completed our train tour of the town, we meandered back to the car, enjoying some of the lovely architecture.  Saumur is a beautiful town and deserves a blog post or two of its own.  Suffice it to say that we have been there several times over the years, doing the tourist thing, taking in a nice lunch and there is still much to explore.  On this day we were blessed with not only gorgeous weather but also no crowds.  It was late enough in the season for most tourists to have gone home but still early enough for everything to still be open.
 
 
 
Back home it was still light and warm enough to sit outside for an apéro before dinner.
 
 
 
Once autumn comes when the prospect of packing up the house for winter is imminent, we are loathe to give up our outdoor time.  During the summer we tend to take it for granted, knowing that if we eat indoors today there is always tomorrow when we can sit out for dinner.  When the shadows become longer in the early evenings we make the most of every opportunity to enjoy our outdoor space.  There will not be much of that to be had once we are back in Derbyshire for the winter.
 
 
The more eagle eyed of you might notice that although there are only two of us, there are usually three chairs at the table.  This is because one of them is invariably occupied from the moment it hits the ground!
 
So, with our country sinking into even deeper and more ludicrous chaos over Brexit, we are now focussed on the coming week when we will be carefully gathering together and packing the things we will be taking back to France very soon.  It can't come soon enough.

6 March 2019

LOOKING FORWARD BY LOOKING BACK - EVENTS

 
Another of the things that we love so much about living in our part of France is the number of events that take place within a short distance, all kinds of things, street music, night markets, craft fairs, flea markets, concerts, music festivals and much, much more.  Very often they are completely free to attend, sometimes there is a small charge for entry.
 
 
Last July we went to a concert in the barn of the chateau at Le Chatelier. 
 
 
Le Chatelier is a tiny hamlet just a few km from where we now live and our friend Ken wrote about it in his blog here.  This view of it is on our regular supermarket run.  We pass it every time we go to Descartes and I never tire of it.  As it changes with the seasons I often stop and take a picture from this spot.  The chateau hosts several concerts each year but this was the first one for us and the tickets cost just a few euros each.
 
 
It's a lovely setting for any kind of event.
 
 
This particular concert was a swing band performing in the barn.  It had been a hot day and the barn doors were left open so that some cooler air could circulate.  I remember reading somewhere that each human being produces the same amount of heat as a 1kw heater, something we could have done without on a warm evening.  Nevertheless, it did not detract from our enjoyment.
The band were excellent although throughout the whole performance a bat was flying around over our heads.
 
 
It was a bit distracting as it swooped and dived, occasionally getting rather too close to the head of someone in the audience.  Nobody seemed to mind so maybe it was a regular addition to the entertainment and regular concert goers were used to its presence.  I took several pictures as it flew past but it was obviously too fast for my camera to pick it up.
 
 
 
We emerged into the cooler air at about 10pm to be served drinks and a snack at no extra charge - included in the price.  So different to concerts in the UK where the ticket price would have been at least treble the amount we paid, there would have been a charge for the car park and any refreshments would have been extortionately priced.
 
 
It had been a perfect evening, a meal in the village with friends beforehand, a great concert in a beautiful setting and a short drive home.  In case you're wondering, the first picture is of a plant outside the bar where we ate.  One of our friends used it as a perch to put his hat and someone else added the sunglasses for effect!
 
Happy days and something we very much look forward to repeating.

2 March 2019

LOOKING FORWARD BY LOOKING BACK - PLACES


Looking back over last year's pictures it is clear that we did a lot of sight seeing, visiting old haunts that we have enjoyed before, often many times.  Villandry is one of those.


It has magnificent gardens, laid out in regular geometric patterns using hedges and vegetables as well as flowers.  We were there last May, with my brother, who had stayed on for a few days after our other visitors (Dad and Sybil) had gone back to the UK.

 
At the end of each path there was a notice saying how the garden was laid out and what plants were used.  The planting involves a huge amount of very skilled work by the gardeners and is a joy to behold.

 
We had taken Hugo with us.  He was still less than a year old at the time, full of beans and character.  You can tell he's very young in this picture by the length of the ears.  As standard poodles grow, each time they are trimmed the groomer lets the hair on the ears stay long so that in an adult dog they look in better proportion than the "baby ears".  He had a great time, being fussed and petted by other visitors.  Standard poodles are rarely seen in France.  We have only ever seen three that were not our own and one of them was English.  The owner of the hotel in Le Grand-Pressigny has a white standard poodle the same age as Hugo and he went all the way to Switzerland to get her.  Everywhere we went people would turn and stare, sometimes taking pictures on their phones, point and whisper "caniche royale, caniche royale".  We have had the same experience with our previous poodles, Dusty and Lulu, both also celebrities in their own right.
 
 
You can't tell from these carefully chosen pictures, but the place was heaving with visitors.  It was a weekend and a very hot day.  We didn't go inside the house this time because dogs are not allowed inside but also because it was so busy.  We managed to explore the grounds by shade hopping (mostly for Hugo's sake as his coat was getting a bit long and ready for its trim).  After about an hour of dodging people we had had enough and headed back home, but very happy.
 
 
 
We first visited Villandry in the 1990's on one of our Loire Valley holidays.  The inside of the house was barely furnished at all then but on subsequent visits we have found that furniture and other items have been added so although famous mainly for its gardens it's well worth a look at the interior too.  With only three weeks to go until we return to France we're very much looking forward to some warm weather and having such beautiful places on our doorstep.  We don't necessarily have to visit them every year, just knowing that we could if we wanted to is enough.

 
You can see how scruffy Hugo looks in this picture.  He instantly took to life in France - and being a celebrity.  Dog walking is very different in our corner of France compared to at home, not least because of the difference between summer and winter walking.  Here in the UK the paths that we use regularly are not nice by this time of year, muddy and dirty due to too many other dog walkers leaving litter and not picking up after their dogs.  Hugo has had a nasty infection, a parasitic condition caused by drinking dirty puddle water probably infected by other dogs.  Apparently the mild winter has not eradicated the parasites and the illness is flourishing amongst dogs that are walked on well used paths. 
 
We are very much looking forward to our usual walks in France, fine weather, paths and tracks dry under foot and hardly any other dogs around.  We rarely meet other dog walkers when we're out and about in France.
However, friends have recently had a very nasty experience when walking their dog.  They were on a walk between Ferrière-Larcon and Paulmy and their dog got caught in an animal trap which had presumably been put there by poachers.  The dog was terrified and howling with pain.  They were able to free her with no permanent harm done but they were all very upset by it.  The trap had been left along what was obviously a regular run for deer or maybe hare and it makes me shudder to think that there are people who would still do that in this day and age - create an inhumane trap that will cause horrendous pain and terror to an animal who will then either starve or be killed.  I don't know what the law is in France regarding traps.  Someone told me a couple of years ago that you can still buy them legally in hardware stores but I really can't imagine that even in rural France this kind of home made trap is legal. 
The incident has reminded us to be more vigilant if we allow Hugo to wander off by himself, even on our regular walks.
 
 

23 February 2019

LOOKING FORWARD BY LOOKING BACK - FOOD


In a month's time we will be on our way back to France for the Spring.  We just can't wait!

Looking back through our photos is a joy bringing fond memories of the times we have spent in our little corner of France.  It also reminds us of what we have to look forward to.
The weather here in the UK has been amazing this last week and really unusual for February.  Warm sunshine is rare in the UK in February and last winter was especially awful. 
Now you would think that having nice weather would make our stay in the UK more enjoyable and in truth it does.  However, it also increases the urge to get back to France as fast as possible because we know that whatever it is here, it's even better there.  Hey ho!

 
One of the things we love most about our region is the restaurants.
 
Le Vieux Fournil is a restaurant in Chambon, a small village just a few km over the hill from where we live.  It's one of those places that does a fixed price lunch four days a week that is reliably good.  It's also open on Mondays (closed Wednesdays) which makes it very useful as many of our other favourite restaurants are closed on Mondays.  For the equivalent of £11 a head you get a good three course lunch.  Wine and coffee are extra but are reasonably priced. 
 
Not all French restaurants are good.  Generally we find you get what you pay for but some of the more expensive ones don't live up to expectations and many of the cheaper ones are really rather poor.  It's the same in the UK, although the range is rather different.  Good restaurants are fewer and the chains of pub eateries mop up the cheap meal market.  Finding a good cheap meal is harder in the UK we find as most places tend to go for quantity not quality.
 


 

These photos were taken soon after we returned to France last year.  On this particular day we each had one of the starters on offer.
 
I realise that the food served here is not all made from scratch on site.  Nevertheless, it's always good and beautifully presented.
 

 
We also sampled both of the main courses.
 
Personally I'm not too worried if food is not all home made, as long as it's good.  For this price we find the choice good and have never had a bad meal here, although there have been one or two occasions when we didn't fancy either of the main courses if they had something too scary in them.
 
 
We both had the apple tart for dessert.
 
Here the courses seem to be well thought out and balanced.  We have often walked away from some of these lunchtime restaurants where for example there is pastry in every course.
 
We have a rule that we don't mind how much we pay for food as long as it's good and worth the money.  Paying a lot for a disappointing meal is - disappointing.  Paying not much for a terrible meal is just as bad.  Life is too short to eat rubbish food.

31 January 2019

THE STUPIDITY OF BREXIT

I have managed so far to resist writing at length about how I feel about Brexit - even the word itself is annoyingly stupid.
This blog post pretty much sums it up:
The Stupidity of Brexit

26 January 2019

NOT LONG NOW.......


I'm continuing to grapple with posting directly in Blogger, which I find frustrating because it does unexpected things with the pictures and the spacing all the time. 
However, we're getting through winter very well here so far.  We've had only a dusting of snow whereas by this time last year we had had several heavy falls and there were more to come.  You're not out of the woods in Derbyshire until the end of March and I remember having heavy snow in April in the past (although that's not common).
 
The other day I noticed that some things I bought in the supermarket had a sell by date well into February.  This cheered me up no end!  It means that it will soon be February and then before we know it, it will be March, which is Spring in my book.
 
  
 
That means that our return to France is not far away, only eight weeks.  Brexit Britain is a toxic place to be.  Everybody everywhere seems to be talking about it.  Personally I am Brexited out.  I now find it upsetting to think about it so I avoid all TV programmes where it features and switch off the radio when it comes up.  I know which way I would vote if I had another chance and I have emailed my very pleasant pro-Brexit MP several times.  Other than that there is nothing at all I can do, so worrying about it is pointless.
Yesterday the burglar alarm service engineer came and even he was talking about it.  I was unsurprised but saddened to find that his reasons for voting to leave the EU, and his blind faith that it will all work out in the end, are all based on the lies and false promises peddled by the Leave Campaign.  He thinks that "no deal" will be the same as "no change" and that it's all just the same as the Millennium Bug - a big fuss about nothing.  He was totally baffled and unconvinced by the points we raised, giving the impression that he hadn't thought or read that much about it in the first place but wasn't prepared to listen either. 


 
 So it seems that this year, more than ever, we can't wait to get back to France.  Having said that, we are settling really well into our new house in the UK.  With all the major and disruptive renovations done and therefore no workmen to work around, we are pottering on with the remainder at our own, slow pace.  It's quite enjoyable.  Nick is on with decorating the hall, stairs and landing, which is a big job but the preparation is nearly finished and very soon we'll be slathering paint over everything.  Stepping back to admire the first finished wall is always a satisfying moment.  I let him get on with the sanding, filling and patching and stay out of his way.  Once we get the lids off the paint pots there will be no stopping me!



Hugo is getting two long walks a day, which is good for all of us.  Daisy spends most of her time trying to sneak up on the squirrels that tease her by running along the fence at the back of the garden.  We are balancing the DIY with actually enjoying ourselves.  We think that once we've finished this phase of work that will be it until next winter when we tackle the little upstairs bathroom. 

The pictures in this post are just ones that I had ready and I'm feeling too lazy too find and process new ones.  They do however illustrate some of the things we love most about our little corner of France, the lovely walks and views, the restaurants, the food and the doors!

20 January 2019

Google have done it.....AGAIN

Why do Google keep breaking the tools people use to write blogs?

Why is Blogger so ridiculously painful to use? 

Presumably because they want them to stop and instead use some advert rich medium.



 
 

Uploading these 2 pictures took forever. Formatting this post was a pain and who knows what it will be auto re-formatted as.
For example, the above picture is supposed to be positioned in the centre, exactly like the one below!  Aaaarghhhh…..
 
 
 
Why won't Google employ some sense, thought and maybe even test things thoroughly?
 
In Live Writer it's much easier to centre the pictures to match the text.
 
All very frustrating and annoying...….