19 February 2020

LES ORMES

 
Just over the hill from us, beyond Descartes, is the gorgeous château at Les Ormes.
 

We have visited before, the first time being a few years ago, during one of the patrimoine weekends that occur each September.  On that occasion, the entrance fee was minimal and the place was heaving with visitors.  Last year we went in the middle of June when my brother was staying with us and had the place virtually to ourselves.
 
 
When we arrived there was only one other car outside in the car park which was probably owned by a member of staff.  The place seemed completely deserted.  We stood around in the fabulous entrance hall for a few minutes, wondering what to do, until a man appeared from a doorway.  He took our money, pointed us in the direction of the salon and disappeared again.  We then didn't see another soul until we were about to leave.  A family of four turned up and once again the man emerged from a mystery doorway to take their money.
 


 
This is the kind of château visit that we like.  Free to roam by ourselves and better still, no other visitors to get in our way.  There are several lavishly appointed rooms to see on the ground floor.  Drop dead gorgeous yet cosy at the same time.
 

 
Mantlepieces are adorned with busts of previous owners, family members and other important people.
 

 
Even though the house was deserted, we were never far from the gaze of someone from days of yore keeping an eye on us.
 
 
The house is full of interesting doors, locks and windows.  For someone like me who is fascinated by such things it's pure delight. 
 
 
There is even a display of old knobs, locks and knockers from around the property.  The reflections from the glass case made it difficult to photograph but you get the idea.  Lovely!
 

 
And, not only that, but, joy of joy, it has two kitchens!  One a century or two newer than the other but still pretty ancient and therefore full of wonderful old equipment, the purpose of which can be debated for hours.
 

 
The kitchen is always a favourite part of any château visit for me.
 

 
All those lovely old pans, ancient pots and baskets.
 

 
I realise that life in these kitchens was probably pretty terrible for the people that worked there.   Hard graft, long hours and dangerous to boot.  Noisy too I expect.
 

 
Even something as mundane as a tap is fascinating.
 

 
There isn't much in terms of outdoor space to see at Les Ormes, especially compared to other châteaux a bit further away.  No elaborate gardens or ponds.  No tea room either.  But well worth setting aside a morning or afternoon for. 
 
Back here in the UK we find ourselves "orming about".  That's a north of England expression that means wandering aimlessly, killing time.  With February coming to an end and the worst of the winter hopefully behind us we can't wait to get back to France.  To the sunshine, the châteaux on our doorstep and the peace and quiet of country life.
 
It has been, yet again, a long and horrible winter here.  Rain upon rain and more rain.  A couple of weekends ago we had a deluge on a Sunday. The toilet and shower were gurgling, there was water gushing from our drains, a lake at the bottom of the garden and outside the front door.  The water was a couple of inches up the car wheels.  For more than a moment I wondered if we were in real trouble.  Luckily the rain stopped, the water drained away and all was well.  Many thousands of people in the UK have not been so lucky.  My heart goes out to them.  Dealing with the filth and stench that floodwater leaves behind must be heart-breaking, more so if your insurance company is tardy in responding to your claim.
 
Nick and I have both been ill this winter, nothing serious, just enough to make life difficult.  On top of that my dad has had to give up driving, something we all dreaded and that has taken a good deal of time for us to organise the changes in his life accordingly.  His car needed a lot of repair work in order to sell it for a decent price - it was alarming to find that he hadn't noticed that the brakes didn't work and that there was a loud clunk coming from somewhere with every bump in the road.  It's gone to a new owner now, fully repaired and a bargain for someone who needs an old car with low mileage and one careful owner. 
 
Maybe we all have to endure winter every year so that we can really appreciate Spring when it finally, thankfully comes along.

3 February 2020

FÊTE DE LA MOISSON

 
We have been to many outdoor summer events in France but in terms of the unusual this one is at the top of the list.  It seems that many years ago, some residents of the village of Boussay witnessed this kind of annual event taking place in the south of France, brought the idea back home and decided to hold something similar.  The popularity has grown with each year and we were very privileged to be invited to it last August.
 
 
Moules (mussels) are fixed to large boards by the villagers, laid out along the street and then cooked by setting fire to them.  The moules have to be placed endways in order for them to cook properly.  Then they are covered with dry pine needles.
 

 
They are set alight and allowed to burn for long enough for the moules to be cooked.  It's quite a spectacle.  I couldn't help thinking that UK health and safety regulations would not have allowed people to get quiet as close to the flames!
 
 
The boards of the cooked moules are placed on the tables so that they can be shared.  The portions are generous and it only dawned on me after a while that they were actually a starter, not a main course!  After that there was steak and chips, a cheese course and a dessert.
 
The moules would not be everybody's cup of tea.  They are more well cooked than you might get as say moules marinières and the shells crumble into ash when you pick them up.  This inevitably results in very black fingers and the eating of a certain amount of ash. 
 
 
There was a huge crowd of people.  Goodness knows how long it took the villagers to fix the thousands of moules to the boards but they deserve a medal for it.  As well as the food there was a raffle which seemed to go on all night.  Each person had a raffle ticket and there was a prize for everyone.  Consequently it took hours for the numbers to be called out and every person to collect their prize.  The no shows were called over and over again until all the prizes were given out, finishing at about midnight.
 
It was one of those evenings when I had no idea what to expect and it was, in many ways, typical of life in rural France in summer.  How they would cope if it rained I don't know but the weather was kind, it was a fine, warm evening and everyone had a great time.  I'm not sure we would rush to do it again for the food, but in terms of the richness of our life in France it was pretty special.
 

31 January 2020

SOMETHING TO CHEER US UP

Brexit Day is upon us.  It's a cold, grey and blustery day here in the UK so to cheer us up I have been browsing through some of last year's photos.
 
 
  This is Daisy on one of her favourite perches.  She can keep an eye on what's going on in the field and in the garden at the same time.
 
 
Hugo loves being chez nous.  All that space to run around and chase a ball in the sunshine.
 
 
The Château at L'Islette.  We visit every year and next time must remember to take a picnic.
 

 
A visit to the château at Fougères-sur-Bièvre, always a delight.
 


 
The joy of having visitors is that we get to see so many châteaux again.  This one is at Les Ormes, literally just over the hill from us.
 
 
Village life.
 
 
There's a brocante most weekends.
 
 
A patisserie in Chinon, another of our favourite towns to visit.
 
 
Bastille Day, waiting for the fireworks at Descartes.
 
 
Fête de la moisson at Boussay in August.
 
 
Chez nous.
 
We will be celebrating tonight, but not what you think.
Let all those who believe Brexit will solve their problems and have put their faith in Boris Johnson and his cronies enjoy their fireworks.  We'll be toasting our return to France in a few weeks' time and that thought cheers me up more than anything else.

21 January 2020

THE 90/180 SCHENGEN RULE


I deleted last week's post about this, as it was full of too much detail (and angst) I thought.  Apologies to those who commented. However, with the UK's exit from the EU about to happen I do think it's worth explaining, if more briefly, what the end of freedom of movement means for Brits who live part time in France.

The end of freedom of movement was a fundamental reason why many voters voted to leave the EU, a concept which is rather sad in itself I think, but it appealed to those who would like to limit the number of "foreigners" coming into Britain.  What many of them didn't realise is that it works both ways.  The right of the British to travel freely and stay in EU countries will also be subject to stricter limitations.



Until we leave the EU British people can spend up to 180 days in France (or Spain or Italy etc) in every year, coming and going as they please as long as they don't go over 180 days.  This means that it's perfectly possible for someone who owns a holiday home in France to turn up in April and stay all summer, leaving at the end of September.
In our case, we would typically arrive at the end of March, return to the UK two or three times over the summer to keep up with family and stay in France until the end of October, using all of our 180 days.



After we leave the EU, the Brits can still stay for 180 days but not all in one go.  Once we have spent 90 days in the Schengen area we have to return to the UK for 90 days before being allowed to spend the second 90 days in France (or any country in the Schengen area).  Those long, six month summers in Europe will be a thing of the past.  However you try to work it out, it will mean exchanging three summer months for three winter ones if we still wish to use our 180 days.  You can't choose to use 90 days of the first half of the year back to back with 90 days of the second half.  There has to be a 90 day gap in between.  If you spend April, May and June in France you have to return to the UK (or another country that's not in the Schengen area) for 90 days before you can return to France for October through to December.



The relevant paragraph is here:
https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/schengen-visa-types/

The relevant extract from the above is this:
"Another point where most multiple-entry Schengen visa holders get confused, as well as the nationals of the countries that are permitted to enter Schengen visa-free. Most people think that the 180-day period starts on the day you visa becomes valid, which is not true.
Actually, the 180-day period keeps rolling. Therefore, anytime you wish to enter the Schengen, you just have to count backwards the last 180 days, and see if you have been present in the Schengen for more than 90 days throughout that period."
 
I won't expand on how disappointing this is for owners of second homes in France.  I will however point out that after 90 days we won't be able to visit any other country in the Schengen area either, until we have been away from it for the next 90 days.  In other words, if we have outstayed our welcome in France we can't go and drown our sorrows in say Italy, Spain or Portugal for a while to pass the time until we can return.
On top of that, the lack of monitoring that has, frankly, allowed Brits to stay beyond their permitted allocation for many years, is coming to an end.  New computer systems that check and monitor everyone's entry into Europe will be in place some time next year.



I have assurance from my MP that nothing will change until the "transition period" ends on 31st December and a quick poll among our friends shows that most people think that by then something will have been "sorted out".  In other words that by this time next year those in power on both sides will have put in place some kind of concession that allows British people to continue to live part time and spend their money in France (for that is a significant issue for the French economy) in pretty much the same way as before.  If not, the 90/180 Schengen rule will apply.
In the meantime, we have one year until things change, so we intend to make the most of it and use every minute of our 180 days.