10 October 2018

A DAY OUT IN CHAUVIGNY

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Because we have had a lot of visitors this year, we have done a lot more sight seeing than usual.  Consequently we have been to lots of places we have been before, some only fairly recently – twice in one year in fact.  Not that that’s any hardship, far from it.  This part of France is bursting at the seams with wonderful places to visit and once is never enough to take everything in.

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With the last of our visitors now long gone we scratched our heads and thought about where we would like to go just by ourselves.  Last weekend, on a glorious warm (if rather breezy) October day, we decided to go to Chauvigny.

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Chauvigny is a town of two halves, or rather, two levels.  The old medieval town stands high on a hill and overlooks the newer buildings below.

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We have been twice before, the first time being probably at least twenty years ago.  The second was probably as recently as ten years ago.  On both occasions it was summer and the place was heaving with tourists.

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On this bright October day there were just a few visitors strolling around and with that came the advantage that not only could we see everything clearly instead of just getting glimpses through a mass of people, but often we had a whole street to ourselves to properly explore.

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You can go into the château itself for free but there’s not much to see, just a few quirky displays and newish furniture arranged to give the ambience of a medieval château.

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Another good thing about there not being many people around is that it gives me the opportunity to indulge my fascination for doors and windows.  Of course typically there is often a car parked right outside the one I really want a picture of, as above.  This rather posh car was parked annoyingly across from the entrance to the château itself, making it hard to get a nice picture.  It was outside the café – the only café we could find that was open.  Speaking of which, that’s the downside of going out of season – fewer places are open.  Chauvigny seems to have dozens of little tourist shops and cafés but on this day only one was open.  Consequently it was full, just about managing to keep up with the demand from the number of people who had come out for the day and would really like something to eat or drink while they were in town.

The waitress looked tired and jaded, bringing us our coffees with a smile that said she had had enough of tourists this summer.  Luckily she brought the bill for them at the same time so we left our money on the table without having to wait and went across the road to explore the château.  Within moments new people were at our table and the little tray containing our bill and money had been moved to the side along with the used cups.  When we came out of the château only a few minutes later, the café was deserted and the waitress was sweeping up.  Time was up and hapless visitors had been turned away.  Our money was still on the  table.

We meandered through the narrow streets, taking pictures and admiring the view, gradually making our way back to the car park.  At one point we heard a car and had to step swiftly aside so as to avoid being knocked down by the very car in the picture above, driven by the waitress from the café.

Here are some of my favourite door and window pictures from Chauvigny:

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There were quite a lot of “ghost doorways” – blocked up doors and windows which I find possibly even more intriguing than normal ones.

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Years ago, when we were first thinking about buying a holiday home in France, I always envisaged having one in a place like Chauvigny.  I thought it would be fun to have a little cottage somewhere that was buzzing with people all summer, with lots of things going on and so many different places to stroll along to for a meal in the evening or a drink in the afternoon.

In reality I’m not sure I would have enjoyed living in a place which is thronged with tourists all summer and deserted for six months of the year.  We saw lots of little cottages in Chauvigny that looked like holiday homes or gîtes, nicely painted, neat and tidy and in lovely little courtyards or corners of the town, now looking empty and sad.  I imagine that even getting luggage or a bag of shopping to a cottage in the height of summer could be difficult and that privacy might be impossible.  There would be no wandering out to water the geraniums in my pyjamas in the cool of the evening if I was to end up in someone else’s selfie!

It was lovely to visit for the afternoon but I am glad that we decided to live somewhere normal, or rather - in the middle of a field!

4 October 2018

FOOD PRICES

One of the things that I have occasionally heard said about life in the UK after Brexit is that food will be cheaper.  How one could possibly arrive at that conclusion is baffling but my first reaction is that food in the UK is already very cheap, certainly a lot cheaper than it is in France. 

From our shopping trip today, here are a few examples.  I have compared two similar styles of supermarket, those that are our nearest in both countries.

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A large cauliflower.  3.29€ in Intermarché in Descartes today.  Assuming a exchange rate of 1.1€ to the £, that’s £2.99

On Tesco’s website a large cauli would cost you £1.65.  That’s £1.34 cheaper.

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Broccoli.  3.99€ per kilo in Intermarché, that’s £3.62 per kilo. 

In Tesco £1.57 per kilo.  That’s less than half of the cost in France.

Carrots.  0.99€ per kilo in Intermarché, that’s 90p a kilo.

In Tesco 65p per kilo.  That’s a third less than in France.

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Mushrooms.  4.58€ per kilo in Intermarché, that’s £4.16 per kilo.

In Tesco £2.40 per kilo, that’s just over half the cost in France.

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A small sliced granary loaf.  1.97€ in Intermarché, that’s £1.79

In Tesco you can get something similar for 70p.  You do the maths.

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Ground almonds.  7.75€ for 500g from Intermarché, that’s £7.05 or 14.10€ per kilo.

In Tesco you can’t buy a 500g bag but if you bought several smaller bags you would pay £11.50 per kilo.

This little exercise has proved to us what we have thought for some time, that shopping in France is much more costly than in the UK.  Not only that but the quality of the fruit and veg is often not that good either, being past its best but still for sale at full price. 

A lot of the price difference is accounted for by the drop in the £ since the referendum in June 2016 and in fact all the Britons who live in France and are paid in £ but buy goods in € have been at least 20% worse off since that day.  Most of them expect to be even more worse off when Britain leaves the EU next year and when the £ is expected to fall even further.  Not a happy prospect.

On the other hand, the climate in this part of rural France makes the growing season longer and there are huge savings to be had by growing your own fruit and veg.  As you drive around the countryside in the summer you see that most houses seem to have a potager brimming over with produce.

When there is talk of having cheaper food in the UK I am inclined to wonder how on earth it could be cheaper than it is already now.

28 September 2018

PICARDIE

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Picardie is the name of a French tumbler.  This glass has been around for decades and is the classic design that we are all familiar with, found everywhere in France.  You might get your orange juice served in one in smart hotel breakfast rooms, water alongside your menu du jour in the local café or your rosé wine at the village brocante.  They are now made by Duralex in the Loire region.

The glasses on the right are the ones we bought when staying in a couple of different gîtes where there was nothing sensible to drink a glass of water or juice from.  You can get them in most supermarkets quite cheaply.  The one on the left is from a “set” of twelve shot glasses to the same design that we got at a brocante earlier this year for 2€ the lot.

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You can get the same kind of design in stemmed glasses and we got all of these for next to nothing at different times at various local brocantes.  The ones in the front are perfect for sipping a glass of sweet wine.  The flutes make an ordinary glass of fizz seem really special and the larger ones are apparently for “cocktails” – according to the lady who sold me all eight of them at the brocante in Neuilly earlier this year, for the princely sum of 5€.

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These are our regular daily wine glasses that we bought when staying in yet another gîte where the ones supplied were enormous and very fragile and we were afraid to use them – let alone put them in the dishwasher.  Picardie glasses are very strong and user friendly, eminently dishwasher proof and cheap to replace if you happen to break one.

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You can now get the tumblers in a fine array of colours.  These were on special offer in the supermarket and I couldn’t resist them to cheer up the dinner table.

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These are a bit different.  They have the same ribs as the traditional Picardie glasses but according to the lady who sold me a set of six at a recent brocante, they date back to the 1940’s, making them vintage glasses in my book.  They are perfect for a small measure of digestif (Southern Comfort being my current favourite).  She sold me a set of six but I spotted that one of them was chipped so that made them a set of five – and she knocked a whole euro off the price, making it 3€ for all of them.  I’m on the lookout for another one to replace it and make the set back up to six.

DOCTOR IN LE GRAND-PRESSIGNY

For the person who emailed me asking for details of the doctor in Le Grand-Pressigny, my reply was subject to a non-delivery so here is the information you were asking for.

Doctor Anne-Marie Molinier

Tel 02 47 94 90 39

Hours as listed:

10.00 – 12.30 and 14.00 – 19.00 Monday – Friday

9.00 – 12.00 Saturday mornings.

I hope this helps!

19 September 2018

IT’S STILL SUMMER HERE

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August disappeared in a blur.  We returned to the UK in order to get our back garden “fixed”.  It was a mess of worn out patio tiles, hugely overgrown shrubs, little paths, low crumbling walls and a leaking pond.  We came to the conclusion that it would take us months of work if we tried to sort it out ourselves and in fact hardly any of it was worth saving.  What we needed was help to turn it into a very low maintenance garden so that we could spend our summers in France not worrying about it.  We hired a firm of landscape gardeners and after two weeks of intense building work followed by two weeks of watering, planting and tidying, it is now the garden that we wanted. At last the place feels like home.  All the major work both outside and inside is done and what’s left is down to us – some decorating and a bit of DIY.

On 2nd September we returned to France, our August mission successfully completed.

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We have had a lot of visitors this year.  Our last visitor was our niece Joanna, who usually comes with her dad (my brother) but was by herself this time.  She travelled to France with us – quite a car full with Joanna, the dog and cat - and the trailer full of all our luggage.

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We had a great time showing her round some of our favourite places – above at the château at Rivau.

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We also took her to the châteaux at Islette, Bouges and Loches, and to many other places.  She was very lucky with the weather which was fantastic for her whole stay, which always makes anybody’s holiday so much more enjoyable.

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Now our last visitor, like the swallows, has flown.  We did a little calculation and worked out that if you add one day to both sides of the stay of each set of visitors for the getting ready and clearing up afterwards, it comes to seventy days this year.  If you add to that the time that both of us have spent in the UK by ourselves that comes to ninety days.  Which means that since we arrived here at the end of March we have had very little time here together, just the two of us.

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Luckily, it is still summer here. We still have warm, sunny days but with cooler evenings and nights, the perfect combination and the reason that September is probably my favourite month of the year.  It rarely disappoints it’s lovely to have some time and the house to ourselves.

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The garden suffered badly in spite of occasional watering during August but a couple of weeks of TLC have brought it back to life and restored a bit of colour.  The grass is still brown, the only green patches being weeds or where Hugo has “watered” it.

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We have eaten outdoors as often as we could, making good use of our picnic shelter which always provides shade at any time of day.  There’s nothing quite like a long, lazy lunch in the sunshine to make you feel completely relaxed.

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Lazing around is something we have had little time for so far this year so now we’re making the most of it, using all the sitting areas that we have placed around the house.  We can sit in the shade somewhere at all times of day.

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Daisy settled in straight away after her month back in the UK, jumping out of the car as soon as we opened the door and making a quick check of the premises and the wildlife.  Hugo loves it here, having so much more space to run around in and play.

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And this week we took the motorcycles out for a lovely long run in the sunshine, stopping for lunch at the little restaurant in St. Flovier, something we have not been able to do for a long while.  We have been too busy to ride them and the restaurant has been full the last three times even though we arrived there just after 12.00pm, holiday makers filling up the tables not taken by the usual clientele.  This time there were just a dozen or so workers taking their lunch break and us.

Life in France is back to normal !!

8 July 2018

A CHÂTEAU AND A HARVEST

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The Château de L’islette

With what seems like an endless stream of visitors after our brief holiday in the Dordogne and a flying visit back to the UK last month I now find it’s more than a whole month since my last post!

I WILL post more about our holiday at some point but on the whole it was not a huge success.  The gîte was horrible, utterly charmless, uncomfortable and right next to a very noisy road.  The weather was not great and when it’s raining is when you need a nice gîte to relax in – either that or you drive around in the rain.  We didn’t last the whole week and gave up on the Thursday – returning to our own lovely home in France and to better weather too.  Hey ho.

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One of the good things about having visitors is that in order to entertain them we visit places we haven’t been for a long time or ones that are completely new to us.  So it is that we went to the Château de L’Islette.

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It’s not far from Château de Azay-le-Rideau along the road in the direction of Langeais and although we must have driven past it dozens of times it’s only recently that we noticed it was there.

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There is a reason for this – that it has only been opened up to the public in recent years and I think it was probably previously hidden behind tall hedges and trees.  The family that have restored it now live in it for seven months of the year, moving out to the farm on the estate over the summer months so that visitors can see it.

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It is truly delightful, obviously a family home as judged by the furnishings and the kitchen.  It seems both funny and charming to see Ikea furniture and other bits and pieces amongst antique furniture and fittings.  So normal yet truly grand at the same time.

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The bathroom is heavy on wow factor and utterly fabulous.  In fact the whole house (or the bit you are allowed to view) is just gorgeous.  Everything you would like your own château to be if you were lucky enough to own one.

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You can only think that the owners must be very nice people indeed.  Everything for the visitor is provided thoughtfully and carefully, even down to the little pieces of prickly holly placed tactfully on the chairs you should not sit on and very comfy cushions on the ones that you should.  So much nicer than the stern notices in other houses declaring that one should not place one’s bottom here or else!

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As a day out it is very worth the €9 entrance fee AND it offers the free visit as well as the dreaded guided tour. 

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We thoroughly enjoyed our time there and will go back again for a second look before long.  There are always things you don’t take in on the first visit.  We went on a blisteringly hot day and it was lovely to spend time inside where it was cool – next time we might feel more like exploring the outdoors too.

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Back at home we are pleased that the fields that surround our house on three sides (all four sides if you include the fields across the road) have been harvested.  We dread the actual day that it happens as the noise and dust are intense.  We shut all the doors and windows as well as the cat flap and the house vibrates as the machine comes right up to the back wall.  In reality Daisy usually heads for a hiding space under a bed or in the wardrobe as soon as she hears the tractor coming and shows no sign of wanting to venture outside until well after it has gone.

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Our famer – that’s how we think of the farmer who owns the land which surrounds the house – alternates between corn and rape (colza) crops and this year has been rape.  It’s an unattractive plant.  Bright and cheerful briefly when in flower but untidy and smelly afterwards.  It grows to about shoulder height and smells like boiled cabbage when damp – and damp is something we have had a lot of this year. 

It takes the farmer less than a full day to get the whole lot in, finishing off by emptying the black seeds into another tractor which then takes them to the grain store.  He leaves behind a thick layer of dust which lies between the rows of dry stubble but the view and the smell are dramatically improved.  As are the reduction in the number of flies and the increase in Daisy’s supply of mice – they must be easier to catch when she has no thick undergrowth to fight her way through!

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And so life in rural France goes on.  The harvest is in, the grass is growing slowly due to the heat and needs only occasional mowing and the day to day business of shopping, cooking, eating and entertaining visitors continues.  The summer is flying by.