October 31, 2010

GROUNDED


After our frustrating journey south on 15th October, we eventually got to the Channel Tunnel one hour after our train had left. Eurotunnel, helpful as ever, simply put us on the next available train with no extra charge. I suspect that a lot of their passengers were still stuck on the M25, unable to get off it.


The view of the château from the playing fields.


We arrived at Descartes about 6.30 pm, half an hour before the supermarkets close. We picked up a few essential groceries in SuperU and considered filling up the car with diesel. Before we left England I had gathered from Ken's blog that there was some problem with fuel supply so we had filled up just before we got on the train, on the English side, just in case. We normally refuel at Rouen but this time we had enough English diesel to get us all the way to Le Grand-Pressigny.



But by now it was 7 pm, we were tired, hungry and just wanted to turn the key in the lock of our little house as soon as possible so we decided not to bother filling up, thinking we would come back tomorrow to do a proper shop, fill up and maybe have lunch at our favourite creperie in Descartes.




The garage in Le Grand-Pressigny.


That could have been a big mistake !!


The next morning, as we drove through Le Grand-Pressigny, there was a queue of about 4 cars at the little garage in the village that has two fuel pumps, one gazole and one essence. I thought that was very strange as usually you never see anybody there. Then, as we drove through Abilly, we saw a similar queue at its little garage. Hmmmm. I commented to Nick "do you think there's a problem here with fuel?"



When we got to SuperU in Descartes, all the pumps had notices on saying they were empty. Maybe the notices were there the previous evening and we hadn't realised. So we went round the corner to Intermarché where there was a queue of about 20 cars at each pump.



The château on a glorious October day.


We were nearly out of fuel with probably about 40 miles left in the tank. What to do? Join the queue of 20 cars with the risk that the pumps would be empty by the time we got to the front? Or go back to Abilly and see if there was any left there? That's what we decided to do.

We abandoned our shopping trip and our lunch and dashed back to the little garage at Abilly, where we got almost the last gazole the lady had to sell. She had already run out of essence since we went by half an hour earlier.


Phew!! We now had a full tank, which meant we had just enough to get back to Calais plus one essential trip to the vet in Preuilly to have Lulu's passport stamped and possibly one other shopping trip.


We were effectively grounded.

October 28, 2010

THE JOY OF MOTORING

Our most recent trip to our little house in Le Grand-Pressigny was affected by motoring incidents.

To begin with, we were held up on the M25 by a serious accident. We left home at 4 am (having got out of bed at 3 am) and made good progress south. So much so, that we were probably going to arrive very early at Eurotunnel, with the strong possibility of getting on an earlier train than the one we had booked. We got onto the M25 at about 6.15 am but soon were at a standstill, not far from the Dartford crossing.

We were stationary on the motorway for two hours.

I have heard of this kind of thing many times on the news : "motorway closed". This conjours up images of an empty motorway with nobody about, but the reality is completely different. What it actually means is three lanes of solid traffic and hundreds of motorists trapped in one place while the police do whatever they have to do after some idiot does something really stupid and causes a fatality.

We plan our journeys to avoid the M25 at its busiest. Indeed, on that morning, traffic, although not exactly light, was not heavy and flowing perfectly smoothly with everybody behaving themselves. No drastic speeding, no dangerous manoeuvres. But obviously about half an hour before we got there, it just took one driver, maybe two, to change everything. One person was killed and another person was critically injured, probably meaning that their life has changed for the worse, forever.

In the standing traffic, we had no idea what was happening. Time ticked by. People got out of their cars and walked around a bit, looking for clues as to what was going on and how long we might be there. Lines of stationery vehicles stretched for miles in front and behind us, while traffic moved freely on the northbound side.

For me there was a particular problem. The cup of tea we had before we left home was making its presence felt. I was needing the loo. After one hour I was desperate, after two hours I was considering how I could go about doing what I had to do with minimal offence to onlookers and minimal embarrassment to myself. If it seems funny, just try it for yourself. Get to the point where you need the loo and see how you feel two hours later, still in need but with the added anxiety of not knowing when you will be able to find a loo. Not funny at all.

Then, luckily, someone in official uniform created a gap in the lorries in the inside lane and directed the nearest cars to enter the gap, drive down the hard shoulder the wrong way, then down the slip road back onto the roundabout and freedom. How lucky we were that we were near to that junction when we came to a standstill.

Then what? Now we were somewhere in the middle of a north London suburb, having missed our train, not sure exactly where we were or how to get to where we needed to go. Speaking of which, we were surrounded by houses, all presumably with bathrooms. Dare I knock on a door and ask?

I decided against it, fearing rejection and wasting time. So we followed what looked like a main road in roughly the right direction and found a handy supermarket. Supermarkets come with loos these days.

According to one of the reports I have since read, three people have been arrested for causing death by dangerous driving at 5.40 am and the road was closed from then until 12.15 pm. I feel very sorry for the people who were unable to leave the motorway as we did, in what now seems to be a reasonable time. I wonder how many people missed their trains, ferries, airoplanes, important meetings, hospital appointments, weddings, funerals, holidays of a lifetime, etc.

Motorway madness. The disease of driving in the UK. The more you use the motorways, the more likely you are to become a statistic.

October 26, 2010

ANOTHER CHÂTEAU OF ONE'S OWN

We stumbled across another privately owned chateau on the way home from Poitiers the day that it rained on and off all day. This one was at Dissay, which is about half way between Poitiers and Chatellerault.







Although privately owned, you can visit the chateau on a few days each year, details of which can be found here. It is a very fine building in the truly grand Loire style. It was built by Pierre d'Amboise, Bishop of Poitiers in the fifteenth century.





The village of Dissay has a slightly sad and down-at-heel feel to it. Or at least it did on the day we passed through. Maybe the grey skies and showers didn't help to make it look more appealing.



It would be nice to look around the house and grounds, if we could possibly manage to be chez nous on one of the days it is open to the public.


One of the interesting things we have found about our own village of Le Grand-Pressigny is that whatever the weather has been doing all day, come apéro time, the wind usually dies down, the rain stops and the sun comes out. The day we passed through Dissay was no exception. By the time we got home the skies were blue and we could sit on our little terrace enjoying the early evening entertainment provided by the church bells and the swallows. In the shadow of our own, very special, chateau.



October 22, 2010

A CHÂTEAU OF ONE'S OWN



The Loire Valley area is pretty much wall-to-wall châteaux. There are big ones, small ones and absolutely huge ones. Some are beautiful and very popular as tourist destinations. Others are more every-day and less well known. Wherever you go, you are likely to see one peeping over the top of some trees. Or you will pass a magnificent set of gates and a long, long wall that conceals a château that you might just glimpse one across a well-groomed lawn or through some trees.

They are everywhere and quite a lot of them are still privately owned. We spotted the château at Palluau-sur-Indre from the road and decided to go into the village for a better look. Ken wrote about it here. I found his blog post when I put the château into Google.


When we enquired at the little tourist office in the town about the château, we learned that it was recently under new ownership and was due to re-open soon. The young lady we spoke to did not say how soon "soon" was but she did say that the new owner was a M. Norton.

The hotel in town was also very much closed up. It looked like it must have been quite something in its day. It also is due to re-open soon. I got the impression it had the same new owner. Lucky M. Norton. Getting both the château and the hotel ready for visitors must be quite a major undertaking.
There is a fine church at the foot of the château, which is very much not closed up. It was beautiful inside and there were signs that a wedding had recently taken place there.


We liked the little town of Palluau. It will be nice to go back for another look around some day, when the château has reopened for visitors.

October 18, 2010

OF FOOD AND VISITORS

PART TWO.

During our second week's holiday in August, Nick went fishing with our friend Andy (and his little dog, Jamie), so Pat and I went for a girls' day out. We went shopping to Tours and decided to have lunch at a restaurant called "Le Clos" at Chambray-lès-Tours. It's right next to Leroy Merlin on the road that goes south towards St-Maure.




It wasn't called "Le Clos" the last time I ate there. It was just a perfectly ordinary Itialian restaurant that served good pizzas. Nick and I had called for a quick lunch a few times when we were visitin Leroy's for some DIY stuff.





As Pat and I walked up the steps I was so busy telling her how good the pizzas were that I didn't notice the smart new sign by the front door. When we stepped inside I soon realised that the decor and layout were completely different. The place had lovely subtle colours and nice music playing instead of the gaudy red and green uniform of the pizza restaurant. I got the feeling that we were in for something rather special and I was right. It always helps when the other diners look happy and content, not anxious or fidgety, and especially if they are being served red wine from a smart decanter into the big wine glasses !!




We opted for two courses, mains and dessert. The menu was very tempting but we didn't think we would be able to manage three. We each ordered a different white fish dish for main course and they were delicious. It wasn't until we had been eating for a few minutes that we realised we had been given the wrong ones. This was an error on the part of the young waiter, who had asked who had ordered which, then put them down in front of us the wrong way round. They looked so similar but I was eating the one with chorizo in, that Pat had chosen. It hardly mattered. We had had difficulty in making up our minds anyway. I'm sure we could have chosen anything off the menu and loved it - except for andouillette !!





We both chose the same dessert. It was a fabulous strawberry tart which looked spectacular and was served with a little pot of thick cream and a blob of ginger ice-cream. It tasted divine.

We were impressed. It wasn't as cheap as a quick pizza would have been but it was excellent. Another really good dining experience and another restaurant to add to our ever lengthening list of great places to eat.

October 14, 2010

OF FOOD AND VISITORS

PART ONE

While we were in Le Grand-Pressigny in August, our friends Pat and Andy came to visit. They had been touring France with their caravan so they stayed on the campsite in the village for almost a week. On the Saturday we took them to Loches market.



Andy, Jamie their dachshund, Pat and Nick








We always enjoy a visit to Loches. The market there really is excellent (Wednesdays and Saturdays, but you have to be there before it closed at midday). There was the usual huge variety of quality stalls and the sun shone, too, which was lovely.


The town was busy as usual so we employed our tried and tested method to ensure we got lunch. This is to turn up at your chosen restaurant at 12.00 pm, midday, on the dot. We have found that if you leave it until 12.30 or 1.00 pm, if you haven't previously reserved a table, you could be out of luck.




We chose a restaurant called "L'entre Acte", where we have eaten a few times before. At 12.05 pm it was empty. Half an hour later, it was full. We all had two courses and, as usual, it was excellent and good value.




After lunch we had a walk round town, enjoying the sunshine. The market was gone but the shops were still open. We went into one of our favourite shops, that sells old fashioned-looking bits and bobs for the house. It looks like sort of brand new bric-a-brac. Pat chose a present for her friend who loves anything French.



We went the pretty way home, showing off some of our favourite little villages to our friends. They were impressed and we felt very content and smug, that we had chosed to live in such a wonderful spot in France.



October 10, 2010

WHAT TO DO WHEN IT RAINS

It rained on and off during our first week in Le Grand-Pressigny in August. One day when the sky looked particularly threatening, we decided to leave the motorcycles at home and go for a ride in the car. We fancied going somewhere we had not ventured before and, thinking it would be a good idea to go where there might be shelter from the rain, entertainment, and perhaps a bite to eat, we decided to go to Poitiers.



Apart from flying into the airport, and making a visit to the Harley Davidson shop, we had never been to Poitiers before. Both of those places are on the outskirts so they hardly count as a visit to the city. We found that actually getting into the city was hard work.





We fought our way into the centre in heavy traffic and tried to find somewhere to park. It wasn't easy. All the car parks appeared full and we circled round the centre of town a couple of times until we spotted a space on the roadside. It didn't cost a lot to park using the parking meter, once we had actually found the meter, but the maximum time allowed was only two hours.



We are always fairly choosey about where we leave our car, not wanting to come back to find a dent in it - we have often cringed at some of the manoeuvres we have observed in France when people are attempting to park a car.



We found that Poitiers is a lovely city. There are many beautiful old buildings in the city centre and it is a smart and bustling place with shops and restaurants a-plenty. Which is a good job, as we had to keep diving into them during the heavy rain that occurred every few minutes all afternoon.




The place had a very grand feel to it. There were also lots of young people around suggesting the presence of a college or university. It was lively and cosmopolitan - well it certainly seemed so to me, as I fast become more of a country bumpkin each day. It's history goes back to Roman times and you can read a bit about it here.
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Not being too good at remembering names, dates and details, I won't embarrass myself by attempting to give a history lesson on Poitiers here. Suffice it to say, Poitiers has been the site of many a gruesome battle over the centuries, some of which profoundly changed the future of France and what we now know as Europe.


There were no battles on the streets the day we were there, except for those people who were trying to hang on to their umbrellas in the wind.

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During one particularly heavy cloudburst, we dived into a shopping centre and sat at a little table, watching the world go by whilst we had a coffee. The rain pounded on the glass roof of the building. The street outside became a little river and people splashed as they dashed along, jackets held over their heads.



Minutes later, the sun came out again. It was suddenly blue sky and warm sunshine. So we took our opportunity to find our way back through the maze of elegant streets, with its old-fashioned shops right next to modern fashion emporiums, to our car which was, thankfully, still in one piece, exactly where we had left it.
I am not really a city person any more. When I was younger, I loved the hustle and bustle of shops and cafes. Nowadays I prefer the peace and quiet of the countryside and felt slightly out of my depth in such a busy place. Having said that, I would definitely go back to Poitiers to explore the place and its history some more. That's if I can find somewhere to park the car for more than just a couple of hours.

October 7, 2010

GET THEM WHILE YOU CAN

I spotted this offer in the supermarket this week. Buy two 250 gm packs of Lurpak butter with a baking tin for £3. That means you pay for the butter and the tin is almost free. It looked like a good quality tin and I thought it would come in handy for our forthcoming charity cake stall at work. So I bought one. You can read about last year's cake stall here.



When I unpacked it, there was a little recipe book inside. One of the recipes was for banana, date and honey loaf. I happened to have a couple of bananas that were past their best for eating and I found the other necessary ingredients lurking in the cupboard so I decided to have a go.


Banana, date and honey loaf
Ingredients

200g self raising flour
160g butter at room temperature
80g caster sugar
2 tblsp clear honey
2 eggs
2 medium ripe bananas, mashed
80g chopped dates
40g chopped walnuts

Method

Grease the tin and line it with greaseproof paper or baking parchment.
Preheat the oven to 160°C, 140°fan, Gas mark 3.
Whisk all the ingredients together (except the dates and nuts) until well combined.
Stir in the dates and nuts.
Pour the mixture into the tin.


Bake for 1 hour and test with a skewer. Bake for up to 15 minutes more if the skewer does not come out clean.
When the cake is out of the oven, make a few holes in the top with the skewer and drizzle a tablespoon of honey over the cake whilst still warm.



When it was cold, I decided to decorate it with some simple icing drizzled over the cake.



It was very easy to make, was very moist and tasted delicious. It lasted almost one day at work.
I went back to the supermarket for another couple of the special offer packs for my colleagues. I got them at Sainsbury's.

October 6, 2010

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

Early in the first week of our August holiday, we went for a ride to La Corroirie, on the road north of Loches towards Montresor.




It felt really good to be on the motorcycles again. The only hiccup was that they had been standing out in the rain for a while the previous day and water got into the seat of my bike through the stitching along the seams of the seat. The water then came out again when I sat on it, resulting in a damp posterior on what was otherwise a lovely warm and sunny day. I was not complaining though, the seat on my new "baby Harley" was exquisitely comfortable.


La Corroirie is a 12th century fortified farming complex including a chapel. If you would like to read more, Ken of Living the Life in St-Aignan wrote about it here. It now offers B&B accommodation for guests. It's a fascinating place and well worth a visit.




After our photo-shoot we continued our road trip through many of the lovely villages that we were already very familiar with, then home along the quiet back lanes. The weather was perfect for motorcycling - dry and sunny and not too warm. It was absolute bliss. By the time we got home we had done 125 kilometres and I had enjoyed every minute.