June 29, 2011

A QUITUS FISCAL AND ANOTHER GOOD LUNCH

After our nice breakfast in the Bar de la Préfecture, we headed back to Loches, having no idea where we might get a Quitus Fiscal.  We deduced it was some kind of customs document and thought it might be worth asking at the Tourist Office where to get one.

As we got nearer to Loches and nearer to the dreaded witching hour of 12pm when everything packs up for lunch, I remembered that it was Wednesday and that was market day.  This meant that the town would be very busy and parking would be difficult at this hour.  So Nick dropped me off at the Tourist office doors while he went off to find a parking space.

pizza3The boulangerie in Ligueil

I asked the very friendly and helpful young lady on the desk if she knew which office might provide this document and she began directing me to the Sous-Préfecture.  I grimaced, thinking I was fairly sure she was wrong, and she obviously had second thoughts, consulted her colleague and pointed out the Hôtel de Finance on the street map.  That definitely sounded more like it.

I dashed outside and found Nick waiting just around the corner, engine running, complaining that he could find nowhere to park.  I jumped in the car and we sped off along Rue de Descartes to find the Hôtel de Finance.  It was 11.45am.

pizza2 The Pizzeria in Ligueil

So he dropped me off again at the doors of the building and I dashed inside and stood at the reception desk in the deserted entrance hall.  Eventually a very helpful man appeared and I explained that I needed a Quitus Fiscal.  We then had one of those bizarre conversations where I spoke in my best French and he spoke in his best English.  He directed me up the stairs to Room 33 on the first landing.  Just at that moment Nick burst through the front doors and we both leapt up to the first floor, two steps at a time.

Room 33 also seemed to be completely deserted until a woman poked her head around a screen and smiled at us.  We uttered the words Quitus Fiscal and she smiled again and beckoned another jolly and friendly person to help.  A quitus fiscal is a customs document which determines if there is any duty to pay when the vehicle is imported to France.  This depends on the age of the vehicle and how many kilometres it has done.  The person that appeared in front of me inspected my UK registration document, driving licence, the EDF bill and ten minutes later, we walked out clutching the elusive Quitus Fiscal.  What a relief.  We were now in possession of all the paperwork we needed.

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So we made our way home via the pizza restaurant in Ligueil, the Mandoline.  Lunch was a fraction of the price of our fancy meal the day before but we enjoyed our pizzas just as much.

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We treated ourselves to pizza, tiramisu for dessert and coffee.  Then we went back to Le Grand-Pressigny to check our paperwork and tie up all the loose ends before posting our application for a carte grises back to the Préfecture in Tours.

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We needed to get photocopies of my passport, driving licence and the inevitable EDF bill.  We also needed to buy two envelopes.

Now how hard could that be?……you will be surprised!

June 26, 2011

AN EARLY START AND A NICE BREAKFAST, BUT STILL NO CARTE GRISE

We set our alarm for 7am on the Wednesday of our week’s holiday.  The next day was a bank holiday so we had only two working days left to get this thing sorted before we had to go home. 

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A building in Rue de la Préfecture in Tours.

Tours is about an hour north of Le Grand-Pressigny and we were slightly concerned about arriving in the city centre at rush-hour.  We needn’t have worried – our trusty tom-tom took us straight to the same parking spot as the previous day without any hold-ups at all.  If only it were that easy in the UK.

At 9.20 am we paid three euros for two hours’ parking and again marched to the public entrance at the back of the building.  We walked along Rue de la Préfecture and passed a very inviting establishment on the way, with a lovely smell of coffee wafting under our noses as we hurried by.  We had not had breakfast yet and were tempted to nip in – but common sense prevailed.

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We passed the number plate shop and arrived at the entrance of the Préfecture to find half a dozen very glum and anxious looking people outside having a cigarette break.  Nick and I glanced at each other – a sort of “oh dear” glance, half knowing what to expect when we got inside.

Sure enough, the waiting hall was heaving with people.  Right at the top of the stairs was a ticket machine.  It would have taken me several minutes to suss out what to do next but Nick, with his experience of queuing in foreign embassies for visas and suchlike, knew instantly that the sooner you took a ticket, the better.

We looked around us and most of the seats were taken with more glum and bored faces.  People were called to a window as their ticket number came up.  The numbers being called were about 90 ahead of ours – groan.

Then we found we were actually standing in a queue.  As the queue shuffled forwards we saw that we were heading towards a window where you could hand over your dossier for checking and at the window was a very jolly lady, all smiles and animated helpfulness.  Brilliant !!

The overhead screen announced which number was next and which window to go to – the turnover was very slow, but our queue was moving forwards quite steadily.  However, the screen also pointed out at regular intervals that one in five applications failed for incorrect documentation.  We somehow knew that would be us.  For one thing, you seemed to need an envelope, presumably a stamped-addressed envelope so the documents could be posted back perhaps.  Everyone else seemed to have one.  This was something that had never occurred to us.  If only the notice on the door of the Sous-Préfecture in Loches had said “only from 8.30-12.30 and don’t forget your envelope”.

After 30 minutes we got to the window and explained our needs in our best French to the very smiley and helpful lady.  She indicated which bits of the application form I should fill in and said the only item of paperwork I was short of was a customs form – a Quitus Fiscal.  We asked her where we got this from and she simply shrugged and said in Loches.  She also gave us the address to where we could post the whole lot back to save us yet another trip to Tours.

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We thanked her and left, emerging into the beautiful bright sunshine and headed back to the car.  Back to Loches it was then, although goodness knows whereabouts in Loches we were meant to go to get a Quitus Fiscal

This time the wafts of coffee were too much to resist.  We had a lovely breakfast of coffee and croissants which possibly tasted even better because we were flushed with success – no carte grise yet but at least we knew we were only needing one piece of paperwork – a step forwards for sure.

By the way, as we left the building after our half an hour queue, the next number being called was still 80 people in front of ours.  I wonder if they missed us?

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a great place to stay

Alex and Nicole have asked me to mention that they still have some availability in their lovely gites at Les Limornières in Le Grand-Pressigny for July.  They are offering a reduced rate for anyone who would like a last-minute booking.  So if you were thinking about spending some time in this beautiful area of France but weren’t sure – now’s your chance to treat yourself to a short break at bargain rates.

For further details, click here for a 4-person gite with €100 off or here for a 5-person gite with €150 euros off.

June 25, 2011

SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND

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A cottage in Rue du Château, Le Grand-Pressigny.

a great place to stay

Alex and Nicole have asked me to mention that they still have some availability in their lovely gites at Les Limornières for July.  They are offering a reduced rate for anyone who would like a last-minute booking.  So if you were thinking about spending some time in this beautiful area of France but weren’t sure – now’s your chance to treat yourself to a short break at bargain rates.

For further details, click here for a 4-person gite with €100 off or here for a 5-person gite with €150 euros off.

June 22, 2011

A GOOD LUNCH AND A TOASTED FLY BUT NO CARTE GRISE

We set off in the direction of the hospital in Loches in search of the Sous-Préfecture.  We found it without too much difficulty - it was in a grand old building in an equally grand garden in the suburbs of Loches.

When we got to the front door there was a notice saying that cartes grises could no longer be obtained there but were now issued at the Préfecture in Tours.

By now it was almost 11.30 am and we realised that we were unlikely to get to Tours in time to find the Préfecture before everything closed for lunch, which might be at 12.00 or possibly 12.30 if we were lucky.  So we thought the thing to do would be drive to the centre of Tours, have a spot of lunch and then go to the Préfecture.

As we drove along the road from Loches towards Tours, we spotted a sign indicating a restaurant down a road to our right.  We seemed to be in the middle of nowhere but we do like an adventure that might lead to a good lunch and drove down a tree-lined lane with elegant lamp-posts to find this:

fly 1The restaurant “La Couture” at Courçay.

We arrived on the dot of 12.00 and although the restaurant was completely empty it soon filled up – well maybe to half full.

It was one of those places where you just know you are in for a special treat.  The restaurant was beautiful inside with a huge fireplace, oak beams, polished tomettes and lots of crisp white linen and sparkling wine glasses.

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The menu indicated a “menu du jour” at 17euros but there was no specials board or anything to say what that might be.  A waiter with a severe hairstyle and equally severe spectacles said he would send his colleague to tell us what it was.  An older and very smartly dressed waitress arrived at our table and rattled off a confusing list of choices, most of which we didn’t hear or didn’t understand.  So we decided to go “à la carte” and treat ourselves to a really special lunch – feeling somewhat battered and bruised after our experience in the Hôtel de Ville in Loches that morning, we felt we deserved it.

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There was a platter of delicious amuses bouches to nibble at with our apéritifs.  However, Nick decided he would act as designated driver and just have a fruit juice to begin with and maybe one glass of wine with his meal.

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Next we had a quail’s egg baked in ratatouille as a pre-starter starter.  It was delicious too.  The rest of the meal was fabulous, although I didn’t take any more photos until it came to my dessert, which was “omelette Norvégienne”.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect but it turned out to be something like a baked alaska, with ice cream, cake and sorbet, covered in meringue and baked.

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For a finishing touch an extra little detail had been added:

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Presumably the offending insect had landed on the meringue just before the blowtorch was applied.  I scooped it up with a spoonful of the meringue, put it on the side of my plate and enjoyed the rest of the dessert.

I didn’t see any point in making a fuss – maybe I should have – I expected that all that would happen if I sent it back to the kitchen is that the fly would be removed and the dish returned to our table.  And in any case, I just didn’t fancy any more confrontations in a language of which I had only a slim grasp – once so far that day had been enough.  However, I did get the satisfaction of the raised eyebrows above the severe spectacles when the plate was taken away.

We settled our bill and, many euros lighter in the pocket, walked out into the sunshine to continue with our quest - it had been an expensive lunch but we enjoyed it – although I’m not sure we would rush back.

Fortunately our French road atlas had a small, basic street map of Tours and Nick spotted that there was a “Place du Préfecture” in the city centre.  We put this into our Tom-Tom and it took us straight to the very grand entrance of the Préfecture itself.  How easy that was.  We had both been concerned about the prospect of finding our way around in the traffic but it turned out to be an absolute doddle.  Once again we were reminded of one of the many things we love about our little corner of France – however bad the traffic is, it’s never as bad as at home in the UK.

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We paid one euro to park for 40 minutes and approached the elegant and imposing gates, only to find that the public entrance is in another street around the back of the building. 

So we marched round there and passed a shop selling vehicle number plates.  Now we were getting really excited – once we had our carte grise we would need a new number plate and then we were nearly home and dry.

Except for this:

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If only the person responsible for writing the notice and putting it on the door of the Sous-Préfecture in Loches had thought to add the words “but only from 8.30 until 12.30”, it would have saved us a lot of trouble.  And a very expensive toasted fly.

On the way back home, we were stopped at a police road block in La Celle- Guenand and Nick was breathalysed.  We had failed so far in our quest for a carte grise, but our new policy of absolutely no more than one small glass of wine when driving had paid off.

June 20, 2011

THE QUEST FOR A CARTE GRISE

Once our visitors had gone it was time to get on with some business that was pressing.  By now it was Tuesday and Thursday was a public holiday for Ascension Day so we only had three working days to get the job done before we went home.

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The château with a badly parched field of failed sunflowers in front.

We had decided to keep my motorcycle in France to save having to ride it back to England for an MOT every year.  (For non-UK readers, an MOT is a Ministry of Transport test carried out on all vehicles over three years old, once a year.  It is a legal requirement.) 

In France there is no MOT test (Contrôle Technique) for motorcycles at all.  All we needed to do was get the bike registered in France so it could also be insured there and that’s that.  We wanted to get this done before the existing UK MOT and insurance expired, so that meant this week.  The first step was to formally export the bike to France and get a French registration document, a “carte grise”.

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One of our favourite views in Le Grand-Pressigny.

We just knew it wouldn’t be easy.

Even though we had bought a house in France, we had never tackled French bureaucracy by ourselves before.  Previously we had been steered through it by the estate agent and the solicitor – we just signed where needed and they did all the work.  Even when we had to have planning permission to reinstate our ground floor window and replace the broken skylight in the roof with a Velux, all dealings with the Mairie were handled by our friend and architect, Barrie.  We just paid the bill.

This time we were on our own.

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Lulu sniffing something interesting in the breeze.

Someone who had already exported a motorcycle from the UK to France had given us some ideas on where to start.  Also Nick had done some web research and the people at Harley-Davidson had also given us some tips but when it actually came down to it, it was things like where do we actually present ourselves and where do we park that were puzzling us.

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There seemed to be fewer poppies than in previous years.

To begin with, we knew we needed to take with us the UK Registration document (V5) and something called a “certificate of conformity” from the manufacturer of the vehicle.  When Nick applied for this for his BMW motorcycle, he filled in an online form and it arrived in the post two days later, free of charge.  Mine took took two weeks to come from Harley-Davidson and cost me £150.  Still, that was going to be cheaper and a lot less trouble than ferrying the bike back to the UK every year.

Nick had also found an application form for a carte grise on the web and printed it out. 

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Lulu getting comfortable on her bed.

So, armed with my V5, certificate of conformity, passport, driving licence, application form, an EDF bill and cheque book, we set off in search of my carte grise

The EDF bill is an electricity bill in my name which proves we actually live in France.  Friends say this document is actually more use than a passport and they always carry a spare one with them, just in case !!

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One of Mme André’s flowers after a rare shower of rain.

We assumed there must be somewhere in Loches, maybe the town hall, where we should start or at least make enquiries.  Most of the official stuff we do gets dealt with somewhere in Loches so that seemed logical.  We parked in the town centre outside where we thought we had seen the Hôtel de Ville, only to find it was the Palais de Justice instead.

So we headed off on foot and followed the tourist signs pointing us in the direction of the Hôtel de Ville.  It was quite an imposing building when we found it.  In fact I had taken a picture of it only the day before when we were doing our tourist bit with our visitors.

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The Hôtel de Ville in Loches.

Inside, the building was magnificent.  A wide oak staircase and panelled walls with sombre pictures of presumably former “persons of great importance” in the town.

There was a long oak counter and on the other side of it was Mme Sourface, positively the very image of everything you dread in a French official.  Still, we straightened our backs, clutched our dossier with sweaty palms and smiled at her confidently.  The worst she could do was kill us.

She was on the phone but luckily there was no-one else in front of us, although a woman came up the stairs behind us with her own dossier under her arm and stood a polite distance behind us at the counter, waiting her turn as we waited to be noticed.

Mme Sourface put down the phone and without smiling uttered a grudging “bonjour” and looked up at us.  We explained our situation in our best French and she gave us the classic grimace that parents usually reserve for irritating children.  A kind of screwing-up of the eyes and baring of the teeth at the same time and said something that I presumed meant “you want WHAT?”.

In my line of work, if I reacted like that every time some one asked me a daft question, I would be sacked.  However, we re-explained ourselves and she corrected our French, hissing the proper pronunciation of the word “grise” as GREEEEZZZZ” through clenched teeth.  OK, we said it like “gree”.  Oops.  Anyone would think we were aliens landed from another planet asking for her leader.  Perhaps she thought we were.

Mme Sourface snarled that we were in the wrong place and directed us to the Sous-Préfecture, saying it was near the hospital.  The lady behind us gave a little smile and a nod as we turned to leave the room.  We weren’t sure if this was in sympathy or apology for the way we had been treated or if she thought we were aliens too.  We also felt the eyes of all those pictures looking down on us, whispering to each other “stupid Brits”.  In French of course.

So we headed back to the car and set off, following the tourist signs out of town towards the hospital. 

The quest for a carte greeeezzzz was under way !!

June 18, 2011

SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND

Last month the Derbyshire Food and Drink Fair was held at Hardwick Hall, not far from us.  It was a huge event and we had a great day out.

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If you would like to read more and see lots of photos, click here.

June 16, 2011

LUNCH IN LOCHES

Loches is fast becoming my second favourite town in the Loire, the first being Chinon. 

It’s only a 30 minute drive from us in Le Grand-Pressigny so we can go there often without too much effort.  It has beautiful buildings, a great market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and some lovely shops and restaurants.

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When our visitors were with us on the Monday of our holiday, we decided to take them to Loches to show off how lucky we were to live in such a beautiful area of France.

Typically, it being Monday, many of the shops and restaurants were closed.  I dare say that later in the tourist season, most of them would have been open – though not necessarily !!

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Still, even with many businesses closed, it is a lovely place to do the touristy thing – maybe even better for not being so busy.

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Three of our favourite restaurants were closed.  So we looked around for somewhere new and found a little creperie in a side street called “La Crépicoise”

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We all had delicious galettes and then had a brief walk around the town.

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This is the town hall – Hôtel de ville – it features in my next post !!

June 10, 2011

MORE CHÉDIGNY PHOTOS

As requested, a few more photos of our afternoon at the Festival des Roses at Chédigny.

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These were some of the beautiful hydrangeas that were on sale.

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I think I probably chose the best ones first time around but that’s the lot !!

June 8, 2011

CHÉDIGNY

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We arrived in France the weekend of the Festival des Roses at Chédigny.

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It’s a pretty and picturesque village and all the houses seemed to have roses climbing all over them.

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Of course, the roses are there for weeks, not just for the festival.  But for one weekend there are craft stalls, food stalls, musicians, artists and people selling…….roses.

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Also hydrangeas, some of which were just as beautiful as the roses.

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It was a lovely warm and sunny afternoon.  We had spent the morning shopping as we were expecting visitors – they should have arrived by now but were a day late.  We had intended to take them with us to the Festival des Roses but they missed it.  Quel dommage !!

The flowers were beautiful and the air was filled with fragrance, music and happy voices.  It was a wonderful way to start our holiday.