January 31, 2012

THE GUIDED TOUR

In July last year we paid a second visit to Palluau-sur-Indre, a village with a lovely privately owned château – I wrote about it first in 2010 here.

palluau1

The château at Palluau-sur-Indre.

The château had been sold in (I believe) 2010 and the new owner was carrying out major improvements and opening it for visitors.  As it happened, we turned up only a couple of weeks after it had re-opened in 2011.  You can read more about the history of the château here.

palluau2

There was a modest entrance fee and we could see that things were not really too well organised yet but in we went, dying to have a closer look in the courtyard and hopefully inside as well.

 palluau3

Unfortunately, we dropped a clanger and ended up on a tour guidée, the last one of the day.

palluau4

We have a general rule that we don’t do guided tours, only those where you can wander round freely at your own pace, the tour libre.  This is because our French is not good enough to keep up with most of the tour guides.

If they are aware they have non-French speakers in the group, some guides will make an effort to speak more slowly and clearly, or even repeat some of the information in English at the end of each section.  This is always most helpful and very much appreciated.

However, we have endured many a miserable hour trapped inside a château, having been locked into the room with the rest of the group, well out of our depth in terms of understanding anything.  The guide will open the door with a key, herd all the visitors in and lock the door again so no-one can escape!!  Presumably this is to prevent visitors from wandering around by themselves and getting up to some sort of mischief.

 palluau5 palluau6

Unfortunately, on this day the lady who meets and greets visitors led us briskly towards the little chapel where a tour was already under way.  As we sped across the courtyard we said that we didn’t realise it was not a visite libre and couldn’t we please just wander around by ourselves.

palluau7 palluau8

She assured us that not only was this out of the question but it was no problem, the guide spoke good English so we would be in good hands.

palluau9

Well, if he spoke any English at all he certainly didn’t try while we were there.  There were only four other visitors, all French, and he completely and totally ignored us, making no contact with us at all, not even a welcome, never mind establishing whether or not we could understand anything.

palluau9a

The walls of the chapel were painted with a beautiful fresco, depicting the story of the nativity and the life of Christ in chronological order.  The guide spoke very quickly and directly to the other visitors, completely ignoring us and answered interminable questions such as what kind of paint was used, how the painting survived the damp and so on.  After spending thirty minutes listening to him explain every brushstroke in great detail we were losing the will to live and whilst his back was momentarily turned, we made our escape.  We couldn’t face having to struggle our way through the rest of the tour.

 palluau9b

We wandered around the courtyard and enjoyed the beauty of the place and the peace and quiet of its lovely setting but we were disappointed we had lost out on the opportunity to see inside the château.  It’s a shame, because the inside looked from the outside as though it would be really interesting.

After a while the “meeter and greeter” strode purposefully in our direction and enquired exactly what we were up to.

So we will be a bit more canny next time we visit a château, remembering to enquire whether the visit is by guided tour or free visit - until our French is a lot better anyway !!

January 26, 2012

BAKING ALERT

Well, it’s not so much baking as boiling. 

We made a steak and kidney pudding.

pud9g

You can read all about it here.

January 22, 2012

EGG AND CHIPS

In France you can get really nice chips.  Lovely, skinny crispy chips, slightly salted.  If I haven’t had chips by the end of a week in France I start to get chip deprivation syndrome.  Which is strange, because I rarely eat chips at home in the UK.

chips1New Year’s Eve in Loches.

Such was the case on New Year’s Eve.  We were looking forward to a nice dinner with our friends Chris and Gail in the evening so we went to Loches to catch the last hour or so of the market and grab a light lunch.  What I really wanted was chips.

chips4A stairway to heaven the château lunch.

After a browse round the market on what was really quite a dull and dismal day, we went in search of lunch.  Lots of restaurants were closed for annual holidays and we really didn’t fancy the menu at most of the ones that were open.  Then we spotted this place.

chips9 An oasis in a desert of closed or fancy restaurants.

It had a board outside advertising various snacks.  One of them was hamburger and chips.  Another was a “Texan plate” which included “oeufs en plat”.  As well as chips, the French do fried eggs really well.

chips7 Nick’s light lunch.  ‘amburger and chips.

So in we went and Nick ordered hamburger and chips.  I politely asked the waitress if it might be at all possible just to have oeufs en plat avec frites.  She thought it would but said she would check with the chef, who happened to be sitting at the next table enjoying a break.  “Oui, tout est possible!”  was the reply.

chips6 A little bit of heaven on a plate.

She asked me if I wanted three or four eggs.  I was thinking of two but agreed on three.  In the end she brought me four because they were small eggs.

I have eaten “oeufs en plat” all over France and never yet been disappointed.  One may argue that it is a dish that is difficult to get wrong but I would disagree – under or over-cooked eggs are not nice, no matter how good the chips.

These were perfect and exactly what I needed.  A light lunch…….until they brought the obligatory dessert of apple crumble afterwards……oh well, it’s only New Year once a year !!

chips8There is no reason to put this picture in other than I really like pink.

January 19, 2012

NO COMMENT

I think I read a while ago that some people were having trouble with Blogger comments.  I didn’t take any notice because I didn’t think I was.

But lately, some blogs I follow have been playing up.  In the sense that if you click on the comments box the page freezes and you either see nothing at all or just a bit of the page and you certainly can’t read or leave a comment.

Then if you try again later, the comments link will work fine.

It doesn’t seem to happen with those blogs whose comments appear in a pop-out window, like mine or wcs or Days on the Claise.

The problem seems to be more with those blogs where the whole post reloads and you have to scroll down to the bottom again to see the comments, such as Snippets from Labartere and Zut Alors!, although it doesn’t seem to happen with In and around Braye-sou-Faye, which works the same way.

It also doesn’t seem to make any difference whether you are logged in or not.

Does anyone else have any experience or solutions for this problem ?

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PS, congratulations to Alexander SACALEVIC, on becoming my 100th follower.  I never thought so many people would read the kind of stuff I write.  Probably, most of them don’t any more, but I am very flattered that so many obviously do – a big thank you to all who do.

I shall no doubt become a nervous wreck and develop a twitch if the number drops down below 100 again, anguishing over who has dumped me….blog stress …. can you get tablets for that ??!!

January 18, 2012

NEW PET TRAVEL RULES

Last year I wrote here about the joys of being able to take your pet on holiday to Europe from the UK.

PET TRAVEL2 Lulu and Nick in Ferrière-Larçon on New Year’s Eve.

The rules changed on 1st January this year, making it slightly cheaper and much easier to do this.

PET TRAVEL1A wintry walk in Chinon.

In a nutshell, if you are considering taking your dog (or cat or ferret) on holiday for the first time, you have to visit a vet in the UK for a rabies vaccination and identichipping.  There is no longer any requirement for a blood test for EU countries such as France; you can take your dog on holiday almost straight away.

PET TRAVEL3Contemplating a cuppa at the new Salon de Thé at Ferrière-Larçon

The confusing part has always been that in actual fact, taking the dog (or cat or ferret) out of the UK has never been a problem, it’s bringing them back in that is the problem.  Nobody takes any notice of a pet travelling with you on the way out.  On the way back, you have to show the pet passport at the port.

la poste Season’s greetings from La Poste.

Prior to 1st January this year, after the first inoculation, you had to have a blood test after one month then could bring the dog back into the country six months after that.

Now, under the new rules, you can bring the dog (or cat or ferret) back in after 21 days.  This means that if you are considering taking your dog on holiday you don’t have to plan more than half a year ahead if you have never done it before.  You can have the rabies inoculation a week before you go away for two weeks and you will be ok.

 PET TRAVEL4 Posing at the troglodyte site down by the river.

The other major difference is a great help to people like us who already have a pet passport and take their dog (or cat or ferret) to and fro across the channel regularly.

Prior to 1st January, you had to visit a vet in France between 24 and 48 hours of boarding your train and ferry home, for a worm and tick treatment, an examination of the animal and the all-important stamping of the passport.  This was occasionally very awkward – having to arrange travel times such that you could get the passport stamped at the right time.  For example, if you intended to travel home on a Monday evening, you would have to be visiting a vet on a Sunday – not at all easy.

Then, if something went wrong with your travel arrangements, you could very easily come unstuck.  If your car broke down, someone was ill, there was a hold-up on the motorway or any number of common problems that could delay you, you could end up presenting your dog at the ferry port or tunnel after the very short time slot had expired.  This happened to many travellers every year, who were then faced with having to stay in France for an extra 1-2 days to give the dog the treatment all over again.  This was costly and not good for the dog either – having two worm tablets within the space of a few days.

Under the new rules, you must visit a vet in France between 24 and 120 hours before travelling.  In other words, so long as you visit a vet in France between one and five days before going back home you are fine.  (So long as it is not less than one day.)

PET TRAVEL5Relaxing after a hard afternoon chasing squirrels.

This is the one thing that is going to make the biggest difference to people like us, I think.  We can now visit the vet at any time towards the end of our stay and have the peace of mind of knowing that if our usual vet is not available, which is what happened the last visit, we needn’t panic and have time to find another one.  Also we don’t have to plan our journey quite so precisely, our travel can be slightly more flexible and if for some reason we are delayed by a day or two we will probably be fine.

PET TRAVEL6 All steps just have to be climbed and walls sniffed.

The other difference is that the tick treatment is now not necessary at all, which saves some money, although we will continue to give Lulu regular tick treatments ourselves as it seems a sensible thing to do.

To re-enter the UK only a worm tablet is needed, and the stamping of the passport with the date and time of it having been given.

PET TRAVEL7A chilly walk down by the river in Le Grand-Pressigny.

To sum up:

If taking your pet to France for the first time, visit a vet for a rabies innoculation, identichip and issue of a passport.  The pet can then re-enter the UK three weeks later.

To return home, visit a vet in France with the pet and the passport for examination, a worm tablet and stamping of the passport.  The pet can then re-enter the UK up to five days and no less than 24 hours later.

These are the rules that apply to France, as I understand them.  They do vary for other countries.  You can read the official version on the government website here.

January 17, 2012

BLOG AWARD ETIQUETTE

I had a comment in my comment box the other day from Perpetua of Perpetually in Transit, telling me she had awarded me the LIEBSTER BLOG AWARD and inviting me to collect it from her, post the logo on my sidebar and then pass it on.

liebster

I had seen various award logos on other blog sidebars and always wondered how people got them.  I had always assumed there was some kind of blog police committee out there, looking around for who writes what, having important meetings in dark, smoke-filled rooms and voting for the best blogs in their opinion, a bit like the Oscars.

But no, you get an award from someone who likes your blog enough to encourage other people to read it by passing the award to you after they have received it themselves.  So thank you, Perpetua, for your kind words about my blog and for adding me to your list of recommended blogs.

I am truly chuffed.

Really, I am truly, truly chuffed.  Why would anyone write a blog at all unless they wanted other people to read it and although some may sniff at the concept of blog awards, I personally have no shame in admitting that sometimes it’s really nice to feel appreciated.

Now I have a problem.  I have to do the right thing and pass the award on to five other blogs, the only rule being that the blog should have less than 200 followers.  That is not so much a problem as a shame, as some of the blogs I really would like to give the award to have more than 200 followers so don’t qualify, such as Going Gently, a blog about village life in Wales, with a bit of a difference (and the odd rude word).

Then there are blogs whose writers declare their blogs award-free zones, such as My Life in the Charente, a delightful blog with just less than 200 followers, written by Diane, about….her life in the Charente, with lovely photos, recipes and history.

Then, worst of all, there are several blogs I would dearly love to give the award to, only to find that someone else got there before me and has given them the award already !!  Into this category falls Chez Charnizay, written by Niall and Antoinette, who write about life in a little village just up the road from Le Grand-Pressigny, with lovely photos and lots of interesting stuff about life in and the history of the region.

I was also going to give the award to Martine of Wishing I Were in France, a very talented lady who speaks several languages, lives in Belgium, writes about her life there and about her holidays in the Loire, which is where she really would like to be.  Chez Charnizay gave it to her already !!

Similarly, Simon and Susan, of Days on the Claise, were high up my list.  There’s was the first blog I ever read, in fact I didn’t even know what a blog was until Nick stumbled across it when he Googled something to do with Preuilly-sur-Claise a few years ago.  Chez Charnizay got to them first, too !!

This is beginning to follow a pattern, like a bunch of mates in a school playground, or you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.  An award will circle around amongst a cluster of blogs and occasionally break out into pastures new.  Not that that matters, except that I’m not sure that it’s the done thing for an award to be given to someone who already has it.

So, after much head-scratching, here’s my list of award-winners.

1.  Colin and Elizabeth of In and Around Braye-sous-Faye, who write about life in the little village near Richelieu where they have made their home.  From garden birds and dustbins to broken washing machines and Elizabeth’s famous knob collection, all of life is to be found here, seen with the eyes of a couple from the north of England just getting to grips with the ups and downs of living in France.

2.  Vera, of Snippets from Labartere, who writes about life on the smallholding she and her husband keep somewhere further south.  I never knew how difficult it was to keep pigs, bees and chickens until I read her hilarious and heartwarming stories.  Rather you than me, Vera !!

3.  Alex, of Moving from France to Ferrets.  Alex and his family (wife and dogs that is) moved back to the UK from France last year, which is more or less where I came in, and writes very witty stuff about day-to-day life, exactly the sort of stuff that blogs are for I think.  In fact I read most of my world news on his blog as I don’t watch telly or read newspapers so he usually gives me the important stuff with his own witty slant on it.  He waivered slightly a while ago and nearly gave up blogging.  I hope he’s over that now, but I’m not really sure he’s an awards kind of person.  We shall see.

4.  Leon and Sue of Melbourne, Our Home On The Bay, who write passionately about their love of France and their holidays there – I never thought I would learn so much about France from a couple of Aussies who have only been there for their holidays !!  Also about life in their part of Australia, Leon’s passion for cycling and Sue’s amazing cooking.  And they have very interesting new neighbours. 

5.  Last but not least, Phil of Mug of Strong Tea, who works on the butchers counter in Tesco in Nottingham and writes wittily about food, life in Nottingham, life in general and his love for France and French food.

If I had my way the list would not stop there, but blog award etiquette dictates that it must.  I hope that you will pay a visit to the blogs I have mentioned, as that is, after all, the purpose of this award business, to increase the traffic, so to speak.

Thanks again to Perpetua for nominating me and I shall display the award proudly on my sidebar.  I will not be offended if those who receive the award from me decide not to do the same and not to take part….well, not much anyway !!

I did a bit of brief research about the Liebster award and nothing much came up, except that it originated in Germany.  I didn’t find out who or when or why……..somebody with a few friends and quite a bit of time on his hands, I suspect !!

Happy reading.

The rules for award winners, if you wish to take part, are: post the award on your sidebar, link to the blog that awarded it and write a post passing it on to five other blogs with less than 200 followers.

January 14, 2012

ANYBODY HOME?

 door2

Probably.

door1

Almost certainly not.

door3

Difficult to tell.  You can never be sure.

All were photographed at Ferrière-Larçon on New Year’s Eve.

Bon weekend !!

January 13, 2012

BAKING ALERT

Anyone who liked the chocolate courgette cake recipe might also be interested in these:

beetroot muffins9hBeetroot and chocolate muffins.

Read all about them here.

January 12, 2012

SOLVING A DRINK PROBLEM

drink problem1

I have found it eternally frustrating that I am hopeless at getting the cork out of a bottle of bubbly.  I just don’t have the knack of gripping the bottle firmly in one hand and easing out the cork with the other, getting that oh-so-professional slight hiss as the gas is released, then pouring the wine steadily into the glass.

drink problem2

After years of struggling, corks hitting the ceiling and the precious bubbly spilling over everywhere, I now have the answer.  It was a Christmas present from a friend (who obviously knows me too well) and, unbelievably, it works !!

drink problem3

You simply hold the bottle down on the worktop, push the tube down onto the cork, twist the bottle and hey presto – the cork shoots out and is caught in the tube and the bubbly stays in the bottle !!

drink problem4

So now I can open a bottle all by myself, without having to pass it over to Nick or anyone else !!  A problem solved.  Marvellous !!

January 7, 2012

HOLIDAY COOKING

When we were in France for the week between Christmas and New Year, we invited our friends Ken and Walt for lunch.  Their dog, Callie the collie, came too, of course. 

pears3 Callie, Ken, Walt and Lulu.

pears6 Callie making herself comfortable in front of the fire.

For dessert, Nick decided to do one of his favourite puddings,  pears poached in red wine.  I decided it should be served with a slice of rich chocolate torte as well.

We were almost perfectly organised but things went pear-shaped at the last minute as our guests arrived.  So Walt pitched in to help and mixed up the torte for me.  All I had to do was put it in the oven.

pears5 The perfect lunch guest – making his own lunch.

pears2

Thanks to Ken for this picture of the pears.

The poached pears are actually very easy to make.  You simply peel and core the pears leaving the stalks on, immerse them in red wine and cook for hours and hours in a low oven.  We did them the day before as they are served cold, but the chocolate cake was meant to be served slightly warm.

We had the leftover pears the next day and they were very good as an accompaniment to cheese.

If you would like to see the recipe, click here.

January 5, 2012

VERY PECULIAR WEATHER

We were in Le Grand-Pressigny for a week after Christmas and the weather was most peculiar.

peculiar weather9Sunrise over Le Grand-Pressigny on a misty morning.

When we set off from home in the UK at 4.30 am on Boxing Day it was incredibly mild: 13½°C.  This is in stark contrast to last year when we had temperatures below freezing in the UK and barely getting above freezing for most of the week.

This time we had fine weather and mild temperatures all the way to the Loire.  When we arrived chez nous, Nicole had put the heaters on low and had laid the fire for us but the house did not have that dense chill that we normally get when we have been away for a few weeks at this time of year.  Boxing Day had been a gloriously mild and sunny day in the village, apparently.

The next morning it was still mild but it was very misty.  Then it warmed up and we had a lovely fine day.

peculiar weather4jpg The early morning mist gave way to a beautiful fine and sunny day.

peculiar weather6The château looked beautiful and was open for business as usual in the early part of the week.

peculiar weather8

As the week went by the weather changed a lot.  We had a couple of frosty mornings, then it warmed up again and gave way to grey drizzle for most of the time we were there.

peculiar weather2Drizzly weather and wet rooftops in the middle of the week.

This was disappointing.  We really look forward to the blue skies, frosty nights and log fires that we normally get on our winter break.

peculiar weather1 Christmas decorations and geraniums in flower in a Loches window.

Everywhere we went there was evidence of a mild autumn and winter (so far anyway).  We saw geraniums in flower everywhere, including our own.  We also spotted a red camellia and pink hollyhocks in full bloom.

peculiar weather9c Our own geraniums were still holding on pretty well.

But we had a nice time and on our last day, as we were packing up to come home, sadly, the sun came out and we had our lunch on the terrace before we set off back North.

peculiar weather3jpg Blue skies and fluffy clouds on our last day.

However, due to the mild temperatures we didn’t make much of a dent in our log pile, which is still there for another visit, and the electricity bill will be better than usual.  Every cloud and all that…….