September 29, 2012

SATURDAY LUNCH

Here in Derbyshire today it is cool, grey and breezy.  The clouds definitely look threatening.  We are off to Nottingham to do a bit of shopping and have booked ourselves a table at Carluccio’s for lunch.  We will definitely not be eating outdoors and will no doubt be glad to get indoors and out of the rain.

lunch in loches1Le Palais in Loches.

It will be rather different from Saturday lunch in Loches.  The day after we arrived with my dad for his adventure holiday, we took him to Loches so he could enjoy the delights of the market and then looked for somewhere to have lunch. 

The market was crowded and we could see he was quite bemused by the whole thing so luckily I spotted somewhere not so crowded to sit in the shade and eat in peace and comfort.

lunch in loches2 My dad’s salad.  The toast thing is a popular dish in France but I can’t remember what it’s called.  I will next time I see it on a menu.

We had not eaten at Le Palais before.  I think I would have been put off previously by the sign calling it a “pub”.  But I chose it because it was away from the bustle of the market and there were plenty of tables free.

We all had different salads and they were all delicious.  The French do know how to do a good salad.

lunch in loches3 My salad.  Lots of ham, cheese and egg.

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Nick’s salad, very similar but with olives.

We have eaten at many different restaurants in Loches and will definitely be going back to this one.  The salads were just the job for a Saturday lunch, the service was relaxed and we had a lovely time watching the world go by, as you do.

Lunch in Nottingham today will be completely different.  I might take a photo or two and let you know.

Bon weekend !!

September 24, 2012

CLOSED FOR LUNCH

Before we all set off on our holiday I gave my dad a guide book to the Loire and suggested he pick out a few places he would like to see and things he would like to do.  He said he would like to go to Chinon and Tours and would leave the rest up to us.  That was a good plan.  We love Chinon so a trip there would be no hardship.

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We decided to go on the Monday and arrived there in time for lunch.  It was perfect weather; warm and sunny.  We were so glad we had not taken our holiday the previous week, when temperatures reached 40°C in the area for several days.  That would have been no fun for any of us.

I don’t think Dad would mind me telling you that he is, officially, well past his sell-by date.  He has had heart bi-pass surgery, not once, not twice but an incredible three times.  The last time was when he was 66 and he was told he could expect the effect to last him ten years.  At the age of 83 this means he has had almost two decades for free !!

However, he is careful not to do too much so we had to pace ourselves on holiday accordingly.  For example, although our little house has two bedrooms the only bathroom is downstairs.  So we decided to let my dad sleep downstairs, converting the coat cupboard into a temporary wardrobe for his things and packing his bed away in the cellar every night !!  It worked very well. 

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In Chinon we had a lovely long, typically French lunch, in the sunshine, watching the world go by, enjoying a delicious meal and a drink. Afterwards we took a gentle walk to the elevator that takes you up to the château where my dad marvelled at the view over the rooftops of the town and spent ages just looking at life going on below.

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Then we took the lift back down to town and a steady stroll along the river, enjoying the sights and the sunshine. 

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We nodded to Rabelais, as we always do.  Nick and I must have walked or ridden past his statue hundreds of times in the years we have been coming to Chinon. My first visit was in 1994.  Nick had been there once before and he said “you must come and see this place”.  We camped on the site across the river from the château and had a wonderful time.  Since then there has never been a year when we didn’t visit at least once.

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Walking along with my dad I hoped he could see what we keep coming back here for.  Chinon was the place where we really wanted a holiday home but that was not to be.  What we have now is even better, I think.  A cottage in a small and friendly village with all the facilities we could ever want and all our favourite places less than an hour’s drive away.  Perfect.

We explained this to my dad as he was gazing across the road at the florist’s shop on the main road through Chinon.  “Isn’t it pretty?” I said.  “And it’s closed for lunch.”

September 16, 2012

DAD’S HOLIDAY

Having an overnight stay in Calais on the way down to the Loire was good in one sense – it broke the journey and gave us all a rest, which was important for my dad as he hadn’t travelled so far from home for many years.  The down side is that it took us virtually 24 hours to get from Derbyshire to Le Grand-Pressigny.  In other words, the journey time was doubled and we still arrived very tired and a bit crotchety, which is how we are when we do the journey in one hit, taking twelve hours. 

dad's holiday 5 Grande Rue on a late summer evening.

However, we had made provisional arrangements to meet up with our friends Chris and Gail in the village square on our first evening.  So we had a reviving cup of tea, did a little unpacking then all marched down the hill to meet them.  Me, Nick, my dad and Lulu.

As we left the house we were greeted first by Mme André, our neighbour, who was very pleased to meet my dad and wished him a happy holiday, in French of course.  On our way out of the courtyard we bumped into the Parisian couple who have the holiday home opposite ours.  They shook hands with us all, gave Lulu a scratch behind the ears, and, practising their English, wished us a pleasant evening and hoped my dad would have an enjoyable holiday with us.  You get the picture.

dad's holiday 2 The village square looked very inviting as we went to join our friends.

By the time we got to the square, in the lovely warm evening sunshine, my dad had not only travelled a long way from home but had also met and spoken to more new faces than he had met in a very long time.  He was beginning to get the idea why we love the place so much and why we keep coming back.

dad's holiday 4 The château viewed from the village square.

As the week unfolded, it was fascinating to see how my dad took it all in and gradually got used to the way things are in our little corner of France.  It was as if we were experiencing it all afresh – as we did when we first stumbled across the place – by seeing how he reacted.  Not that we take it for granted, but we have got used to the nice weather, the friendliness of the people, the different way of life.  Rather like it might have been in Derbyshire in the 1950’s or 60’s I think.

He was quite bowled over, hardly knowing what to make of it all, not quite believing it was real.

dad's holiday 1 My dad samples “foreign beer”.

Of course, not everything was good in his opinion !!  Foreign beer took some getting used to.  His favourite beer at home would be Mansfield bitter, or Marston’s.  At a push, Stones.  You can’t get anything quite like that in France and we decided not to risk trying him with the rather light, chilled “pression” at the bar but suggested Leffe Blond.  He almost enjoyed it and by the time he had drunk his second he was definitely warming to it !!

September 8, 2012

A HOLIDAY WITH A DIFFERENCE

Unbelievably, it is almost five years since we bought our little house in Le Grand-Pressigny. 

The fifth anniversary of first standing on the little terrace and having that “this is the one” moment passed just before we set off for our recent holiday at the end of August.  The anniversary of the day we signed the compromis de vente passed while we were there and the anniversary of finally getting the keys will be coming up in November.

As soon as we announced to my father in 2007 that we were going to buy a holiday home in France, he immediately got himself a passport.  But no matter how much we tried, we could not persuade him to come with us.  He was full of enthusiasm at first but as the years went by he became less and less inclined to make the trip.  His main worry was being taken ill on the journey, or while we were in France, and ending up in a French hospital.

A few weeks ago, at the age of 83, he changed his mind and, at last, decided to come !!

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The ferry port at Dover at 9pm.
 
We rearranged the travelling to include an overnight stay in Calais, breaking the journey and making it easier for Dad.  Then when we thought about it properly, the prospect of getting three adults, a large poodle and all our luggage in one smallish car looked like a problem.  So we bought a top box.

Then when I contacted Eurotunnel to tell them our car would no longer be less than 1.85 metres in height, which meant we wouldn’t fit in the double-decker carriages and would need to be in with the coaches and caravans, they informed us they had no spaces left.

It was lucky I thought to make that phone call, or we would have turned up at the tunnel only to find we were unable to travel !!  So I booked us onto the ferry instead.

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Nick settling Lulu down for the ferry crossing.
 
This is the first time we have taken Lulu on the ferry.  I was very nervous about it and didn’t like the idea of leaving her in the car, by herself, on the car deck for more than 1½ hours.  The beauty of travelling through the tunnel is that you stay with the car, so you don’t leave the dog alone, and it only takes 35 minutes.

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Being the first on means you are also the first off the boat.
 
I know that other people take their dogs on the ferry regularly with no problem at all, as do our friends Chris and Gail with their English setter, Skye.  But this was the first time for Lulu and I was fearing the worst.  What if she became anxious and needed to go to the loo?  What if she started barking and caused a fuss, even setting off other car alarms?  My imagination was running riot but while I got my dad to the upper decks, Nick settled her down and she was, of course, absolutely fine.
A friend of mine once said that the only time something is difficult to do, is the first time.  It’s very true. 
 
It was worth ticking the “needing assistance” box on the booking form, and paying £10 extra for priority boarding.  This meant we were at the front of the line of cars to disembark and only a few steps away from the passenger lift – so we could get my dad up to the passenger decks without having to use the stairs.
 
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The very comfortable lounge on the beautifully appointed ferry.
 
The ferry seemed to be brand new.  Much better than the last P&O ferry we travelled on, which was probably more than five years ago.  On that occasion the boat was crowded and scruffy – I vowed I would never travel with P&O again. This time I was very impressed – everywhere was clean, sparkling and very comfortable.   We left the dock on time and arrived at the hotel at a sensible time to get a good night’s sleep.

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Setting off on the second leg of the journey.
 
We were up bright and early the following morning.  My dad wanted to make a detour on the way to the Loire, in order to visit the cemetery at La Neuville, near the town of Albert.
 
His uncle Sam, who he never knew, died in the battle for Albert in the Great War in 1916, as did his mother’s first husband.  She was only 24 and had three young children, my father’s step brother and sisters, when her husband died.  The two men were both buried at La Neuville.
 
Nick and I made the trip to the cemetery in 2006 and I wrote about it here.  It was a moving experience for us at the time and today was going to be a big day for my dad.
 
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The entrance to the little cemetery at La Neuville.
 
The cemetery was beautifully kept, just as the last time, and there had been a recent shower so the grass was fresh and green.

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The raindrops on the roses on the soldiers’ graves could have been teardrops.
 
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My dad pays his respect to his uncle, who he never knew, but has never forgotten.  He lost two uncles in the Great War.  The youngest was seventeen and he died just two weeks after leaving home to fight in France.
 
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My dad signed the visitors book and left a message, just as we had done six years before.
 
It was an emotional time for all of us and my dad was glad he went.  It was a big moment for him as none of his brothers and sisters have managed to make the trip.
 
After a solemn start to the day, we headed south towards Le Grand-Pressigny and we all cheered up as the clouds disappeared and the temperature began to climb.  A great holiday was in front of us !!

September 2, 2012

ONE WAY – BUT WHICH WAY?

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Descartes town centre is not a good place for huge lorries, but like most French towns you see them trying to negotiate the narrow streets.

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Last summer we watched with amazement and amusement as not one but two lorries tried to squeeze their way through town.  The first almost got completely stuck as it tried to make a very tight right turn.  The driver got out several times to check and just managed to get by parked cars and shop signs with only millimetres to spare.

The next one did a little better by approaching the turn from a slightly wider angle.

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Then they both had the same problem.  A few metres further on there was an obligatory right turn which was even tighter.

This is difficult to make in a modestly sized car so we knew that these lorries stood no chance.  Which is just as well as a bit further down there is a low bridge and another right turn which would be impossible – and the road leads to nowhere a lorry might want to be !!

Going backwards wasn’t an option so both of these lorries decided to go straight on – the wrong way down the one-way street !!

We wondered why these enormous lorries were trying to get through the centre of town in the first place.  There is a ring road of sorts around Descartes and they were apparently passing through and not stopping – maybe there were roadworks and a diversion through town.  Or maybe they were both using the same GPS device which was having some fun that day.

Since then the one-way direction has been reversed.  It has been reversed at least twice in the years we have been visiting the town !! 

Which all goes to show that you shouldn’t take the one-way street directions for granted in France – not only may it be the other way from the last time you were in town but not everybody goes the right way anyway !!