January 29, 2014

A GREAT DAY OUT

We went to the France Show at Earl’s Court in London ten days ago, just for the fun of it and to see if we might pick up any tips for our intended relocation. 

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We were up well before dawn, deposited Lulu with her granddad for the day and got the train to St Pancras.  There was a very nervous half hour after the train manager announced that due to falling electric cables the train MIGHT be terminating at Luton.  Typical!  I hadn’t been on a train for donkey’s years, hadn’t been to London for two years and I might have to make half the journey by “replacement coach”. 

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Luckily the problem was fixed in the nick of time and we arrived at St. Pancras only a few minutes late.  The first thing we did was to book a table for dinner at Searcys restaurant so we could eat before getting the train back home.

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The show was fun but not that useful to us.  It would have been more useful for someone who had no previous experience of buying a house in France but even so we made a few interesting contacts and gleaned a few bits of good advice.

getting started5 There were French estate agents, notaires, ferry companies, holiday companies, wine sellers, sausage, cheese and basket sellers, language holiday companies, seminars about house buying, French lifestyle, French cuisine and all to a background of “Allo allo” accordion music.  Most enjoyable but by 11.30 we had seen all we wanted to see and headed into town for a spot of lunch.

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We adopted our usual “twelve o’clock rule” and dived into the first likely looking place for lunch.  This was a place called “Sophie’s” near Covent Garden and the two photos illustrate the rule perfectly.  At twelve o’clock the place was almost empty and we had a choice of tables.  By the time our food arrived people were having to wait at the bar for a place.  I had steak and chips, Nick had a burger.  All quite delicious and very reasonably priced.

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With the whole afternoon still ahead of us we visited the National Gallery, something I hadn’t done for probably thirty years.  I had taken a couple of photos before it occurred to me that I probably shouldn’t.  Sure enough, ten minutes later an announcement came that photography wasn’t permitted.  A group of enthusiastic Orientals had arrived!

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It was a rather cold, grey day but we enjoyed a walk through the park and an ogle at the Palace before diving into Fortnum and Mason’s on impulse for a cup of tea.

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This was one of those impulses that you immediately regret but once committed we decided to stick with it.  Thirteen quid for two pots of tea, even if served in silver teapots is, frankly, ludicrous.  That didn’t include any cake or even a solitary biscuit. 

The place was full of tourists, mostly English and Americans, including a skwarking child who was not quite far enough away for it to be ignorable.  Anyway, having done it once, I won’t feel I have to do it again.

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By now it was dark so we hopped on the tube to Tower Bridge and did a bit of touristy stuff.  All quite magical and I was enthralled.  That’s when I realised that I’m very much an unsophisticated country girl and a trip to our capital city is a very special treat.

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Booking the table for dinner at the station turned out to be a brilliant idea.  We got the tube back to St Pancras and arrived in perfect time to enjoy a really nice meal in a leisurely fashion and then get on our train home.  Much, much better than eating at a crowded, over-priced place in town, stressing about getting on the tube back to the station in time.  The food was excellent for a sensible price too.  Your station buffet with it’s tired sausage rolls and curled up sandwiches, not to mention the grubby burger bar, is thankfully a thing of the past!

The journey home was long but not without entertainment.  A bunch of jolly football supporters got on at Leicester and the lights went out a few times but we arrived back at the station on time.  We collected Lulu from granddad’s and drove the last three miles home to scramble into bed at around our usual bedtime.  A great day out!

January 19, 2014

SO FAR, SO GOOD.

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The château looking at its best in the late December sunshine.

With only just over a week to go before the end of January, I am delighted and relieved to report that so far this winter we have had no snow here in Derbyshire.
By this time last year we had been literally knee deep in the stuff several times. It was the snow last winter, or rather having to drag myself to work in it, that added to my conviction that it was time for me to retire.

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Lulu enjoys a run in the field behind the château in late December.

A sprinkling or two of snow is forecast for this week, but nothing much. A few centimetres will not cause too much havoc, it takes at least six inches to do that. This time it will not bother me as I don't have to contemplate clearing the drive with the snow shovel and fighting my way to work in it, driving the car in a state of total panic.  Nick now works from home most of the time anyway so snow will not be a problem for him either.

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The wooden walkway around the back of the château is now completed.

We do however have to go to a funeral. My aunt died on 5th January and her funeral is on Thursday. She was my mother's sister and they were very close. I was very fond of her. She spent the last few years of her life in the kind of physical condition that most of us would prefer not to endure, completely bedridden, totally unable to do anything for herself, her mind still active and hoping that one day a miracle would happen and she would be able to walk or at least feed herself.  My uncle was her principal carer until she needed twenty four hour care and had to go into a nursing home, which they had to pay for by selling their own home.

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The château was open for visitors as usual during our stay.

It takes a funeral to polarise thoughts sometimes and now more than ever we both feel it's time to make a move, to get on with the next chapter of our lives while we still have the energy. We have reached the it's now or never stage and finally we have arrived at the crossroads we have been heading towards for a few years. We have decided to pack up and move to France.

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The village square in very early January.  Christmas lights still adorn the recently re-opened hotel.

We had really come to this conclusion before we arrived in France on Boxing Day but as each day passed and we talked about it more and more we felt certain it was what we want to do.

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Sunset over the rooftops seen from our little garden.

Realistically we are not packing up entirely but downsizing in the UK and upsizing in France. Selling our house in Derbyshire will be a huge wrench as it's a nice house in a nice area and we love it. But we'll be swapping it for something small and easy to maintain, keeping a foothold in the UK, so that we can come back and visit our families and, most importantly, be there for my dad when he needs us.

Finding a larger house in France will be quite an adventure and we're looking forward to it. We'll be aiming for somewhere where we can spread out and relax for a few years. Or maybe longer, who knows. We know that if we don't do it we'll always wonder how different life could have been if we had and be full of regrets.

So far so good.

January 2, 2014

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

Happy New Year !!  I know I’m a day or so late and I have no excuses. 

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Not only that, but I am also about to show you pictures of Christmas decorations.

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However, these are not just any old Christmas decorations.  They’re at the Château de Chenonceau.  Our friends Jim and Pauline posted about them a few days ago and I felt compelled to go and have a look.  They’re on display until this coming weekend.  I suppose like everywhere else they’re taken down on twelfth night.

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I first visited the Loire in 1994, twenty years ago.  In all that time I have only been to Chenonceau twice before.  Three visits in twenty years isn’t a lot for somewhere so magical.

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On both of my previous visits I was completely blown away by the flower displays in all the rooms, so I knew the Christmas decorations would be amazing.  I can definitely say it was worth making the journey.

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It was also very good value for money.  At 11€ each to see the house and gardens it was a similar price as the fee to look round most châteaux, many of which have nowhere near as much to see.

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Every room was filled with the glorious perfume of fir trees and lilies.  The flower arrangements were huge, almost architectural, yet imaginative and tasteful in the extreme.

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We were lucky with the timing of our visit too.  It was not exactly deserted but relatively quiet when we arrived just about 1.15pm.  I imagine a lot of people were still having lunch ~ it was a Saturday.  On both my previous visits it was midsummer and heaving with visitors.

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We were able to wander round in relative comfort and with a little patience could get all the photos we wanted.  Just as we completed our tour of the château, what seemed like hundreds of visitors swarmed down the drive towards the house.  Several coachloads of oriental people had just arrived.

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While they piled into the house we wandered around the garden, having it almost (not quite) to ourselves.

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Chenonceau is one of those places where you never see everything first time round.  You would have to be there for hours to notice every detail, apart from the fact that if it’s busy you physically can’t get to see it anyway.  It’s stuffed full of little treasures such as this jelly mould, which was in one of my favourite rooms, the kitchen.

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In a lot of rooms there were real fires burning in the grate.  I can’t imagine ever seeing such a thing in say Chatsworth, or a National Trust property.  It must break many health and safety rules at once, but what a lovely touch it was on a cold winter’s day.

So, as I said, no excuses.  But plenty of reasons.  I’ve been busy enjoying our current stay in France!  I hope 2014 brings you lots of good times and good things.  Your visits to the blog and comments are very much appreciated.