May 29, 2017

ST EMILION THE ROOFTOPS

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St Emilion is a very photogenic town and I took hundreds of pictures.  I’ll post a selection of them in themes and one of my favourite themes is rooftops.

I’m not going to give a history of the town or its famous wine.  There are plenty of websites that will do that, much better than I can.  Pictures are more my thing and it’s such a hilly town that there are plenty of places from where you can get a beautiful view of its rooftops.

Click on a picture if you would like to enlarge it and see more detail.  Can you spot our gite in one of them?  As a clue it makes a partial appearance in three of them.

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May 25, 2017

ST EMILION–THE TOWN. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE WINE

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St Emilion is without a doubt a very pretty town, sitting on top of a hill, surrounded by vineyards and grand houses, known as château, or wine houses.  It’s an impressive sight as you approach from any side.  The vineyards come right up to the walls of the town.

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When we arrived last Saturday, it was heaving with tourists.  We knew that there was free parking to be found on the outskirts of town but we didn’t know where it was so managed to find a space in one of the small car parks.  Once we had found the gite and met the owner, she took us in her car to show us where you can park for free.

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Its narrow streets are often very steep and all cobbled.  The buildings are tall and built of a lovely golden creamy stone.  It’s a photographer’s paradise, especially if, like me, you enjoy photographing buildings, especially doors, windows and roofs.  By Sunday evening most of the day tourists had gone home and on Monday morning the place was almost nobody around until luchtime.

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The first bane of a photographer’s life is, I’m sure, the motor car.  Luckily in St Emilion cars are not allowed to park on many of its streets because they are too narrow.  In most other places there is nearly always a car parked right in front of something really interesting that you want to take a picture of.

The second is a fairly modern annoyance, the wheelie bin.  Especially in towns like St Emilion where people are obliged to have one but have nowhere to put it except on the street by the front door.  Luckily, whilst you can’t usually move a car out of the way for taking a nice picture, you can move a wheelie bin.  Although it might get you some odd looks from passers by.

The third is people.  I went to Chenonceau with my friend in February, as it was one of the few châteaux open at that time of year and she was over for a holiday.  It was almost deserted and I could take lots of photos without another soul in the room.  Not only that, but the few people around were all dressed in very sombre clothes and covered up.  Seeing the place like that made me realise it was so much better than in the summer when people wear gaudy colours and can have, in some cases, way too much of themselves on show. 

If there had to be a fourth it would be sunlight, casting awkward shadows.  So I try my best to get a good car free, bin, people and shadow free shot of things but sometimes I get fed up waiting and just take the picture anyway.

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There seem to be more wine tasting shops than bars or cafés.  In the shops you would have a dégustation or taste a few sips of different wines, then buy bottles of the ones you preferred.  Some bars are more like this one, where you can buy and drink a glass of wine then buy a bottle if you like it.

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This bar is just a bar and café.  We stopped for a drink here one afternoon and a couple of days later went out of town and in search of the wine maker.  That’s another approach that we favour.

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We attempted this street just once.  It’s very pretty but incredibly steep.  Wearing perfectly normal shoes, my foot slipped on the cobbles several times on the way down and I could see how dangerous it could be.  Lethal in the rain I imagine.  In the picture you can see a man standing precariously on the side of the road to take a picture.

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This is what he is taking a picture of, a very pretty and romantic place to have your dinner.  As long as you don’t have one too many and fall down the hill afterwards.  I can imagine that if you fell just right you could actually roll all the way down to the bottom.

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This was more our kind of thing.  We stopped here for a glass of wine and did buy a bottle of it for later.  We got chatting to an American couple, a mother and daughter from North Carolina, who were in town for two nights.  They were on their way to London via Paris, having come via Seville and Barcelona.  The mother was going home after London and the daughter was staying on to walk the Cotswolds Way.  They both had more energy than us for travelling!

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Some of the streets are joined by steep flights of stone steps.  This is the one we use each day to get to where we have parked our car.

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This is the alternative.  It’s a shorter route but I only did it once.  Way too steep for me.  We quickly concluded that to enjoy what St Emilion has to offer you should be fairly well heeled, in all respects.

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See what I mean about the bins ?!

More soon!

May 22, 2017

ST EMILION–THE GITE.

One dreary afternoon in January we put the TV on and watched the first episode of James Martin’s newest series, called “James Martin’s French Adventure”.  We were in the UK, Nick was still recovering from his heart attack, we were both feeling slightly bruised and the weather was grim. 

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I like James Martin, he has less of the pretentiousness of some other TV chefs, possibly due to being a Yorkshire lad, doesn’t mince his words or suffer fools and yet is passionate and particular about his cooking.  He does it right but not in such a way as us ordinary mortals couldn’t have a bash at it ourselves.

The first episode was filmed in St Emilion, where he apparently started his cooking career when only a teenager and barely tall enough to reach the worktops.  We enjoyed the programme so much that we booked a gite in St Emilion for a week and here we are.  I also bought the book from the series, which is delightful not just for having all the recipes but lots of photos of his trip around France which are gorgeous.

An interesting fact is that James is now the very proud owner of Keith Floyd’s old Citroen 2CV.  You can see it on the front cover of the book, with original dents, and his joy at owning it was positively tangible.

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This is our gite.  It’s in the middle of the town, is a one up, one down little house without any outdoor space or parking but it serves our purpose very well.

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The view from the house is lovely.  St Emilion is without doubt a very pretty and fascinating old town.

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The gite is small but comfortable for two people.  It’s a beautifully renovated ancient town house and as far as we can tell it’s a kind of back-to-back with the house joining on behind being several floors up on the next street.  Maybe ours is built into the rock, it’s hard to tell.

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It is very tastefully decorated in a modern yet shabby chic kind of way.  As we get to know it we realise that it’s a little bit “style over substance” and as always we have found ourselves heading to the supermarket (in Libourne) for things we simply can’t manage without for a week.  Like a chopping board and a washing up bowl.  We also bought some small wine glasses.  There are plenty of wine glasses here but they are all huge.  I suspect that previous visitors have been more interested in eating out and tasting wine than cooking their dinner.  The oven looks like it has never been used.  There are no oven gloves.  We fancied boiled eggs for our dinner tonight but there are no egg cups.  Poached will have to do instead.

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The bedroom is light and airy and also very cool as the house only gets some sunshine from late afternoon.  The bed is very comfy.

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The bathroom is part of the bedroom, something we are used to from our own ensuite bathroom chez nous.  The difference here is that the loo does at least have a door on it, thank goodness.

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There is no soap dish, but plenty of hot water.

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The staircase is not for the faint hearted.  Very steep and narrow with no handrail.  We’re getting used to it.

More soon !!

May 18, 2017

GARDEN AND OUTDOOR WORK

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One of the things we really liked about this house when we were house hunting was the size of the garden.  Big enough to grow some flowers and a few vegetables but not too huge.  Some of the properties we looked at had vast amounts of land, including orchards and vegetable plots.  We felt we needed something that was easy enough to look after while we were in residence and not so big that it would be a nightmare to tame if we had been away for a few weeks.  In that sense we got the perfect house and we are very pleased with the garden.

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Our last major project in improving the house has been to repair this wall.  It’s on the end of what we call the “little house”, the spare outbuilding or barn that is potentially another dwelling, or “maison des amis”, that is ripe for renovation.  Virtually every house we looked at had one of these.  We don’t really need an extra house so we use the space as garden storage, but we have always intended to get the wall fixed and finally it came to the top of our list.

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Chipping off the old render revealed some interesting stonework underneath and this has been preserved in the finished wall.  We love it, Nick is very proud of it and it makes a huge difference to the ambience under the wooden shelter where we eat outdoors in the shade on warm, sunny days.  The new wall makes the area look cleaner, brighter and generally more pleasant to sit in.

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Nick is the gardener of the house.  I tend to mention plants that I like and he finds sensible alternatives that we can actually grow in our soil, which is mostly clay.  We were very impressed with a display of alliums with huge pom poms at a nearby château a few years ago and Nick found something similar that was more in proportion with our garden.

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They have been in flower for quite a long time and even when the flowers turn into seeds they still look attractive and interesting plants.

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We both love roses, especially fragrant ones.  This one we call Lulu’s rose.  It was a gift from our friends Tim and Gaynor last summer after she had died and we planted it close to her favourite spot for snoozing in the sunshine.

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This climbing rose, which has large, blousy blooms, has a very strong scent and we get a waft of it every time we go in and out of the house. 

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This climbing rose has grown from a cutting taken from one we grew over the front of the little cottage that we had in the village.

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Both of these have been grown from cuttings of roses in our old house in the UK, a lovely memento of the garden we had there.

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These two were purchases from French supermarkets.  Roses are very expensive in France and we tend to swoop if we come across any plants that are reasonably priced, plant them in the garden and hope for the best.  These have done very well for cheap roses.

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We call this one Barrie’s rose.  It was a gift to me from him and his partner Edith when I retired in 2013.  It’s a fabulous vivid pink colour and I treasure it.  We still miss Barrie – it’s now two years since he died and this rose reminds us what a good friend he was.  We have many happy memories of times spent with him in our little house in Le Grand-Pressigny, mostly of us all sitting on the terrace, a glass of wine in hand, discussing this and that as the sun went down, the swifts went in and the bat formation team came out.  Happy days.

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This rose is in the hedge along the boundary.  The hedge was a scruffy ramshackle collection of overcrowded shrubs, trees and bushes when we moved in and we have gradually thinned it out and allowed some of the better plants to thrive.  This has done really well after being allowed to grow and breathe.

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Of course we have other plants than just roses.  The fabulous poppies came from Nicole and the clematis was also there when we moved in, choked by surrounding ivy and other unattractive bushes that almost covered the front of the house.  The pelargonium is a new purchase.  We lost all our geraniums over the winter – the prolonged cold spell did for all of them so we’re having to start again this year.

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There are a few fruit trees in the garden.  The cherry tree has a good crop of cherries this year and we’re hoping to get to them before the birds do this time.  We planted a gooseberry bush last year and it’s produced a few fruit which are almost ready for picking.  We have grown broad beans for the second year and they are also almost ready – just as we finish the last year’s beans from the freezer which have kept us going over the winter.

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The weather forecast for this week spurred us on to get the garden into shape for the summer.  Two warm, dry, sunny days were predicted, with little wind.  It has been a very windy year so far but for two days we could get on with the work, mowing, hedge trimming, potting up the geraniums and tidying with only a light breeze to cool us down. 

Then the forecast changed.  By Wednesday lunchtime we were supposed to be having strong gusts of wind, heavy showers and even hail.  So we were up early to get the job finished before the storm hit.  Daisy watched from her usual vantage point in the roof of the shelter as we toiled away.  As we drove to the tip with the trailer full of rubbish the temperature hit 29°C.

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Gradually the blue skies disappeared and heavy clouds formed, coming in from the west.  The temperature dropped by 10° and a strong wind started to blow.  Luckily the storm arrived later than expected and I had time to fetch my washing in – dried by the sun and ironed by the wind – before the first raindrops fell.

It has now been raining, on and off, for twenty four hours.  The rain is much needed for our garden – which is now ready to go for the summer.  When the rain stops !!