14 March 2019

LOOKING FORWARD BY LOOKING BACK - LE PETIT TRAIN

 
Le Petit Train is a French phenomenon that we are particularly fond of.  It's a small train - actually a car dressed up as a train - that pulls small open carriages through the streets of many towns in France to take tourists on sight seeing tours of the main "attractions".  We love it.
 
 
On a beautiful day in late September last year we decided to do the tourist thing and visit a town we had not been to for several years, Saumur.  There we noticed that the petit train was still running until the end of the month so we decided to take a ride.  As always it was magical.
 
 
It crossed the bridge over the Loire and took us for a trip on the other side from the town.
 
 
From the train we had a magnificent view of the château.
 

 
Back across the bridge we went, through some of the little streets lined with cafés still busy for the time of year thanks to the good weather.  Then the train chugged its way up the hill and stopped right outside the château for people to get off and have a good look round if they wanted.  They would then be picked up by the train on its next tour to be taken back to town.  All very civilised.
 
 
We have ridden on Le Petit Train all over France.  It's a great way to see the main tourist spots of any town and learn a lot about it from the running commentary that comes over the speaker system, usually in French followed by English.  In some towns the trains squeeze through impossibly narrow streets, passing close enough to tables outside the little cafés and restaurants to read the menu and choose somewhere for lunch.  It was on Le Petit Train in Tours that we discovered Rue Colbert, a street with dozens of restaurants and many different cuisines. 
 

 
Having completed our train tour of the town, we meandered back to the car, enjoying some of the lovely architecture.  Saumur is a beautiful town and deserves a blog post or two of its own.  Suffice it to say that we have been there several times over the years, doing the tourist thing, taking in a nice lunch and there is still much to explore.  On this day we were blessed with not only gorgeous weather but also no crowds.  It was late enough in the season for most tourists to have gone home but still early enough for everything to still be open.
 
 
 
Back home it was still light and warm enough to sit outside for an apéro before dinner.
 
 
 
Once autumn comes when the prospect of packing up the house for winter is imminent, we are loathe to give up our outdoor time.  During the summer we tend to take it for granted, knowing that if we eat indoors today there is always tomorrow when we can sit out for dinner.  When the shadows become longer in the early evenings we make the most of every opportunity to enjoy our outdoor space.  There will not be much of that to be had once we are back in Derbyshire for the winter.
 
 
The more eagle eyed of you might notice that although there are only two of us, there are usually three chairs at the table.  This is because one of them is invariably occupied from the moment it hits the ground!
 
So, with our country sinking into even deeper and more ludicrous chaos over Brexit, we are now focussed on the coming week when we will be carefully gathering together and packing the things we will be taking back to France very soon.  It can't come soon enough.

6 March 2019

LOOKING FORWARD BY LOOKING BACK - EVENTS

 
Another of the things that we love so much about living in our part of France is the number of events that take place within a short distance, all kinds of things, street music, night markets, craft fairs, flea markets, concerts, music festivals and much, much more.  Very often they are completely free to attend, sometimes there is a small charge for entry.
 
 
Last July we went to a concert in the barn of the chateau at Le Chatelier. 
 
 
Le Chatelier is a tiny hamlet just a few km from where we now live and our friend Ken wrote about it in his blog here.  This view of it is on our regular supermarket run.  We pass it every time we go to Descartes and I never tire of it.  As it changes with the seasons I often stop and take a picture from this spot.  The chateau hosts several concerts each year but this was the first one for us and the tickets cost just a few euros each.
 
 
It's a lovely setting for any kind of event.
 
 
This particular concert was a swing band performing in the barn.  It had been a hot day and the barn doors were left open so that some cooler air could circulate.  I remember reading somewhere that each human being produces the same amount of heat as a 1kw heater, something we could have done without on a warm evening.  Nevertheless, it did not detract from our enjoyment.
The band were excellent although throughout the whole performance a bat was flying around over our heads.
 
 
It was a bit distracting as it swooped and dived, occasionally getting rather too close to the head of someone in the audience.  Nobody seemed to mind so maybe it was a regular addition to the entertainment and regular concert goers were used to its presence.  I took several pictures as it flew past but it was obviously too fast for my camera to pick it up.
 
 
 
We emerged into the cooler air at about 10pm to be served drinks and a snack at no extra charge - included in the price.  So different to concerts in the UK where the ticket price would have been at least treble the amount we paid, there would have been a charge for the car park and any refreshments would have been extortionately priced.
 
 
It had been a perfect evening, a meal in the village with friends beforehand, a great concert in a beautiful setting and a short drive home.  In case you're wondering, the first picture is of a plant outside the bar where we ate.  One of our friends used it as a perch to put his hat and someone else added the sunglasses for effect!
 
Happy days and something we very much look forward to repeating.

2 March 2019

LOOKING FORWARD BY LOOKING BACK - PLACES


Looking back over last year's pictures it is clear that we did a lot of sight seeing, visiting old haunts that we have enjoyed before, often many times.  Villandry is one of those.


It has magnificent gardens, laid out in regular geometric patterns using hedges and vegetables as well as flowers.  We were there last May, with my brother, who had stayed on for a few days after our other visitors (Dad and Sybil) had gone back to the UK.

 
At the end of each path there was a notice saying how the garden was laid out and what plants were used.  The planting involves a huge amount of very skilled work by the gardeners and is a joy to behold.

 
We had taken Hugo with us.  He was still less than a year old at the time, full of beans and character.  You can tell he's very young in this picture by the length of the ears.  As standard poodles grow, each time they are trimmed the groomer lets the hair on the ears stay long so that in an adult dog they look in better proportion than the "baby ears".  He had a great time, being fussed and petted by other visitors.  Standard poodles are rarely seen in France.  We have only ever seen three that were not our own and one of them was English.  The owner of the hotel in Le Grand-Pressigny has a white standard poodle the same age as Hugo and he went all the way to Switzerland to get her.  Everywhere we went people would turn and stare, sometimes taking pictures on their phones, point and whisper "caniche royale, caniche royale".  We have had the same experience with our previous poodles, Dusty and Lulu, both also celebrities in their own right.
 
 
You can't tell from these carefully chosen pictures, but the place was heaving with visitors.  It was a weekend and a very hot day.  We didn't go inside the house this time because dogs are not allowed inside but also because it was so busy.  We managed to explore the grounds by shade hopping (mostly for Hugo's sake as his coat was getting a bit long and ready for its trim).  After about an hour of dodging people we had had enough and headed back home, but very happy.
 
 
 
We first visited Villandry in the 1990's on one of our Loire Valley holidays.  The inside of the house was barely furnished at all then but on subsequent visits we have found that furniture and other items have been added so although famous mainly for its gardens it's well worth a look at the interior too.  With only three weeks to go until we return to France we're very much looking forward to some warm weather and having such beautiful places on our doorstep.  We don't necessarily have to visit them every year, just knowing that we could if we wanted to is enough.

 
You can see how scruffy Hugo looks in this picture.  He instantly took to life in France - and being a celebrity.  Dog walking is very different in our corner of France compared to at home, not least because of the difference between summer and winter walking.  Here in the UK the paths that we use regularly are not nice by this time of year, muddy and dirty due to too many other dog walkers leaving litter and not picking up after their dogs.  Hugo has had a nasty infection, a parasitic condition caused by drinking dirty puddle water probably infected by other dogs.  Apparently the mild winter has not eradicated the parasites and the illness is flourishing amongst dogs that are walked on well used paths. 
 
We are very much looking forward to our usual walks in France, fine weather, paths and tracks dry under foot and hardly any other dogs around.  We rarely meet other dog walkers when we're out and about in France.
However, friends have recently had a very nasty experience when walking their dog.  They were on a walk between Ferrière-Larcon and Paulmy and their dog got caught in an animal trap which had presumably been put there by poachers.  The dog was terrified and howling with pain.  They were able to free her with no permanent harm done but they were all very upset by it.  The trap had been left along what was obviously a regular run for deer or maybe hare and it makes me shudder to think that there are people who would still do that in this day and age - create an inhumane trap that will cause horrendous pain and terror to an animal who will then either starve or be killed.  I don't know what the law is in France regarding traps.  Someone told me a couple of years ago that you can still buy them legally in hardware stores but I really can't imagine that even in rural France this kind of home made trap is legal. 
The incident has reminded us to be more vigilant if we allow Hugo to wander off by himself, even on our regular walks.