8 May 2019

WINE TASTING AND BRIC A BRAC


Last month, while busy with the alterations to the bedrooms, we took the weekends off.  There are plenty of things going on at the weekends to keep us entertained.  One of which, at this time of year, is that many of the region's wine makers have their "portes ouvertes", open days which include wine tastings and which are usually free.

 
This one was at Domaine de la Bonnelière which is in a village called Varrains near Saumur.  They make a wine called Saumur-Champigny and we first tasted it at the wine fair in Le Petit-Pressigny last summer.  That in itself was a day to remember and we like the wine so much that we went in search of the winery to buy some more.  Sadly I hear rumour that the wine fair is not being held this year, I hope that it's not true.
 
 
This events are one of the things I absolutely love most about France.  You pay nothing for admission or parking, you get to taste lovely wines for free and get to buy them at discount prices.  In the UK we would have parted with twenty quid for parking and admission before we got to see or buy anything. 
Sometimes there is a small charge for a tasting glass which you can either keep or return for a refund on leaving.  In this case they were free and you just handed them in as you left.  No doubt a few did not make it back to the owners but all the people that left at the same time as us left them on the welcome desk on their way out. 
 
 
We took our friend Lisa with us.  It was a beautiful cool but sunny day and the event was very much a family affair with entertainment for children as well as adults.  There were food stalls where you could buy local delicacies or a snack and the caves were open to visit freely.
 

 
It was a really relaxed, non stuffy, unpretentious event.  There were certainly plenty of friendly staff on hand to give advice, provide tastings of anything you liked and sell the wine.  Whilst there were obviously plenty of serious, well heeled customers around, the rest of us, the enthusiasts, were made very welcome. 
 

 
Saumur-Champigny is a wine that we had forgotten about until last summer.  We used to drink it often when we spent holidays in and around Chinon but in recent years we have bought more wine from the vineyards that are more east and north of us.  Now that we have rediscovered it, it has become one of our favourites again and this winemaker makes some really delicious wines.  You can read all about them here.
 

 
The next day, a Sunday, we went to a nearby Brocante.  I'm never sure what the difference is between a Brocante and a Vide-Grenier but whichever this was, at Azay-le-Ferron, it was, as always, a good one.  It's the right kind of size, not too huge but big enough to make it worth going, and the streets are closed to traffic so that there's no dodging of cars between the stalls.
There was the usual selection of toys, clothes and household stuff, much of which you can't imagine why anyone would have bought it in the first place.  I did find some bargains though - a glass cake stand, some small dessert dishes and a ceramic soufflé dish which is an ideal size to use as an outdoor water bowl for Hugo.  Total spent so far - five euros.
 
 
I also bought this three strand necklace.  It's made of beautiful glass beads and is perfect for taking apart to remodel into something different.  Just as I took its picture, Daisy jumped up onto the worktop to remind me that it was Dreamy Time.  To us it's Apéro Time when we sit outdoors in the evening sunshine to enjoy a drink.  Hugo and Daisy join us for a game of ball (him) and a few Dreamies from the tin (her).  It's a routine that we are only able to ignore at our peril!

5 May 2019

A NEW HOT WATER TANK

 
When we bought the house there was an electric hot water heater and tank already installed, in a cupboard upstairs.  It worked but there were several annoying things about it.
 
Firstly, it appeared not to have a thermostat.  Numerous friends have said "of course, it MUST have a thermostat" and crawled all around underneath it to try to find one.  There was no thermostat to be found.  We considered installing a timer switch but this was a very complicated business, so we continued to manage our hot water supply in exactly the same way as the previous owners of the house, by switching the thing on at the fuse board for an hour or so every morning, which would provide enough hot water for our needs all day.  If we forgot to switch it on the water was barely warm and if we forgot to switch it off it was almost boiling, dangerously so, with a risk of scalding, suggesting that the tank had been set to near maximum temperature when it was installed.
 
Secondly, the drain that pipes away the small amounts of expansion water that are produced continually was not connected and instead there was a bucket underneath the tank to collect the drips and that we had to remember to empty regularly.  The absence of a pipe also meant that emptying the tank would be a tricky job.
 

 
Arriving in late March, our tulips were in full bloom, much earlier than they would have been in the UK, which is a total joy as they are my favourite flower.
 

 
And of course you may well wonder why I have jumped from hot water tank to tulips but that's because however busy we were, we took time out to admire the tulips.  There was a lot to do but life is too short to let a whole year's tulips pass us by.
 

 
Changing the hot water tank is a big job and we decided to do it as part of the improvements upstairs.  Apart from anything else, working upstairs would be very uncomfortable later in the year due to the heat so early spring was definitely the time to get on with it.  However, we still enjoyed eating outdoors (English sausages and baked beans, French eggs and oven chips on this occasion) and spending some quality time with Hugo.  All work and no play make Jack a dull boy and all that.
 

 
Thirdly, we guessed that the tank was probably getting on for twenty years old and therefore full of limescale, so that was another good reason for changing it - a new one would be more controllable and more efficient.  But, more than anything, I was heartily sick of faffing about with the switch on the fuse board every single day!
 
Because of the lack of drain it took one and a half hours to empty it, bucket by bucket.  Getting it out and down the stairs was quite a feat and not without causing some damage along the way - scratches on the wood Nick has so carefully fitted to box in the gap around the stairs.  But never mind, that can be fixed (grrrr…..) and at last the damn thing was outside.
 
Close inspection revealed that there WAS a thermostat, it WAS set to almost maximum AND was mounted in such a way that it was indeed totally impossible to find it, never mind adjust it.  Also, the tank rattled as it rolled on the floor, confirming that it probably had a thick coating of limescale inside.
 

 
And so here is our brand new, pristine, gloriously efficient hot water tank.
 
We can switch it on when we arrive and switch it off when we leave, weeks or months later, enjoying constant hot water as we need it in between.  Nick has rearranged the plumbing inside the cupboard that it lives in to make better use of the space, has connected up the drain so that we don't have to worry about a bucket overflowing and we can drain it easily when we like.
 
The only down side is that the new tank is a bit taller than the old one so that the cupboard will have to be rebuilt but that's just another job......and we will have more useful storage inside the cupboard than before.  A win, win situation.
 
Mind you, Daisy will not be pleased.  She was in the habit of jumping up onto the top of the cupboard to one of her secret hiding/sleeping places but now she won't be able to get up there.  Sorry Daisy - progress always comes at a cost.
 

 
The tulips are all finished by now, which is more than I can say for the work.  As always, it has taken much longer than we thought.  The finishing off has required numerous trips back to the Brico shop as snags and complications cropped up and in fact is not altogether done yet.  But for lovely, constant, effortless hot water - it will have been worth the effort!