Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Biggest Cattle Market in France

When we were at the Charolais cattle market at St Christophe-en-Brionnais recently, we got chatting to a man who sells cattle feed. It transpired that the “biggest” cattle market in France was just down the road from us in Bourg-en-Bresse and not being able to resist a day out, we went on Tuesday morning to see yet more cows.

Farmers milling around amongst the cattle

Less than an hour from home, we were outside the huge building where all the action takes place.

Nosey cows
Inside the building there are hundreds of pens with each pen containing different types, sizes and ages of cattle. The farmers mill around and chat to one another, business is done on a human scale here. Unlike St-Christophe, the selling is still done on a one to one basis between the buyer and seller for the animals in each pen. To the untrained eye, it looks like a bunch of farmers chatting with each other, but on careful observation you can see some of them writing in little notebooks and then pieces of paper are furtively exchanged.

Isn't she a cutey?
It is a far cry from the cattle markets of my youth with the incoherent shouting of the auctioneer and the market “à la cadran” in St-Christophe which seems just as frenetic. This is really chilled out and apparently just as effective as all animals seem to be sold and all the farmers we saw seemed to be content. The cattle are not marched in and out of an auctioneer’s ring and they seem to be very content.

Depending on the age and type of animal, different times are allocated for the selling and where the bidding is not going on, visitors like us can have free access to the animals. It was lovely just walking around and chatting to the calves.

Sampling the merchandise
The only bad thing about the market is that it is a way out of town, that makes access and parking easy, but you can’t leave the market and wander around the town, soaking up the market day atmosphere and enjoy a leisurely lunch in a restaurant. There is an on-site restaurant but we decided to move on and visit the monastery at Brou. We found a superb restaurant just opposite the monastery and I’ll give you three guesses what we ordered - well what else can you eat on cattle market day?

Saturday, 11 February 2017

New restaurant at Ponte de Cotte

Massive rennovations
When we first arrived in France, there was a great simple restaurant at Pont de Cotte, less than 10 minutes drive from here on the way to Cluny. It was packed every lunchtime and when we ate there we could see why. The food was good, wholesome, home-cooked food for a reasonable price. Sadly the owner became ill and the restaurant shut. Someone bought it but they soon realised that they couldn’t fund the renovations and by the time another person with enough money to do the work arrived, we had been without our restaurant for a couple of years.

The new owners had very grand plans. They totally gutted the place including a disused barn next door and turned it into a party centre cum restaurant cum music venue cum wine seller cum cum cum cum. In my humble opinion, the scattergun approach to their business model left everyone confused as to what they actually were. Their menu was not very exciting (steak and chips and the like) and expensive enough for us to travel the extra 5 minutes to Cluny to get the same food for a fraction of the price. I asked a number of people who went there what they thought of it and every single one of them said the surroundings and the view over the river were lovely. From that I read that the food was not worth the visit. Secondly they had a sneaky way of selling wine. Being wine merchants, they advertised the price on the menu as the price from their shop with a corkage charge in small letters at the bottom of the menu. Their wine was not cheap to start with, and it gave some of our friends a nasty shock when the bill arrived. All in all, unsurprisingly, they shut after about a year.

Unfortunate name for a restaurant
The next set of owners opened a restaurant rather unfortunately named “The Number Two” (I kid you not) and despite the name (obviously the French didn’t understand this English idiom) they brought the restaurant back to the earlier levels of popularity by offering excellent value for money and great food. The place was always packed. Suddenly last year the restaurant closed. On asking around it appeared that they were only renting the place and the owners (the people who had invested in the renovations) had upped the rent so far that the new restaurant owners couldn’t afford to pay it any more –what did I say about poor business sense?

Looking good!
It must have been shut more than year when we noticed a sign – opening 20th January. It was advertised as a Franco-Italian restaurant and encouraged by the lack of the word pizzeria, we eagerly waited for the opening date.

On the 20th January we were there and we weren’t the only ones. I was rather disappointed to see that it was in fact a pizza pasta restaurant – don’t the French understand Italian cuisine? That said, the menu was interesting and they did have a menu de jour. As it was a Friday, the plat du jour was seafood, which left me out, so I decided to go for some ravioli and Cees chose the menu de jour. As the order was taken, we were heavily encouraged to take the most expensive wine, reliably informed that it was the landlord’s own wine – will he not stop meddling and promoting his flawed business model? We opted for a glass of something significantly cheaper.

Looks um well I won't say - it tasted fantastic though
Before my meal arrived the waitress returned to say that the ravioli hadn’t arrived yet and neither had the lasagne, so I had to choose something different. Not a good start, pre-made raviolis I can cope with (although if you are advertising yourself as an Italian restaurant I would expect that to be homemade) but lasagne bought in pre-prepared? Never mind, some spicy macaroni with lardons would do.

Cees’ starter arrived - a tomato and mushroom salad. I’m not sure what you would expect, but I was rather surprised to see that it was just a plate of sliced raw tomatoes and sliced raw mushrooms with a drizzling of balsamic vinegar. I was glad that I hadn’t ordered it.

The main courses arrived, mine looked very unappetizing but was in fact delicious, Cees’ looked interesting, but according to him was tasteless. When the plates were delivered to our table we were offered parmesan cheese, which we said we would like, but sadly that was either not easily available or forgotten and we waited about 15 minutes for it to arrive, I was already half way through my pasta by then having given up any hope of seeing it.

It looked a lot better in real life, but no taste
Paying was also extremely painful. We stood for about 20 minutes at the bar waiting to pay and that included the waitress taking orders from two tables and delivering useful things like a jug of water to another table. Every time she walked past us she said “j’arrive” but never did.

I will forgive a lot as it was their first day, but when I got home and found out that they have a restaurant in Tournus, the inefficiency of the staff is unforgiveable. Your first day is your showcase and on the basis of that experience we won’t be going back in a hurry.

There are a lot of cars in the car park when we pass at lunch times as it is conveniently located and reasonably priced for the tradesmen who need to have a lunch break in the area, but I can’t see many people like us going back again for a second, similar experience. I hope it works out for them, but I have my doubts.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Christmas Presents

Back to the UK for a late Christmas
This year Christmas was delayed by Cees’ slipped discs and so we didn’t manage to collect our Christmas presents until into January. A part of our trips to the UK is buying essential things like peppermint tea and marmite either not available or so expensive we would have to mortgage the house to get them here. I also bring back black pudding, sausages and an Indian takeaway. But this year I left without the sausages - why? I hear you ask - well my present to myself was a sausage stuffer. Why buy yourself Chanel no5 when you can have something practical?

My present to myself
This week pork was on offer in the supermarket and so it was now or never for the stuffer. I started looking up recipes and they were all a bit too exotic for my taste, what’s wrong with plain Walls’ sausages, nice and pink, not too meaty and bland – very bland.

In desperation I resorted to asking my friends who run a small holding in the Vendee and who run min-courses in self sufficiency skills. They sent me a recipe which also sounded rather exotic – do mace and nutmeg really go in sausages? I trust them, so I decided to try it.

At least they look like sausages
The ancient, noisy meat grinder was my first port of call, twice through the grinder and then I had to take a fist full of aspirin to get rid of the headache. No matter, I was on a mission. After the mixing I was advised to make a small patty, fry it up and taste it – not a bad idea and I was amazed it tasted like Walls’ sausages!

Now on to the sausage stuffer. After a bit of trial and error (read meat mix all over the place and Cees hiding in his room) I managed to get the stuffer to stuff the casings I had bought. And guess what, they actually looked like sausages, which did rather amaze me to be honest.

A real English breakfast
Everything needs to dry for a day or so and so the tasting of the Chazelle sausages couldn’t take place until this morning. What better breakfast can you imagine than bacon, eggs and English sausages? They were scrumptious!

The rest of the batch has gone into the freezer and I will never have to buy additive filled sausages on my trips to England again!

Sunday, 1 January 2017

New Year’s Service in a Romanesque Church

The welcoming interior of Taizé's Romanesque church
Every year the vast majority of the brothers and permanents go off to the European meeting over the NewYear (this year in Riga) and Taizé is practically empty. The last service in the big church this year was Christmas morning and then the remaining brothers retreated into the small Romanesque church in the village.

I have promised myself that I would actually go to the Sunday service between Christmas and New Year one year and this year that Sunday fell on the 1st of January - perfect timing.

The stained glass window above
the front door
I arrived well in time and the church, which is usually empty of all but a few wooden kneeling stools scattered around, had been decked out with benches for the older brothers who would be attending and for the older than average congregation that was expected. The church was heated with discrete electric heaters under the side benches which made it warm and cosy inside. It felt so much more welcoming than it does in the summer months when it is packed with the young visitors who make one feel uncomfortable about entering the building.

When I arrived there were “books” stacked at the entrance to the church and on one of the front benches, entitled “Cantique – Avent et nativité”. I have never seen these books before and they gave the full sung mass for the Christmas period and a number of songs I have never heard sung before. Interestingly these songs had verses, only 3 or 4, but still this is something that the modern song book shies away from.

By the time the bells started, there were 12 or 13 brothers and about 50 in the congregation. We all fitted easily into the church.

Sung mass for the Christmas period
I say there were 12 or 13 brothers as I am not entirely convinced that the priest was one of the brothers. The Eucharist is conducted by a priest of which there are a few within the community itself, but visiting priests also perform the task from time to time. Whilst I am sure that I have seen today’s chap before, his whole “way of doing things” didn’t seem to be the way it is normally done. He gave a short sermon, which is very unusual, whilst Brother Alois does that sometimes, I have never heard one on a Sunday morning. I also felt that the silence was shorter than normal, but maybe that was just me. But the real giveaway for me was that he waited at the door to shake the hands of the parting congregation, whilst the brothers snuck out through the side door.

Frère Roger with the original brothers
when this church was used every day
The whole atmosphere during the service was one of a real monastic order - or should I say what I think an old-fashioned monastic order would be about and I can well imagine that the brothers who partake of these days of intense quiet in this little ancient church must have a great sense of stillness that the large church, and certainly its thousand-fold congregations of the summer months, cannot possibly give them. It has been said that the original order sung all its masses from start to finish and that the Sunday mass is the only service that maintains a high level of singing in its content. This short week of the brothers returning to the Romanesque church also sees for them a return to these sung masses - I wonder how many of those present today were among the original brothers who started here so long ago?

After everyone had gone I returned to take pictures, the church still smelled of extinguished candles and even with its grim grey walls, it still felt very welcoming. For these few days a year, the church is returned to its original purpose, the holding of services and singing with acoustics that really zing - it is a pity it isn’t used this way more often.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

It's that time of year again!

Week one and we're off
I couldn’t go the whole of December and not blog about the Taizé nativity scene now could I? So here you have it, the 2016 assessment of the Christmas Crib. As every year the nativity scene is managed by the permanents, so it changes each year as a new set of ideas and ideologies inspire its creation.

The whole advent period, there have been real live sheep in attendance next to the church, so no matter what day or what time you visited, there was always something to chat to. I think their last presence must have been Christmas Eve as Christmas morning they had gone. The theme this year was not as outspoken as previous years but was obviously influenced by the terrible situation in Syria. There is some beautiful Arabic calligraphy on the walls of the church, well done to whoever made those.

Week four- everyone is there except one person
Week one showed a near empty stable, a couple of sheep and the ox and ass were there. No sign of the (un)happy couple and no star. By the second week, the shepherds had arrived and the stall was full of sheep and I mean full, there has been some serious sheep creation going on by the permanents to get the numbers up. The star had made its appearance, shining over the stall.

Stunning Arabic calligraphy
The unhappy couple make their entrance in week 3 – oh dear did no one think to change those grimaces? The sheep gone and the ox and ass back - it was starting to look like Christmas. Finally in week four, the whole crowd was there, shepherds, sheep, ox and ass, empty manger and Mary and Joseph.

Finally on Christmas morning I saw the baby Jesus, snuggled in his manger. What I hadn’t realised before is that this is a double of the ox and ass model with the baby Jesus painted into the manger itself. This brought me to thinking of an idea for next year – permanents are you listening to my pearls here? You could make slip over faces or complete doubles of the holy couple giving them a smile after the baby has been born! That would brighten the thing up a bit.

Christmas Day - the main man makes his appearance
All in all, congratulations to this year’s group, you have created a lively story with interest throughout the advent period, thank you for that, it makes my weekly visits up the hill well worth it. I have one little request though, before you put them all to bed for next year’s team to use, please do something on the Mary and Joseph grimace issue. It may be a bit miserable giving birth in a cold stall miles away from home, but Jesus is the son of God and I really think that they should be happy to be the first people to see him.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Fun on the bus?

Torch bearing stilt walkers heralded the big event
The annual Cluny winter spectacle was held last week, it was freezing cold and foggy and not an evening I wanted to go out in, but as last year had been so spectacular, we felt it was worth braving the cold.

After a misunderstanding on our part about the time of the show, we arrived in Cluny far too early, we quickly saw the light and sound “happening”, visited the Christmas market and treated ourselves to a currywurst and chips from one of the stalls in the market square, which very good indeed. Still with time to spare and with feet that were starting to feel the beginning effects of frostbite, we set off to our favourite bar and quickly warmed up on mulled wine. When we heard the band leading the torch lit procession in the main street, we headed back to the market place for the main show.

Tightrope walking on top of a bus
This year the same performing troupe was being used under a different name, they were called the “Funambus” - a witty French name to show that they were using a bus to do their show. The show itself started off by the bus being “dragged” into the arena by a girl with a long pigtail (a bit bizarre but hey, live and let live) the bus then went totally crazy and started careering around its designated area, not much more than a meter from the audience and then it headed straight for a group of spectators, fortunately the brakes worked and it stopped about 1 foot short of them. Call me a kill-joy, but I felt it was a little irresponsible even without the ice that was present on the ground. It didn’t put me in a mood to really enjoy what was going on after that.

Human figurehead
Fortunately the bus then stopped and the human part of the show started. All of the action took place on a tightrope on top of the bus, it was without a doubt technically very skilful and very well executed, but for more than half an hour with temperatures at about minus 3 it was too much for a lot of the audience and numbers dwindled. We stayed to the bitter end and the finale was quite good with the tightrope walkers walking up and down while the bus was moving and the female performer acting like a ship’s figurehead, hanging on to the front of the bus.

I think that it is great that such a small town as Cluny invests in putting on a show at this time of year. It gets us all out of our houses, enjoying ourselves on a miserable bitter evening and we will certainly be back next year.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The writing’s on the floor

No parking between the 16th and 31st
Traffic in Cormatin has always been a nightmare on the 1st and 16th of the month. Why? Well that is the day the "Great Parking Changeover" takes place. What’s that? I hear you ask. The art of compromise has determined that cars will be parked on one side of the main street for the first half of the month and then on the other side of the road for the second half of the month. This means that no one has to have a line of cars in front of their door on all the days, but it isn’t half confusing for the non-regular parkers in town and most particularly for the tourists, meaning that on 1st and 16th cars are parked on both sides of the road and traffic comes to a standstill.

Someone's been writing on the floor
A couple of weeks ago we were in town buying a newspaper and fresh baguette and we saw some mysterious writing on the tarmac. What could be happening? I duly took a photo for posterity and we went home to contemplate this bit of exciting news. Was Cormatin finally going to have a sensible parking policy?

A few years ago it was decided that something had to be done about this silly parking system. No, we couldn’t all park on just one side of the road (why? – no idea) there had to be a system of alternate-side parking, but not changing twice month, a permanent alternate-side parking.

One car not in an official space..
Much debate in the council meetings has been devoted to this subject, and there has been much argument in town amongst main street and non-main street residents and even though the plans were published two years ago, no one could agree and nothing has been done.

But those little markings on the tarmac, did they mean that something might actually happen?

The diggers moved in the following week and caused a lot of chaos in town, pavements have been torn up and curbs lowered. And then they left….. those daft parking signs were still in place.

Finally last week, the painters turned up and have marked parking spaces and the parking signs have been removed. We now have permanent parking spaces, but we have far fewer than before and nipping in for your newspaper or loaf of bread isn't as easy as it was.

Another car not in an official space.....
But the big question is, has life been improved for the parkers, the residents or the traffic flow - the jury is still out on that one, but I doubt it. Parkers have already taken an anarchistic approach and are ignoring the painted spaces and parking anywhere which is blocking up the road and lorries are still thundering through town at an inappropriate speed. But we will see the real effect next summer when the campervans and caravans start to clog up our main street again. Watch this space for an update!

Monday, 28 November 2016

Les Oiseaux Rares

For the third year running “Les Oiseaux Rares” the group of artists and artistic tradesmen and women from Cormatin, have opened their “nests” to the public and have been giving demos and exhibiting their wares. The last weekend in November has become a popular fixed date on the Cormatin calendar.

This year as always, the standard has been very high. Each artisan invites someone from outside their group to display their items as well and it makes touring the studios very interesting. I could have spent a fortune in each location.

As every year, a soup bowl was on sale which entitled you to free soup at each “nest”, the soup was less obviously available this year compared to other years and so we only partook of Pascale’s (the silk painter) soup, but we did go to see her both days. The bowls are made by Pierre (the town’s potter) and as usual, they are lovely items to have in your cupboard, I am only sorry we missed the first year, so our collections is not complete.

This year the church was opened up for the two days and the display of Patrick’s paintings, Silvyane’s wire sculpture (both from our very own Chazelle) and someone else’s pottery - sorry I didn’t find out whom. The beautiful items on display did not feel at all out of place in that building.

For those hungry punters, a mobile burger van had been invited to provide food for the two days. We decided to support this initiative and so we ordered and paid for our burgers and chips and then we were told to come back in 20 minutes!! Excuse me? A snack bar that takes 20 minutes to make two burgers and chips when there are no other customers? If we hadn’t already paid, we would have walked away. Fortunately we hadn’t finished our tour of the nests and so we went off to see some of the other artisans during our wait.

When we got back after 20 minutes we still had to hang around for another 10 minutes before our “food” was available. The chips were the most horrible things I have ever had the misfortune to be served, they were overcooked, brown and soggy, now being English I like my chips soggy, but floppy, squishy and falling apart go way beyond my taste. The burger was edible, I must admit I didn’t spot the bacon that was supposed to be in it, but Cees assured me that it was there. Summing up the burger wagon - a serious disappointment on an otherwise super, successful weekend.

I am happy to say that loads of people visited our little corner of Burgundy this weekend, despite the weather and the artisans involved did good trade and the village was once again put on the map. I can’t wait for next year, I think we’ll be eating at one of the restaurants in town.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Parcel Delivery

One big parcel
The other day we had popped out for a few minutes and when we came back we found a note from La Poste telling us that we have a parcel waiting to be delivered. I hadn’t ordered anything, had Cees? It is not our birthdays and still too early for Christmas – a bit of a mystery. Cees was convinced that I had ordered something and forgotten about it, I know I am a bit forgetful, but a parcel??

There is a brilliant system here by which you can go on-line and reschedule your delivery date (next day possible) or have it dropped off at a post office or other accredited shop - newsagent, garage you name it they are all on the list, if I did nothing the parcel would go to Cormatin post office and I could collect it any time after 11.00am the next day. As the next day was Saturday and the post office closes at 11.30, I decided to have the mystery parcel delivered here the next day.

Address "corrected" by Mme La Poste
On a Saturday Madame La Poste comes before 11.00m but at 11.00 there was still no parcel, so at 11.00 I went off to the post office to make sure it had not been delivered there – no, no parcel there either. I then set off on a tour of the villages around here which I know are on her round trying to find her, as we had to go out. After travelling more than 15km I decided to give up and head for home, the parcel would have to wait until after the weekend. What did I nearly bump into as I rounded the last corner on my way home, Madame La Poste’s little yellow van!

She greeted me with a cheery “what a coincidence I have a parcel for you”. I explained that I was driving around the countryside looking for her which caused some amusement. She opened the back of her van to show a huge parcel. “Funny thing though”, she continued, “they put the wrong address on it.”

As I have said before, addresses can be a little vague around in this neck of the woods, everyone who lives in Cormatin has the address Cormatin, no road name or number, just Cormatin, so the postman or woman has to know where everyone lives. We are supposed to have our name on the letterbox, but not everyone complies with that rule and even though we have now been given “proper” addresses with road names and numbers, no one uses them, so even with the modern world encroaching on our little bit of rurality, the postwoman still has to know her stuff.

An added facilitation to post delivery is of course the post code. In the UK and in The Netherlands this postcode will narrow the address down to about 5 houses. Here the postcode narrows it down to about 10 villages.

So with that little bit of background in mind, let’s get back to my parcel. This parcel was indeed addressed to Madame La Tuilerie de Chazelle with our postcode, but there was a road, house number and village name, which were not ours, in fact the house in question is about 10 km from La Tuilerie and not even on our postlady’s round. But at that moment, the mystery was solved.

With its rightful owner
Having a small business, I receive all sorts of offers from suppliers, from paperclips to cars and other useful or semi-useful items. Not so long ago I received an offer for coffee pods. Not using the things, I passed it on to some friends who do buy them. They actually read the offer properly and it wasn’t for cheap pods at all, it was a free coffee pod machine with your next order of pods! As their machine is a few years old and a new one costs in the region of 80 Euros, this was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

So they placed an order in the company name La Tuilerie de Chazelle, with their address but they just happen to have the same post code as us. As I mentioned earlier, Madame La Poste knows darn well where La Tuilerie de Chazelle is, so instead of delivering it to the “wrong” address in a village about 10 km away, she decided to deliver it to its rightful owner ME. What a woman, what a service and what proactivity.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Nuts, nuts and more nuts.

Walnuts to keep us going through the winter
The first full autumn we were in France, a friend and I spent an hour or so collecting walnuts. There had been high winds during the night and she had seen that masses of walnuts had been shaken out of the large tree in her village. Between the two of us we collected 25 kilos. It was only when my back started to tell me enough was enough, that I convinced her we should stop. Offering to drive her home with her share, she promptly told me that she didn’t want any! What was I going to do with that many walnuts??

Well times have changed and now every year I go scavenging. We have grown used to having walnuts available all year round – for free. We put walnuts in salad, I make walnut tart, we eat walnuts in all sorts of yummy dishes or we just nibble at walnuts straight from the shell.

Misty morning
I returned the following year to the 25 kilos tree only to find that it was gone, it had made way for a car park. But over the years our own trees have started to produce and I have found some great spots in nearby villages where I can get my annual autumnal fix.

This year it has been a different story, I have searched everywhere. The trees in our garden yielded a total of 6 nuts (we have 6 trees but all the nuts came from just one of them) and my usual trees only yielded a few more. So this year, instead of 25 kilos we got about 25 nuts.

Chainsaw art
Having said that, the hazelnut trees in the garden have yielded a bumper crop, instead of the usual zero nuts we have a box full of them, they are a bit on the small side, but yummy none the less. Definitely no where near 25 kilos, so this was going to be a lean nut year - that was until we visited some friends in the Vendée.

As we parked our car at their house, we immediately spotted a huge quantity of walnuts on the ground and we joked with them that we would pinch a few. Their response was, take as many as you like, we have enough. Looking in their store, we saw that they had already harvested about 25 kilos and so we set to.

I do like to be beside the seaside
A big thank you to our friends Steve and Jane, the owners of a glamping site (if you don’t know what that is check out this link) who allow people who stay with them to learn a few self-sufficiency skills. Not only did we have some lovely totally home grown meals (including one of Flopsy’s offspring reared in one of their rabbit runs) we managed a trip the seaside (something truly lacking in Burgundy) we saw some fantastic Romanesque churches (what is a trip out without one?) and we came home with enough walnuts to keep us going for another year.

Winter can now begin.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Trauma in the New Theatre in Chalon

The new theatre, in the dark depths of an industrial zone
After a summer chock-a-block full of concerts we were entering autumn, winter and spring with only two concerts in view. The first one was last week - a Fado singer in Chalon.

I am not a fan of Fado, but Cees is, so we bought tickets. As we were on our way through Chazelle, I had a sudden light bulb moment and remembered that the theatre, where all the concerts are normally given, was closing down for a two year renovation as of September – so where the heck was our concert going to be? An emergency three point turn followed by a racing start and screeching halt at La Tuilerie, to check out the theatre website. Of course both of us had switched off our computers (bloomin’ energy saving ideas) and so our departure was somewhat delayed. Good job I did think of it in time, as the new theatre is completely on the other side of town and not at all where I thought it was even when I had remembered it had moved – if you get my drift.

Inflated tarpaulin 
No problem, we are chronically early for everything (too long in The Netherlands) so we were on time for the concert. People were going into the auditorium when Cess handed over our electronic tickets that he had printed out, no cheery beep for us from Ticketman’s scanner we got a blurp – tickets not valid! What?? Ticketman then looked at the tickets and said “these are for an orchestra in May”. Oh no…. someone had brought the wrong tickets with him. There was no way we could get home in time to get the right tickets and still see the concert – “what a pity” I was secretly thinking. Ticketman suggested we talked to Ticketlady, maybe something could be done.

Rplacement ticket
Ticketlady smiled when we told her our story and said “Quelle catastrophe !” and then tick, tick, tick on the computer, we were found and real cardboard tickets were printed out for us. Phew – “this concert had better be worth the hassle” I was thinking by then.

The new temporary theatre is a wooden base structure with an enormous red tarpaulin over it which seems to be inflated by a massive ventilation system. Inside there are 18 rows of 32  seats seemingly sloping up to the sky. When we got to our seats in row O, I felt like we had climbed half way up Mount Everest, but we had an impressive, towering view of the stage. My only concern was the lack of emergency exits. There were two for roughly 600 theatre goers and both of those were meters below us at row A. With only two narrow, steep staircases to get everyone down and out, I wasn’t sure what would happen in an emergency.

Gisela dances an encore, high heels gone,
time to seriously get dancing
The concert however, was fantastic. The singer (Gisela Joao) was quite superb and the musicians were even better. Gisela didn’t only sing Fado but she sang jolly, dancey songs and she was so enthusiastic about the songs that she jumped and danced all over the stage like a little girl. She insisted on trying to translate the words of each song, but her vocabulary let her down somewhat, so the Portuguese speakers in the audience had to shout out the missing words every so often. All in all she charmed the whole audience and her rendition of La Vie en Rose brought the house down.

It was great evening out, it was certainly worth the price of the tickets, the hassle of finding the place and the trauma of having the wrong paperwork with us, but I’m still not too sure about the safety of the theatre itself. I am hoping our seats for the next concert are a bit nearer the exits.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Autumn Holiday

View from our accommodation in 's-Hertogenbosch
Just as we thought that summer would never end, we had a sudden heavy frost. Autumn has arrived in style this year.

Even though end of summer always surprises me, I think it is our strange gite season that has really confused my seasonal clock this year. We do not normally have many guests in September, we wind down gently from the busy summer months into the autumn and then we close for the winter. This year the guests have kept coming and coming. The later in the season it became, the more people we have had visiting us. Everything has been so much later this year, including the hot weather and this has all compounded to profoundly confuse me!

Typical "street" scene in Amsterdam
Being fully booked for September (the first time ever in the ten years we have been open) there was no holiday for us during that month, so a two week visit to The Netherlands was planned for October. Nice and relaxed this time, to enable us to visit everyone we wanted to and not have to rush around like lunatics from one place to another. But the gite bookings just kept coming, a couple of days were initially shaved off the end of our holiday and then some more days were shaved off the beginning and so our two weeks ended up as four days.

What is The Netherlands without a windmill.....
... or bicycles and canals?
The great thing about living here is that we can just pop to The Netherlands for four days without too much trouble and now that there are fewer tourists on the road, the journey is really quite relaxed.

So there we were last weekend, as our guests left the gite on Saturday morning, packed and ready to go. We were easily in The Netherlands in time for dinner.

That evening we went to see a light show in 's-Hertogenbosch, part of the year of Hieronymus Bosch. We missed the light show when we visited during the exhibition of his work back in May as one of the buildings it was to be projected on collapsed a few days before we arrived. We were very disappointed at the time and so it was a pleasant surprise to be able to actually see it this time and it and gave a very holidayish feel to start of our short break.

Amsterdam flower market in autumn.
The next day on to Amsterdam and a chance to see old favourites including the Van Gogh museum and just to wander around and enjoy the sites and sounds.

So that’s it for our autumn holiday, hopefully we will have better luck organising our spring holiday, but on the other hand if we fail to do that one, it means we have an excellent start to our renting season – difficult choice!

For information on holiday accommodation within one day's drive of The Netherlands click here.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Finally a reason to visit Montceau-les-Mines

The sign says it all - La Douce Heure Antillaise
I have been very rude about Montceau in a number of blogs, basically because it is a bit of a dump. No more or less so than any other industrial town which has lost its industry and is trying to redefine itself, but Montceau seems to think it is above the rest of them, which is why I think I have a bit of a downer on the place. We have visited the town a number of times now and to be honest I have found nothing of any interest there, apart from the occasional event in the theatre - we once saw a fantastic Chinese opera. Don’t get me wrong it is not a “bad” place, it is just not got anything good going for it – or so I thought.

I am going to back track now to May when we went to an Antillean mass in Cormatin church see here for the reason why - it is too long a story to tell again. The person behind the Antillean week is Christiane Mathos and we discovered (OK Cees discovered) that she runs a restaurant in Montceau, La Douce Heure Antillaise. We have been meaning to visit the restaurant a number of times and finally looked up the website. Lunch is by reservation only, so we tried to make a reservation. To cut a long story short, we finally went last Thursday.

A touch of the tropics in Montceau
The interior of the restaurant gave a clean, simple and “Caribbean” impression and the menu looked interesting. Starters were a problem for me as everything except the black pudding was fish, fortunately I love black pudding so the choice was simple. The main course proved to be more difficult as there were a number of things that sounded as though they were worth a try, I plumped for Chicken in coconut milk. Cees chose the Antillean starter mix and he went for the only item on the menu which had a chilli-heat warning - Civet de Chatou (pieuvre). Not knowing what either chatou or pieuvre were, I asked and the owner said it was like calamares – octopus! Yum. When Cees said he wanted it really hot the owner said ah ha you want “rougail” which was obviously the Antillean word for “super hot”. So the octopus was ordered and a new word had been learned.

The starters were a great success and then my chicken arrived and Cees’ king prawns??? I thought it was supposed to be octopus – ah well, lost in translation again. I half expected someone else in the restaurant to say “hey you have my food” but no one did, so Cees ate the king prawns which were very nice, but not very hot, fortunately the owner had given him a pot of scotch-bonnet sauce, very tasty and very hot and that livened it up.

Simple, colourful and waiting for the lunchtime guests
So our verdict, firstly take a dictionary with you and read the menu properly. Rougail is a type of spicy sauce and in this restaurant it is served with king prawns, Civet de Chatou is octopus in a spicy oniony sauce, which Cees will definitely be trying if we go again. It is still not clear to us how he ended up with the king prawns, but he did like them so it wasn’t the end of the world. My chicken was good enough to want to return and try out the other offerings on the menu. The meal was not cheap but also not super expensive, however price-wise it isn’t a place to eat at every day, which is just as well as the owner is the waitress and chef, so don’t expect to get out quickly, having said that, the music and general ambiance were chilled out enough to let you sit there and not worry about the passing time.

We’ll definitely be going back; my only worry is that the owner has just celebrated 30 years of running the restaurant and who knows how much longer she will keep going – why didn’t we find this place when we first came here? We could have had years of culinary enjoyment.
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