Sunday, 22 February 2015

Jewels of Dijon

Newly rennovated ex-leper colony, Meursault
An added bonus of having family and friends to stay is that we have an incentive to get out and about and visit things even if the weather is not perfect. We love Dijon and have been many times, but it has been about a year since our last visit, so when Cees’ son came to stay for the weekend, it was an ideal opportunity to get in the car and enjoy what Dijon has to offer.

Although it was a miserable day, the drive through the vineyards and small (and not so small) wine villages is always a pleasure. The stunningly renovated leper colony in Meursault is worth a detour, they have done such a beautiful job and brought a beautiful old building complex back to life – very appropriate.

Musée de Beaux Arts, Dijon
Then on to Dijon itself. The advantage of a Sunday visit is that parking in town is free and abundant, even if the one-way system can lead to some heated discussions as to which way to go. All in all we managed a parking space near to the Dukes’ Palace which was our main destination.

Pompon has his own room
The palace has been turned into the Museum of Fine Arts and whilst the art alone is worth the visit, the tombs of Philippe le Hardi and Jean sans Peur, make it an absolute must-see. And of course, a visit to Dijon would not be complete without spending a long moment enjoying the works of Pompon. The stylised lines of his animals are truly amazing and as a native of this region, he has a room all to himself in the museum.

After that we set off for the Museum of Archaeology which is housed in an old abbey (Saint-Bénigne) and yes you guessed it, it is a Romanesque one. The museum is quite interesting, but we were there for the architecture of the building itself and the displays on the first floor of capitals from various monasteries and churches in the area.
Ex-Abbey Saint-Bénigne
The last time we visited, there was a conference going on in that room so we couldn’t see it, but this time we could go in and it was well worth the return visit.

All of that combined with a delicious Dijonais lunch and a wander around the streets looking at the lovely half-timbered houses and coloured tile roofs, we had a great day out.

For holiday accommodation within a day-trip distance of Dijon click here.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Great food comes to town.

New organic market
I mentioned before our new deli which does really nice pâtés and cold meats, not to mention lots of other interesting things, but this last week has brought more excitement to our little community. The defunct Musée du Vélo, turned Musée de Poilu, then a very expensive knife maker, has reincarnated as an organic food market!

This came as a bit of a surprise. We had heard rumours that something was a foot, but we had no idea what was going to happen. Last week they opened for trade. A weekly organic indoor market and an outlet for organic bread at the weekend as well.

Delicious bread
The bread on offer is from “Le Pain d’Antonin" who is very well known around here, he sells on various markets and has a good strong following and if the queue by his stall for Friday’s opening is anything to go by, this latest venture will be a big success. The other stalls were for terrines from Donzy-le-National, a vegetable grower obviously selling his own in seasonal products, a wine grower from Cruzille who’s white wine is truly magnificent at any price even though the red I thought was rather overpriced for the quality, when we visited his establishment a couple of years ago and there was also someone selling lentil terrines/patés which looked interesting.

Interesting pâtés
So get yourselves down there on Fridays between 17.00 and 19.00 and for bread all day on Saturdays as well.

But that is not all the excitement - we knew that the butcher was going to re-open in Cormatin and low and behold a sign went up this last week as well. We’ll be there on the 12th to see what he has on offer.
The butcher announces his opening

So now all we need is a date for the opening of the new grocer’s in town and we will have a full house!

Cormatin in certainly starting to turn into something of an epicurean centre - long may it last.

For holiday accommodation near all of these delicious food outlets click here.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Death of the Auvergne Tower

Much loved Tour d'Auvergne
Whenever we were in the Brionnais, we had lunch at La Tour d’Auvergne, a fantastic restaurant in St Christophe en Brionnais. This is serious cattle country, virtually all the customers are cattle farmers and the steak was sublime. About a year ago (or maybe a little longer I can’t remember) we had to weave our way through a camera crew videoing the restaurant as we were ushered to a table. The waitresses were dressed in smart new aprons especially for the event. We asked one of them to let us have a closer look at what was written on the apron, she seemed to think it was all a bit over the top but we noted that the name on the apron was Lys'Toire du Charolais - Frédéric Navez - obviously a new supplier or someone who had donated the aprons for the video shoot. When we were leaving we shook hands with the owner as usual and then we were invited to shake hands with a chap who was introduced as “the boss” - we left saying “see you soon”.

Our next visit and the owner was not there, but the aprons were and the man called “the boss” was there too. Sadly it dawned on us that the restaurant had changed hands and we hadn’t been on the ball enough to wish the now ex-owner a happy retirement! Never mind, the customers were there, the steak was there and that was why we went there anyway. The menu hadn’t changed, but for the first time ever, the steak was a bit tough. Well that can happen can’t it? The following visit, I had to send about a third of my steak back to the kitchen as it was too tough to get my fork into. This was too much of a coincidence, methinks he has changed suppliers and not for the right reasons…...

A lot more than just a change of name
As we left the restaurant we were surprised to see that the new owner had changed something else as well. The name of the restaurant had become Lys'Toire du Charolais with the name of the new owner Frédéric Navez very prominent as well. This was in our opinion not a very sensible move, the old name is so well known in these parts and the restaurant had an excellent reputation, on the other hand the ex-owner should be happy that the name of his restaurant has died with the departure, as he certainly wouldn’t be happy about the current culinary standards.

Resaurant du Midi - don't let the scaffolding put you off.
This last week, we went looking for another restaurant. We checked out Restaurant du Midi, just down the road, even though it looked like a building site with scaffolding covering the front. The ambiance was that of a school canteen, with lots of noisy farmers - just what we like about this town. The menu was similar to La Tour, but for just 50 cents extra, you apparently got an as-much-as-you-can-eat buffet of starters as well. We decided to give it a go. The starters were copious and delicious and the steak was perfectly cooked and as soft as butter, no fromage fort with the cheese, but the mousse au chocolat made up for that. We are sold, we will definitely be going back to Restaurant du Midi and we will be recommending it to everyone we know who visits the market.

So it is a very fond farewell to La Tour and here is a little hint to the owner of its replacement - you can’t serve such rubbish steak to the men who dedicate their lives to raising the best beef cattle in the world and hope to survive. I hope he realises in time, but no matter, for now we have found a new place to eat.

For information on holiday accommodation near the biggest Charolais cattle market in the world click here.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Emergency Trip

Home for a week - the black ship on the left with a white cabin
We had an emergency trip last week to The Netherlands, that sounds rather dramatic and it was rather, but it shouldn’t have been. You see we have known for months that this might happen - we were just in denial. To be honest I just couldn’t (and still can’t) get my head around what has happened.

It all started when Cees noticed his passport was about to run out, mine still had 7 months to run. We started planning our day out in Lyon, a sightseeing trip, a long lunch then hand over the paperwork, have a nice chat with the Consul lady, give your fingerprints and away you go, you will receive passport in the post a week later. But not any more. The Dutch government in its wisdom has decided that issuing passports via consuls is no longer cost effective. It does beg the question what a consul is for, but let’s not go there.. That means that all Dutch people, resident in France, have to go in person to Paris to hand in the paperwork and then return in person about a week later to collect their passports. We live quite close but even so, we would have to pay 100 Euros each to get to Paris to hand in the paperwork then another 100 Euros to collect them - 400 Euros just in train fares!!!

This must be some sort of joke? What about the people who live even further away than us? They still have to travel to Paris then either go home or stay in a hotel for a week. What about people who are too old to travel? Tough - costs must be cut and anyway if they can’t travel they don’t need a passport do they?

One of the country's most important cities?
Another option is to go to The Netherlands and get a passport, but hang on a minute, you can only get a passport in the town hall where you live can’t you? No, the Dutch government have graciously nominated a handful of town halls that can do it for you. The Hague – 3 months waiting list for an appointment! That was fine for me, but Cees’ passport had only a week left to run. OK, let’s find another large town where we can do it, Amsterdam? No, Eindhoven? No, Rotterdam? No, Utrecht? No - I’m running out of big towns here, give me a hint? Finally we found the list, Echt-Susteren (where?) Bergeijk (Huh?) Montferland (are they making these names up?) the list goes on. We had to get a map out to find out where these huge places were. Finally the decision was taken, Bergeijk it would be, their efficient website site allowed us to make an appointment for both of us for the following week, then it was panic stations to find somewhere to stay for the week’s wait - I am not making two 8 hour drives at this time of year if I can help it.

The town hall - looks like an Escher print
Cees’ daughter to the rescue, yes we could stay on her canal boat in Den Bosch only about an hour away from Bergeijk. Phew!

We tagged on a nice weekend and Monday afternoon we had a trip through the Dutch countryside to the metropolis of Bergeijk. Not being modern enough to have a GPS, we rely on maps, but the ANWB (the Dutch automobile association) doesn’t consider this place worthy of a mention, so we had to pray we found some signs near to the place. We made it and as you can see it doesn’t really have “world city” written all over it, does it?

There you have it, what should have been a leisurely day-trip to Lyon ended up as a panicky visit to The Netherlands. At least we have stocked up on unmissable Dutch goodies like filet American and smoked sausages, not to mention affordable spices and we did have a lovely week with Cees’ daughter catching up on news and gossip, so all was not lost. I also tucked into all types of delicious Dutch food that are unavailable here.

Gastronomy - Dutch style
So 2kg heavier we returned with our new passports, just before the snow started to fall. Fortunately they are valid for 10 years this time.

Finally here is a message to all you Dutch ex-pats out there, if you don’t live within convenient distance of an Embassy, start planning your trip to Bergeijk, they are very friendly and efficient and the café next door to the town hall does really good kroketten!

For information on holiday accommodation about 7 hours drive from Bergeijk click here.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Je suis en colère

Not happy at all...
For those non-French residents amongst you, I will explain what the title of this post means, as it is crucial that you understand the gravity of the situation. The French use the expression “en colère” to express their extreme dissatisfaction with something or other. It can be roughly translated as annoyed with, angry with, but neither really brings across the true emotional strength of the concept.  In this instance, I can only use the French phrase for my intense, emotional distress at what has (or should I say has not) taken place.

His dsappointment is tangible.
I know this post is a little late coming out, but I have been waiting in the (vain) hope that I wouldn’t have to post it. But even in its lateness, its message is not any less heartfelt. Actually it is the fact that I have given the perpetrators enough time to correct their error that I have waited so long to post and every day I have waited has just increased my colère.

I am normally a placid, happy-go-lucky kind of soul - or at least I like to think I am, others may disagree of course - so it takes some doing to get me really “en colère”. If it were only me, it could be ignored, but I am not the only one, just look at the faces of Mary and Joseph, and poor little baby Jesus and you will see they join me in this one.


Have you seen these guys? - Photo taken in 2010

I really enjoy watching the Taizé nativity scene every year as it grows and changes over the weeks leading up to Christmas and on to Epiphany, but this year, not only has it been rather boringly static with minimal changes, but the wise men never showed up.

I went to see them arrive on Epiphany Sunday - no wise men. OK it was before the 6th so I assumed they were waiting for their entrance on the day itself. The 6th came and went and still no wise men. This last Sunday (the 11th) and still no wise men, even the donkey enclosure had gone by then and M & J were looking crosser by the day. Now the whole lot have given up and gone home or gone back into storage or whatever they do when it is not Nativity scene season.

How is this possible? I have often heard it said that if the three wise men had been women they would have 1. asked for directions 2. arrived on time 3. helped to deliver the baby and 4. brought practical gifts, amongst other things, but such tardiness and uselessness, I have never seen in the three wise men before. They had better show up next year, or in typical French fashion, I will organise a march round Taizé expressing my sentiments and there are plenty who will join me.

We will be out in force if they don't show up next year!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Strange Week

It has been a strange old week. It started as normally as any other and then as the violence of the terrorist actions in Paris unfolded, it took me on a disturbing trip down memory lane. I grew up in London in the 1970s, police on every underground train and troops on the streets, trying to protect us from the bombs that seemed to be going off everywhere. A quick search on Google and I found mention of more than 40 successful terrorist actions in the 1970s in London alone. So we were always vigilant and even an innocuous abandoned umbrella would be cause to evacuate a station or a building. We regularly had drills and exercises at school and we knew what we had to do in a crisis and this was the way we lived for the whole of my adolescence and beyond.

This week has forced me to reflect how this still affects my actions and thoughts today, just little things like I am very uncomfortable standing near rubbish bins and containers and as for an abandoned suitcase, you won’t see me for dust, subconsciously I am always aware of where the emergency exits are and I check escape routes if I am ever talked into being in a crowd - something I normally try to avoid. I and all my friends got through it unscathed, although I had several near misses, I was on a train that left a station just before a bomb went off and also on a train that was evacuated because of a bomb at the next station, but that was life back then, it went on and we didn’t think it that abnormal, we were just grateful we didn’t live in Belfast or Beirut.

And as I heard stories this week of children locked down in their schools, it reminded me of the number of times that happened to us. One thing that is sad or reassuring (I am not sure which) after the first time, we weren’t scared any more and life and lessons went on as normal. The terrorists can kill and maim and cause disruption, but normal life will continue for the majority.

I don’t understand what makes people do these things, I never did and I never will, how can so much hate be in your heart that you want to kill, maim or just frighten people who have nothing to do with you and who are going about their daily lives, all because you have a grudge to bear - how is that right or just? Let’s pray that these misled souls end this stupidity soon and leave all the rest of the people of this nation to carry on their lives without the fear of being involved in an attack.

Marchers assembling as the sun goes behind the hill over Cluny
Saturday evening we went on a march in Cluny, a silent candle-lit march to show our defiance against these deluded morons. There must have been several thousand people walking but I am sure it won’t have any effect on these fanatics, they are too stupid or brainwashed to understand what freedom of speech and thought is all about, but if it makes one citizen feel a little safer, then it will have been worth it.

I just hope that another generation of children who are growing up in a civilised, democratic and, above all else, free country such as the one that we are privileged to live in, will not come to think of this barbaric behaviour as part of normal life, as I and my generation of London’s children were forced to do. But I do have my doubts.

People as far as you can see

Sunday, 4 January 2015

If you go into the woods today….

How does that timer work?
It's a new year, so time for a new project.

A friend asked me to join in with an on-line group working together to improve their photographing skills. I must say it sounded fun, so I decided to give it a go. All you have to do is one photo a week for a whole year - what could be easier?

The first task was to take a self portrait. My selfie attempts in the past haven't been too successful, so off I went into the woods with my tripod and camera, to get something with a little bit more "ambiance". Being a Sunday, I had to catch a relatively small window of opportunity between the hunters going for their lunch and them coming back after their siesta. After all, I only wanted to appear in the sights of my camera and not their guns!

Too far to walk
First lesson, how does that timer thingy work? After a couple of self portraits with me missing entirely, I went back into the house to get my glasses - good job I was only a few yards from my front door.

The timer set, off I struggled through the undergrowth and thick layer of dead leaves. Click!

It doesn't give you much time does it?  Better move the tripod closer to the tree I was supposed to be photographed beside.

Da dah!
Finally a self portrait with me actually facing roughly in the direction of the camera.

Thinking about it, the one showing my back sums up my current standard rather better!

Well at least I have a year to develop some level of skill - looks like I’ll need every week of it.

For information on our gites, just yards from this lovely forest click here.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Pagnol Country

Santons by Daniel Scaturro
With Christmas coming up I think of Santons, those little characters you see all over France these days forming crèches or window displays, in shops and houses. Whilst they have kind of taken over the whole of the country, they are in fact from Provence and traditionally were made of the inside of a loaf of bread, squished between your fingers and rolled and prodded into shape, left to dry and then painted. The traditional Christmas characters are depicted but actually in the olden days it was more likely to be the butcher, baker and candlestick maker whose images were reproduced. Just looking at them and looking at the traditional Provencal scene created in the photo I found on the internet (from a blog of a Santon maker takes me back to our last holiday in Pagnol country.

Inside the church, then and now
I love Marcel Pagnol’s books, they are very easy to read, the stories are excellent and the images he invokes are so vivid. He was born and brought up in the heart of Provence, just north of Marseille and the sights and smells of Provence ooze out of almost every word he wrote. I have always thought of him as a novelist, but interestingly Pagnol was a film maker first. He didn’t write my favourite novels (Jean de Florette and Manon de Sources) until ten years after he had made the films of them, even though the most famous filmings of these books nowadays, are the Claude Berri versions made in the late 80s.

When we were in Provence in September, we decided to go on a Jean de Florette hunt. As this was a spur of the moment decision, sitting on a warm terrace, watching the sun go down behind the hills of the Luberon, we didn’t have time to do too much research. Out came the laptop and I put Google to work. The next day we were off to see the church and the fountain which were just down the road, the other locations were too far for a day trip.

Outside the church then and now 
Interestingly the inside and outside of the church are not in the same village, in fact the two churches are not anything like the same shape, which is rather bizarre. The inside is in Ansouis a lovely, attractive village perched over the planes and the outside is in a village called Vaugines, a rather boring but traditional village in the hills. When I saw the inside of the church, I had no sensation of being anywhere special, just another Provencal church and not a very nice one at that, but as soon as I saw the outside of the church in Vaugines it was obvious where we were, we were with César and Delphine as she told him the secret that had been kept from all those years. Who can ever forget that scene in the film as César’s world comes tumbling down round his ears as he finds out that his revengeful and narcissistic actions have destroyed the one thing that he always wanted. As I walked up to the front of that church, I was there.

The fountain then and now?
The other place I wanted to visit was the village square with its fountain, which according to Google was also in Vaugines. However, when I saw the fountain I was a bit surprised, it didn’t remind me of the film at all, the fountain had become horribly overgrown with moss and didn’t seem to be either the same shape or have the same number of spouts as I remembered, even the square didn’t look right, but I took the photo anyway, to show I had been there.

On arriving home, we watched the films again and sure enough the village didn’t look the slightest bit like Vaugines, mainly I suppose because it wasn’t Vaugines at all, it was a village just down the road from there called Mirabeau. Oh dear, looks like we will have to back to Provence again to get that fountain picture and while I’m there I will have to stock up on some Santons for next year’s Christmas display.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Christmas nears

Cormatin decorations
Almost everywhere you go at the moment the build up to Christmas is evident. Every village and town has a Christmas market of local food goodies and handicrafts, all vying for your Christmas Euros. The supermarkets are stocking up on huge quantities of chocolate, foie gras, exotic fruit and vegetables along with the apparently unmissable shell fish and salmon.  Decorations are going up and the nativity scene in Taizé is working its way to the big day.

Rose in our front garden
But somehow it doesn’t feel at all like almost the end of the year. The weather is warmer than it should be. Last night the thermometer only dropped down to 8 degrees (Celsius for those Americans who might actually think that 8 degrees is cold!) and we would normally expect to be having frost at this time of year. I could not believe it when I saw some buds on the roses in our front garden the other day and even more so when one of them opened up this morning - in mid-December?

Our post box is filling up with cards from around the world - it is always nice to hear from friends far and near. All our cards are now in the post, there just remains the last one or two presents to sort. That’s this week’s job, along with preparing food for parties we are going to as well as making sure we are adequately stocked ourselves for the holiday season. So we are sort of on schedule.

Shepherds arrive
We took some time off from Christmas preparations to visit the Nativity scene in Taizé this afternoon and despite the donkey, it lacks something this year. It is all very static and the only change since last week is that some bland cut-out shepherds have arrived, but that is about it. I really liked the live chickens last year, they stayed all through Advent and kept the stable scene looking like a stable all week and the somewhat amateurish models of the main characters, really added some life to the whole scene.

Advent wreath
Sadly this year there are also no bible verses to contemplate and no changing scenes to mark the Christmas journey which is a real pity, as it is the only set of decorations that really mark the meaning of Christmas for miles around. Don’t get me wrong I love our village Smurfs and Snow White is always a welcome addition to the cold damp streets of Cormatin, but Christmas should be more than Walt Disney and other cartoons.

I think I should take a little contemplative pause in preparations as the pink candles of Joy are lit around the world.

Monday, 8 December 2014

All new in Cormatin

The Rêv'othèque
The beginning of December heralded the long awaited opening of the Rêv’othèque in Cormatin as well as the surprise opening of a new shop, a delicatessen.

I have heard stories of the Rêv’othèque since the owner was complaining about the plasterer failing to meet his promised timescales and the summer opening having to be delayed, but I had no idea what it would be. All that I could deduce was that the name itself is a play on words. In French a library is a biliothèque, a video library is a videothèque and so a Rêv’othèque is a place you can go to, to find your dreams - rêves.

This idea has been conjured up by a chap who has two old wooden gypsy-style caravans full of games, which he mans at local events. You can go into these lovely caravans and play with all the bits and pieces he has on offer. So I knew that the Rêv’othèque would be something along similar lines, but I couldn’t imagine what. When we were collecting our pre-ordered petit salé (lentils with meats) which were being sold for charity outside the church this Saturday (Téléthon day) we decide we would go and see what Christian had made of his dream. The inside of the building has been kitted out with games and “dreaming” areas where you can sit and read a book, or dream a few hours away, hanging chairs, hanging “rooms”, you name he has got it. I can’t really put into words what it is like and there is just so much in there you can’t take a decent photo, so you will just have to go and visit for yourself.

New deli in Cormatin
The new shop opening was a big surprise. When we went to the parade for 11th November, we saw that work was going on in a shop that has been vacant for a number of years. No one seemed to know what was happening, until the end of November when a notice appeared in the window saying that a delicatessen was going to open up on 1st December. After visiting the Rêv’othèque, we went to try them out. He still hasn’t got all his stock, but he had an interesting collection of deli-like things and he has a double length fridge counter full of cold meats, patés and pre-cooked meals. We knew that the butcher was to re-open in the spring also selling cold meats and ready meals along with more traditional butcher fare and the existing grocer is changing hands too in the spring, so Cormatin it becoming an interesting food shopping town. Let’s hope that there is enough clientele to go round. If this new deli keeps up with the quality of stuff he sold to us, he should have a good number of repeat customers.

Eyes of God
Marry and Joseph in the stable
Last but not least, December wouldn’t be December without the arrival of the nativity scene at Taizé. This year Mary and Joseph look rather orthodox and I must say Joseph looks a tad miserable, but it was rather cold up on the hill on Sunday, so I can see why. They have ditched the usual journey on a donkey and Mary and Joseph are already in situ. This year the theme seems to be American Indian with traditional “eyes of God” being hung up around the stall like stars in the sky. These “eyes of God” are found amongst the Huichol Indians in Mexico, the Aymara in Bolivia and the Navajo in North America and they are placed on altars in churches to protect the praying congregation - a Christian form of dream catchers. The chaps and chapesses, who have been busy making them, have done a lovely job, these “eyes” look very attractive as stars over the crèche scene.

I'm now looking forward to all the new things that next week will bring.

For information on holiday accommodation near the Taizé nativity scene click here.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Train strikes and a weekend away

Bourges cathedral
When Cees’ son said he wanted to visit a guitar restorer in France, we were excited about the idea of meeting up with him for a weekend.  But things never go to plan do they? The weekend of our sortie was chosen and the accommodation almost booked, it was only our rather slow decision making that held that up. This delay was rather fortuitous, as just over a week before we were due to go, I heard on the radio that the French railways were holding a strike, the weekend of our trip. This would make Cees’ son’s journey from the airport in Paris impossible. A lot of quick work, on his part to change flights and on our part to find a new gîte, resulted in our trip to the Berry last weekend - all organised in one day, the day before our departure.

Monastery of Noirlac
Bourges was a real find. It has a beautiful cathedral with some stunning stained glass windows and porticos and the rest of this attractive town is well worth a wander round on a nice day, however, the cold and damp got the better of us there and after lunch we headed off to see the most intact of the Cistercian monasteries in France - we were not disappointed. . A cellist was making a recording in the Scriptorium and the music resonated around the whole Abbey while we were there.

Church at Le Menoux
The next day we had a list of Romanesque churches to visit, all of which were worth the visit and all of which were open, always a bonus. In amongst the church tour, I managed to slip in a visit to a church I had seen in the guide book, La Menoux. The church from the outside is not worth a photo, it is a boring neo-something, the guide book describes it as “banale” which summed it up for me. But when you open the door you are confronted with an assault on your visual senses. A resident of the village, Mr Carassco an artist originally from Bolivia, has painted the ceilings and I mean really painted them. A quote from him in the description of this stunning work of art “Art is love, love is life and life has to be lived not just gone through.” True to his own words, this work of art is not just there, is it really alive even though it was painted about forty years ago.

The ending of our weekend away had a nasty twist when our car started emitting smoke as we drove down the motorway. Fortunately I cut the engine immediately as we cruised to a holt and the fledgling fire put itself out otherwise things could have been an awful lot worse. It turned out that the motor to the windscreen washers had shorted and started to burn, very scary and not to be repeated. I could write a whole blog about the numerous telephone conversations I had to have before we could get someone to tow us off the motorway, if the car had been on fire it would have been a gonner before the emergency services had accepted that there was actually an exit number 23 and quite frankly whether we were in Saône-et-Loire or Allier (we were actually 200 meters from the border) didn’t seem awfully relevant to me at that moment in time. Maybe I should buy a Michelin map for the police in S-et-L, so that they can locate the next person with a burning car at exit 23 direction Macon on the N79, it really does exist!

Jamon Iberico de Bellota
So an inauspicious end to our weekend away with our car being towed to a breakers yard in Digoin. There is a however a happy ending, the car was relatively easily repaired and back on the road after a couple of days with only a slight trace of “eau-de-burned-plastic”.

We and our car are now back at home along with a lovely souvenir from Spain that Cees’ son had brought for us to enjoy chez-nous. So today for lunch we had artisanally dried ham, hand-cut from the bone, served on fresh French bread with ripe mini-tomatoes. La vie est belle!

Saturday, 22 November 2014


Autumn has arrived
Autumn is well and truly upon us, finally all the leaves are falling and we have been bathed in fog for weeks. Today however, the sun has come out at last, to match my mood, you see yesterday I received a phone call I have been waiting for, for months.

Just as a glimmer of hope started to peak through the fog, I received the news that my Christmas present had arrived! Since last Christmas I have been searching for something to spend my Christmas money on and I finally found just what I wanted late in September. I have been searching all year, but the models available were too small or too big or not the right shape or, or, or, the list goes on, but at the end of September a leaflet dropped into our letterbox with just the thing I wanted. We rushed straight round to the shop in question to view what they had, only to find that, even though they were supposed to be on offer that week, there were none in the shop. One could be ordered for me and it would be in next week “normalement”.

Christmas present still wrapped
Anyone who has ever had dealings with the French and their “normalement” will know what that means. Next week came and went as did the following week. I chased them up after a month and they said, “oh do you still want one, we thought as the order had taken so long you might not be interested anymore” . Why not ask in future - I mumbled under my breath as I ensured them I was very interested. It will be in next week “normalement”.

Two weeks ago I phoned again and was told that it would be in mid-November. “Normallement?” I asked, yes normalement. I went in to the shop on the 14th and was told that it would arrive mid-November (they know me and my order by now without having to look up the paperwork) I suggested that it was now mid-November what with it being the 14th and all, to which they agreed with a look of surprise, but still no item to be collected. So you can imagine my excitement when I received “The Call”. I was in the car and round to the shop before they could say “normalement”.

We paid at the till with the crisp notes that had been in my Christmas envelop since last year and were told to collect my present at the big gate. Along came a forklift truck with a pallet and more than 100kg of Christmas present. We looked at each other, both thinking the same thing. Firstly, we hadn’t realised it would be that big and secondly, even if this burly chap could get it in the car, how the heck would we get it out at the other end? Never mind, we’re intelligent enough creatures, we will find a way.

Using our combined engineering skill base, we did manage to get it out of the car without either of us slipping a disk and there we had it - 100kg of log splitter, in a box, in our vide.

In action..
Now what? Open the top of the box to read the instructions. The first instruction is how to get it out of the box, which should have been done before putting it upright. How do you find that out, without the instructions which you can’t access until it is upright? We ad-libbed. The assembly went smoothly until I had two pieces left over which did not appear anywhere in the instructions - fortunately their website shed some light those and within a jiffy it was ready to roll.

So now to try it out, I dusted off my steel toe-capped boots and found my face protector and heavy gloves and set to. Dah dah, I managed to split a log and here’s the photo to prove it.

Now I have a couple more logs to sort out….

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Wine tasting in the Beaujolais?

Vineyards in summer
I have been told off by a number of friends for never having been wine tasting in the Beaujolais. We have been into the vineyards a number of times and have seen numerous villages and some lovely sites, but have never tasted a drop in situ.

On 1st November we headed off yet again into the Beaujolais because there was an exhibition of jazz paintings - no I didn’t know what that would mean either. The reason being that Cees is a jazz fan and the icing on the cake was that the exhibition was in an ex-Romanesque church, what better combination could he dream of? For me the bigger reason was that this ex-church had been turned into a wine cellar. Ah ha, at last a drop of Beaujolais!

Door firmly shut
We arrived at the cellar in Julienas after lunch (because everything round here shuts for lunch) only to find the door firmly locked. The poster on the door (that I was too annoyed at to take a photograph of) said clearly that the exhibition started on 1st November and ran every day except Tuesdays until the 30th December. It wasn’t a Tuesday, but it was a bank holiday, which obviously they had forgotten when they made the poster and sent round all their advertising material. It was very clear that they had no intention of opening, much to the disappointment of a number of other people who were standing there shaking all the doors to this ex-church, turned wine cellar and exhibition room. At about an hour’s drive away I was not impressed at this bad organisation and I would have happily given it a miss, but Cees talked me into going on another day, not a Tuesday, not a bank holiday, this Saturday morning.

Non-jazz wall painting
Low and behold (and to my relief and surprise) the door of the ex-church was open and in we went. The huddle of old men around the bar didn’t even grunt a reply to my “Bonjour!” - obviously they don’t use words like that round there. And there they were, the paintings. Let’s put this in perspective, by the time we had driven home, we would have driven a total of four hours to see these things (2 trips of 1 hour back and 1 hour forth) and if I had known beforehand, I wouldn’t have driven into Cormatin for them. We did our bit however and stood and looked at them, but they weren't worth a photo.

Quick exit
The whole ambiance was unwelcoming, despite the cheerful painting on the wall, so we said “au revoir” to the huddle of old men and left. They grunted something back, so they obviously spoke some form of French.

To get a photo of the offending poster for this blog, I have been looking on the internet and can’t find one, but I did find the website for the cellar in question and I found out that you have to pay to have a tasting. Thank goodness I hadn’t asked for one while I was there or I would have been more than a tad upset. Obviously they are not confident enough in their product, to allow you to taste it for free.

So wine tasting in the Beaujolais was not a great success and we won’t be trying it again and we also won’t be trying this year’s over-hyped Beaujolais Nouveau when it comes out on Thursday, although I must give it to them, they certainly know how to maximise their financial return.

Henri Lafarge - he'll make you welcome!
I am so glad that our local wine producers are confident enough in their product to know that it will sell without hype and without charging their customers to taste. We are very lucky to live where we do, very close to some of the best wine producers around, Henri Lafarge, Peter Gierszewski and Christophe Perrin - why not have a tasting when you visit the area, free of charge and you won’t be disappointed. They know that anyone who comes in to taste can not possibly leave without a couple of cases of their nectar, it is far too good.

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