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.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Journées du Patrimoine

Moss has taken over the crumbled towers
Last weekend were the Journées du Patrimoine – the European Heritage Days. This weekend, towards the end of September, is always a feast for us perpetual tourists as they are the two days in the year that some special places are open and it is the weekend that entry into the large attractions is free or at a reduced price.

Cees is the senior tourist and he pours over the pages of the newspaper (aka Le Journals de Saône et Loire) and spends hours trawling the internet to find out exactly what is going on. Priority is given to places that are rarely open and a couple of days before the Saturday, a proposed visit plan is presented to the junior tourist. She then scrutinises, criticises and adjusts the programme and we come up with our final plan of attack.

The largest part of Lournand castle that is still standing
Sadly this year, the weather, which has been hot and very summery, decided to break on the Saturday morning. The day started grey so that the flypast I mentioned in my last blog was cancelled. Not a good omen for the weekend. But even faced with such adversity, we were not downhearted and we moved from the non-existent fly past to our next destination - the castle at Lournand. This castle is only ever open to the public on the Journeés du Patrimoine and so it is a must see. The site is large and rather dangerous for those who do not know their way around, so it normally locked and the public is kept away except for these two days when guided visits are available. Saturday we were there for the first tour after lunch and we were not disappointed.

Trees growing into the stonework
The site is much larger than I had expected and we were escorted around by the president of the association that has dedicated itself to rejuvenating the site. They won’t be rebuilding the castle, but they are restoring it into a safe state. To rebuild would be an impossible task and would take away from the beauty of the place in my opinion. I was fascinated by the way nature had taken over this ancient structure during its years of neglect. Where the towers have collapsed, moss has covered the stones in a brilliant green carpet and where the walls are still standing, trees have grown into the stonework creating a feast for the eye.

It started to drizzle as we went round, but we completed the whole visit (not far short of two hours) relatively dry.

We then moved on to see a small chapel that is never open - not really exciting, but it was turned into a post office for the weekend, so we bought a postcard and mailed it to ourselves.

Sunday dawned even more miserably than Saturday and by the time we set off (09.30) it was chucking it down. Knowing that it was likely to rain, we had reserved the indoor sites for this day. We went to the Doyanée at Bezornay, which has been split into four residential properties and is therefore never open to the public. It was a real treat. We had visited the site many months ago, but of course we could only see the outside and not all of that either. Seeing the place from the inside gave us new insights as to how the whole was in its heyday.

Imagine a living room like this
The chapel, which has just been restored and is now someone’s living room was spectacular, the attention to detail in the restoration process and the enthusiasm of the owner, made that for me the highlight of the weekend.

Despite the horrible weather, it was a very successful weekend.

Monday dawned sunny and we are now back to the Indian summer we have been enjoying for the last few weeks - long may it last.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

I’m Back

Patrouille de France in action
After taking a holiday from blogging over the summer, I’m back in the saddle again. To celebrate, Mâcon organised a fly past from La Patrouille de France (the French equivalent of the Red Arrows) over the Saône on Saturday morning. The elite of the French air force in their fighter jets with smoke trails of red, white and blue over the river - just for me!

They must have known that when I was young I wanted to be a fighter pilot, I even managed to get an introductory interview with the RAF by not giving my Christian names and not saying I had an O’ level in needlework. They were surprised when a five foot nothing female turned up and rather patronisingly told me girls can’t do that sort of thing – born too soon - they do it nowadays.

The noise of the planes, the roar of the engines, the adrenalin rush as those machine race over your head, just what any red-blooded engineer wants. The closest I have got to that is watching Top Gun with quadraphonic sound and an enormous screen at the IMAX in Rotterdam, but that is a few years ago now.

So yes, of course I would be delighted to be the guest of honour, thank you!

James Bond comes in to land in his Republic Seabee in Mâcon
The fly past was due at 10.30 and when Cees confirmed the time with the organisers, he was told that it was set for 10.30 but it might be 11.00 or even 11.30 ummm….. Let’s get this straight, the Patrouille de France is manned by the crème de la crème of French fighter pilots who can be scrambled at a moment’s notice and are less than 20 minutes flying time from any point on the French mainland, how the heck can they be an hour late?? Ah well c’est La France, say no more.

Back to Saturday morning. Being genetically and psychologically Northern Europeans we turned up on time, ie we were in situ at just gone 10 o’clock. I know, I know I can’t help it, but at least I was dressed warmly for the hour and half wait - I even had long trousers and socks on - now that is a first!

Tom Cruise on his way for my fly past
While we waited, we were treated to a display of amphibious aircraft taking off and landing. One of the planes was a Republic Seabee which had actually been in a James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun, with Roger Moore. That was in the days when James Bond was real and was not one of those modern alternatives – am I showing my age?

So there we were, on the first cold day since mid July and just before the fly past was due to be late, an announcement came over the tannoy, the cloud cover was too low to fly, they weren’t coming. There went my first blog of the autumn!

Not to be defeated I found a nice photo from the Internet to show you what my fly past would have looked like had it been a nice day. I think I’ll stick with Top Gun next time, at least it starts when I want it to and I can watch it in the warm!

Monday, 11 July 2016

Music and food

Duo Duende performing
It is that time of year again when the guitar music festival takes place in our village. Last weekend we started with a charming father and son duo from Albi playing Spanish and Brazilian music. The members of the audience were tapping their feet to the interesting programme they performed.

The first concert in the series is often under attended, but we were pleased to see that Chazelle church was over half full. An excellent start to the series.

Dinner awaits
Sunday we had a local favourite Bernard Bruel who sings Jacques Brel songs. He normally sings to a taped accompaniment, but especially for our festival, he accompanied a number of the songs on the guitar. He should do that more often as it was a much more pleasant effect, than just a tape in the background, an accordionist would be even better, but that wouldn’t have fitted into the guitar concept! The church was almost full and everyone really enjoyed his interpretation of the songs, a selection of old favourites and lesser known Brel songs.

Bruel sings Brel
There are three more concerts in the series, Emmanuel Rossfelder, who appears every two or three years and is one of the “Godfathers” of the festival, a group of Corsican singers who will be performing a traditional polyphonic repertoire (something I have never heard before)and we will end the festival with a French, Irish music band, who were so popular last year, we had to turn people away at the door. All three of the remaining concerts have already sold more than half of the available tickets, so it looks like it will be a good year not only musically but financially, which will enable us to carry on after the last two lean years have rather depleted our coffers.

Superb buffet
After the concerts, the volunteers get together with the artists for a buffet meal prepared by Monique and Chantal in Monique’s house, conveniently located almost nextdoor to the church. They do us proud every time and these evenings were no different.

All in all, we had two very interesting evenings, with delicious food, the only downer was France losing in the Euro cup final – but you can’t have it all can you?

Onwards and upwards to the next concerts - I can’t wait.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Nuts and Bolts and Road Signs

What are all these bits for?
All winter I have been on a committee to discuss and implement new road signage in Cormatin village – and who says life in rural France is boring?

The discussions were seemingly endless and mostly about the colour and shape and size, although we have taken a radical decision that I am sure no one concerned has fully understood. I am waiting for the flack we will receive when the new signs are installed and the old ones are removed, but I’ll keep my head down and plead ignorance on that one!

First the hammer then screw it into place
Saturday was the day that the new panels were to be put together. We turned out in force to help – umm well not quite in force, apart from us, there were Pierre the potter, Patrick the painter and Silvyane the sculptress. The ones without alliterating names and jobs didn’t turn up.

Cees and I are a whizz at Ikea kitchens and this should have been a doddle, but as non-fluent French speakers, we bowed to the superiority of our co-workers and even though I did my best to run around and pick up the multitude of fallen nuts and bolts, we still ended up with quite a few getting lost – to be blamed on the supplier of course.

In any case it was a good lesson in French, I have learned some new words even though the assembled troupe couldn’t decide whether the word for screw was masculine or feminine - une vis versus un vice. My word for the day is un écrou (a nut) not only because it took me the whole afternoon to remember it, but it sounds rather nice as well, although rather surprisingly it doesn’t go on a bolt (un boulon) it goes on a screw (une vis) – umm I not sure my teachers have been so accurate in their language usage here.
Just don't let it fall over
I have learned a bunch of swearwords which I won’t elaborate on, but they help when you are trying to hammer a self-tapping screw into a steel frame - lets not go there. My inability to pronounce the words “above” and “below” clearly enough to be differentiated from each other (they sound exactly the same to the uninitiated - read anyone who isn’t French and then not all of them either) caused endless hilarity, but we got there in the end.

Finally after 3 hours of work, four panels have been constructed ready to be “planted” on Tuesday and a fifth was mounted on the campsite wall. Fortunately we do not have permission to put up all seven panels as yet, so we have a chance to buy some more nuts and bolts to make up for the lost ones.

If I survive the fallout when certain people find out they no longer have their own personal sign, I’ll let you know how we get on with the installation!

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Sad story

Sad, sad day
I’ve been rather down in the dumps the last few weeks; I put it down to the unusually wet and cold weather we have had in May and early June, but the scaremongering and Armageddon predictions tumbling out of my mother country have not helped my mood either. You see, I am one of the disenfranchised British citizens who stood to lose a lot with an exit of the UK from Europe, but who were not allowed to vote.

As it got closer to the 23rd (referendum day) I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. I still hoped that (what I deemed to be) reason would prevail. As I got up in the early hours of Friday to watch live streaming of the results of the referendum, that sinking feeling proved to be justified. The British people, had decided that they wanted to leave the European Union.

The new Europe
It brought back a memory of my early days in continental Europe, when I would moan about Dutch bureaucracy or another “European” oddity that I couldn’t grasp and a colleague would say to me “why don’t you just f.. off back to your little island”. That was a cue to me to rethink what I was moaning about and see if maybe, just maybe, it was me and my way of thinking that could do with a tweak and maybe, just maybe I could learn something from another way of thinking.

Now the British population has spat out its collective dummy and f..ed off back to its little island and pulled up the drawbridge to boot. I fail to see how this will help them, but as I have come to realise, I am no longer really British and as I have felt more and more on each visit back to my homeland, I am well and truly out of step with this current British mentality.

I wish them well and as they sort out their messy divorce, I must now also start the process of extracting myself financially and emotionally from the island that no longer wants me or my kind.

Yesterday the weather was heavy and oppressive, matching my mood after the vote, and last night we had one humdinger of a storm. Scary though the storm was, it cleared the air and today has dawned sunny and calm. A new start for everyone. Let’s hope the British population does not live to regret its decision, but whatever happens to them, I am very grateful that I have a passport from a real European country and not just a British one, so that I can continue to live in a great community of countries, striving to work together to make a better life for all their citizens, not just the rich and petulant ones.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Birthday Dinner

Cees' favourite starter- escargots
This year on Cees’ birthday the weather was so atrocious that we aborted mission on a day out and stayed at home in the dry instead. We did however go out for a celebratory meal.

We have been trying to get into Hostellerie Héloise in Cluny almost since we came to live here. It has a good reputation, but every time we have tried, it has been closed that day, closed because of holidays or just plain full up. Not that I was getting paranoid you understand, but we did get the feeling we weren’t welcome. So on Tuesday it was one last try and this time we succeeded in getting a table.

Duck breast done to perfection
When you get inside the restaurant you realise why they are more often than not full up. The restaurant area is not exceptionally small but when you give your clientele a modicum of personal space (unknown in most French restaurants) combined with the fact that they also have a thriving hotel business, tables are at a premium. They can only seat about 30 people, so if you want a table you must book in advance.

Cees tucks into his steak
After all the time that we have been waiting to get into this restaurant and the build up of expectation, this could have been a big let down. I am very happy to say that it was not. The service was perfect and the food was better than that. The wine was on the recommendation of the restaurant and with a three course meal for me and four course meal for Cees we did not reach the 100 Euros mark. Quite amazing.

The menus couldn't have been better designed for our own personal tastes. I started with warm asparagus, something I am particularly fond of and Cees chose his favourite - escargots. For the main course Cees could not have been happier when he saw pavé de boeuf (thick steak) in a red wine sauce was on offer. I was rather jealous of his pommes dauphinois (potatoes in a cream sauce browned in the oven) but my tiny new potatoes were a better accompaniment to the magret de canard (duck breast) that I had ordered.

Aren't these the cutest baby baguettes you have ever seen?
We both had a selection of local cheese - I didn't know there were so many different types of Epoisse and Cees finished off with sorbet. I must give a mention to the bread "rolls" They were individual baby baguettes, warm from the oven, how luxurious is that?

The view over the river just added the finishing touches to a perfect meal. We will certainly be visiting again, roll on the next birthday or maybe we can come up with a different excuse to sample their cuisine again.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Antillean Week

It's not often such a colour outfit is seen in Cormatin
Every year the Antillean society in Saône-et-Loire has a week of events in this region. They seek to promote understanding of the Antilles, their culture, their gastronomy and their history and each year their week centres on a theme. This year the theme was the abolition of slavery.

France abolished slavery in 1794, but Napoleon reintroduced it in 1802 and it wasn’t until 1899 that all French colonies had abolished slavery once and for all. It wasn’t clear to me why this year was chosen to dedicate itself to history surrounding the abolition of slavery, but this year it was.

Plaque on the chateau wall
There were a number of different events throughout the week but the one that caught our eye was of course the event in Cormatin. The day started with an Antillean mass in Cormatin church, then proceeded to the unveiling of a plaque at the chateau, laying a wreath in Ameugny cemetery and a glass of wine and a presentation on the history of slavery in Ameugny village hall. In the afternoon there was a play in St Roch hall in Cormatin, but sadly we were expecting a gite guest to arrive and we had to miss the afternoon session.

Poppies on the walk through Ameugny village
So why Cormatin and what was on the plaque?

There was a certain General Lavaux who was the governor of St Domingue (Haiti today) who bought the chateau and he died there in 1828. He was a good friend of both Toussaint Louverture and Lamartine and these relationships proved to be critical in the eventual abolition of slavery.

The tomb of General Lavaux
Toussaint Louverture was the leader of the Haitian slave uprising which was a pivotal moment in the fight against slavery in the colonies and through him, General Lavaux became convinced of the anti-slavery cause and was able to lobby the influential Lamartine and other government officials to formulate the abolition of slavery bill, which he sadly did not live to see being passed in parliament. So a plaque has been erected to honour the work of this man who has been a little bit forgotten by history and it was his grave we laid the wreath on.

We think of this as only a lesson in history, but we were reminded that even with all these noble treaties, there is still slavery today, in many cases clandestine but in some areas just accepted and ignored.

All in all a very interesting, sobering and worthwhile morning contemplating the horrors of slavery and hopefully spreading the seeds to enable us to learn from our past and abolish this trade for ever.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Ponies, peacocks and piglets

Duckling huddling in a crate
Bank holiday Monday and off we went to Louhans. It is been a while since we’ve been there for the market selling small animals and we couldn’t have chosen a better day if we had planned it.

It was beautiful and sunny, the first nice day in a while and the place was heaving. Thousands had come for what turned out to be one of the really big markets of the year.

Point of lay chickens, just rearing to go
Every Monday there is a market in the town, but late spring is the time to get your livestock for the coming year and so people had come from far and wide to buy their chickens and ducks for the season. There were a lot of chirping and quacking boxes that passed us as we entered the market area.

Need a cockerel to wake you up in the morning?
The fun fair was in town as well and the atmosphere was electric. We had to squeeze through the crowds to get past a rather terrifying, gravity defying, twirling ride, that was eliciting screams from the teenagers brave enough to get on it and I was worried I might lose Cees – in the crowd not on to the ride you must understand. We decided our meeting point would be by the lamas if we got separated, but fortunately we made it round the market without losing sight of each other.

What a beautiful chappy
The selection of animals was amazing as always, you can buy anything from day old chicks up to laying birds, cockerels, guineafowl, peacocks, ducks, quail and geese and then there were the rabbits, sheep, piglets, lamas and ponies - we were spoilt for choice.

I was very tempted by a peacock, who was a snip at 150 Euros (!) but Cees wasn’t so keen so we left empty handed.

Maybe one day - for now we’ll stick to just having a cat.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Flying Elephants

Balloons over Chalon - photo from JSL
Every Whitsun weekend there is a display of hot air balloons in Chalon. We have never managed to see the balloons fly and so this year, yet again, we decided that this was the year we would actually see them. Checking out the programme we spotted that the balloons were to fly at 19.00 on Saturday, but I also spotted that at 17.00 there was going to be the opportunity for “dou dous” to fly in special small hot air balloons.

While flying dou dous may sound strange to English ears, I should clear up any confusion by saying that a dou dou is the French word for soft toy or comforter, so you could take your favourite soft toy along and it would be able to fly in a hot air balloon. There seemed to be no age limit for the owners of the soft toys, so I decided that a member of my little menagerie should be treated to a flight.

A flying elephant
- with a little help from photoshop
Timothy, my trusty teddy bear who has accompanied me around the world on all my business trips, is getting on a bit on years now (being only a few months younger than me - which may not be old for a human, but it is very old for a teddy bear) so I decided that he might not survive the trip. It then fell to Guus my fluffy elephant to be the one to venture into the unknown.

The only trouble was that we had a gite changeover, so the new giters had better turn up early or he would miss his flight. They didn’t arrive until 17.45 and Chalon is more than half an hour away, so I had little hope for Guus as we left. We headed off anyway as the other part of our mission was to see the main balloons flying - at least we would be on time for them.

As we neared the balloon launching site, many cars were coming the other way- not encouraging. The tops of the trees were swaying rather a lot and I feared that the wind was getting up too much for a flight. Undeterred, we walked up to the launching site with Guus under my arm, just in case the dou dous were still allowed to fly, but as we approached the main area it became obvious that all the balloon flights were cancelled.

Certificate to "prove" he actually flew
Guus and I looked wistfully at the miniature balloon baskets which had been grounded and as I started to take photos of what might have been, a man approached me, not saying a word he whisked Guus from under my arm and took him to one of the baskets for his “flight”. Guus was thrilled to sit in a basket, but sadly, as with the large balloons, it was too windy and hence too dangerous for the little ones to go up. It didn’t stop that lovely man from giving Guus a certificate marking his initiation in the ballooning world and he made one dou dou and its owner very happy.

The real balloons eventually went up at 06.00 Sunday morning when I was still tucked up in bed, so I have stolen a photo from the Journal de Saône-et-Loire website to show you what a sight it really was.

As we say every year - we really must see this next year. Who knows..

Monday, 9 May 2016

Supermarket Trauma - again

Wisteria in Cormatin - no relation to the story whatsoever
I just thought it was pretty
When we first arrived in France, we checked out the local supermarkets and quickly settled into using the Intermarché in Cluny.

We did our shopping on a Tuesday and all was well with the world.

Until that fateful day in 2014 when we returned from a short holiday to find our supermarket gone.

After a long search and difficult times, we settled into using the Atac in Cluny.

Our supermarket is a crime scene
We did our shopping on a Monday and all was well with the world.

Until one fateful day last week, when we received a newsflash email from the local newspaper - our supermarket had burned down!

We hot footed it into Cluny to find out that it was in fact the stock room that had burned down, but when I say stockroom I mean more than 200 square meters and all the stock. The supermarket won’t be up and running very soon. The police suspect arson and the whole place is one big crime scene.

So we were back to searching for somewhere to shop. The Carrefour is hellishly expensive (both milk and coffee are 50% more expensive than the Atac) but we reluctantly went there last week.

Our new shopping heaven?
It came to our attention that the other supermarket (Netto) is no longer closed at lunchtime (our preferred shopping time), so this week we decided to try it out again. It is nice, roomy and light, the selection is limited but adequate, but the clincher is that they now stock fresh milk, as opposed to sterilised. An added bonus is that it is less than half the price of the milk in Carrefour!

I think we have found our new supermarket, no matter whether Atac re-opens, we will be using Netto from now on.

We are still shopping on a Monday and it looks like all is well with the world – again.

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