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.
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