Sunday, 29 March 2015

More Food Changes in Town

The butcher is open for trade
The new butcher in Cormatin has finally opened its doors and so off we went to try it out earlier this week. We bought two different types of pâté, some celeriac salad for lunch and some steak for dinner. The pâtés and salad were very nice indeed, but the steak was absolutely divine. Cees said he could not remember having such good meat ever in his life before - I am tempted to agree with him and it was at a price comparable to, or cheaper than, the local supermarkets which do not deliver anywhere near the same quality. I am sure that we will be making many return visits to this shop.

Change of ower and style for the grocer
The new grocer has opened too, pretty much the same as the old one, but much brighter and more room to move around inside, letting you see the merchandise without knocking jars off shelves. We didn’t meet the new owner, but all stories point to a younger more vibrant approach to running the establishment whilst still stocking the products that everyone loved so much – fresh-ground coffee, ham to die for and hot rotisserie chickens. The only complaint I have heard so far is that she cuts the ham too thin, funnily enough my only complaint about the previous owner’s ham was that it was cut too thick – each to their own.

La Terrasse doubles in size
Another change on the food front is that La Terrasse, the restaurant opposite the chateau in the middle of town, has been extended into the building next-door, doubling its internal seating capacity as well a consolidating its extended terrace in time for the good weather.

Talking of restaurants, we went out to lunch on Thursday, with a group of people from the Office de Tourisme, to the Auberge de Malo in Etrigny, a village nearby. They were going to show off their culinary skills to our group of gîte and B&B owners, so that we could recommend their restaurant to our guests and I was hoping to dedicate a blog to them. I won’t bore you with the whole sorry story, I will just sum up my experience in a few words: too expensive; tasteless; cold and amateur; some people find this charming – I don’t. We will be recommending that our guests go to La Terrasse which is quite excellent or Les Blés d’Or which comes in at a close second, right here in Cormatin - few people are disappointed in either of these places.

New chique look for the baker
There is yet another change on the culinary front in our village. The baker Delice de Cormatin has upgraded its shop and it is looking very swish and professional, to match his superb patisseries.

All in all, with the new deli, the organic food market and the pizza parlour, not to mention the second baker (Roi), a wine merchant come semi-deli and the food section at the Filaterie (a place that sells handicrafts) Cormatin is creating a reputation for itself as being a foodie heaven in these parts. Long may it last.

For holiday accommodation, a short walk or bike ride from all of these gastronomic delights, click here.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

A Week in Paris

The metro's free if there is smog
We have just returned from a short week in Paris - a city I absolutely love. Cees and I like to go there once a year if at all possible, we rent a flat and just enjoy being Parisians for a few days.

This year our flat was a tad on the small size – won’t stay there again – that’s the problem with booking last minute, the ones we have stayed in before had all been booked. We’ll have to be more on the ball next year!

Le Pantheon
After breakfast of croissants (fresh from the bakery Le Coquelicot) and espresso in the communal courtyard, we headed off each day to soak up the atmosphere. Sadly, for the second year running, there was a little more “atmosphere” than we would have liked - Paris was drenched in smog, but at least the metro is free when that happens.

We enjoyed ourselves visiting places we hadn’t seen before - Pantheon, Hotel de Cluny, Museum des Arts et Metiers and going back to old favourites – the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Petit Palais and of course Galeries Lafayette. All well worth the visit. We even steeled ourselves for the huge queue at the Louvre and paid that a visit too.

Eiffel Tower
The Louvre is exceptional value and you can spend days in there. The signposting is abysmal which makes navigating your way around a bit difficult at times, but that doesn’t take away from the incredible collection of art and artefacts that they have in there. It only took us about 20 – 25 minutes from leaving the metro station to getting into the museum and that was only achieved by buying our tickets from a rather dubious looking tabac in the station ie not waiting in the one hour queue for the official ticket office and then accidentally getting in the wrong queue at the entrance. A big thank you to the obnoxious Chinese visitors who had a blazing row with the man checking that particular entrance as we walked past him enabling us to miss the 45 minute queue if we had gone in the correct way. Goodness only knows how long the whole process would take in the height of the tourist season and if you were to do it properly. Once inside, apart from the scrum at the Mona Lisa, it was pleasantly empty.

Galeries Lafayette
We found a fantastic new (to us) restaurant in Rue des Trois Frères - Le Jardin d’en Face, which was just down from our flat, where the food was exquisite and the prices very reasonable indeed.

So that’s our holiday over with and now we are gearing up for a full working season - roll on summer!

For information on holiday accommodation one and half hours from Paris click here.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The mystery of the wonky candles

St Claude's wonky candles
On one of our many church visits we managed to get into the church in St Jean de Vaux. Not an easy task as the thing is normally locked and the town hall is only open once in a blue moon.

This is a nice church and I am sure Cees will be able to fill you in on all the architectural high points, but I was fascinated by the candles. It had wonky candles, not just little a bit either, I mean REALLY wonky.

In the north chapel (for St Claude) I noticed that all the candles were leaning. As anyone will be able to see, they are leaning away from the window, so I thought that the sun had been shining through the window and melted one side slightly and the things had started to wonk.

Thinking about it now though, as this is the north chapel, no sun will come in through those windows, but we’ll put that aside for the moment.

Mary has them too
On to the south chapel (Mary) and interestingly enough, all the candles wonk TOWARDS not away from the window. However the candles are wonking in the same direction as St Claude’s - top towards the south. Not quite as dramatic as St Claude's, but a definite lean. The sun could come in through these windows, but would that bend the candles towards the light?

The church is full of them - what's going on?
In yet another chapel (not sure for whom) where there was no window at all, the candles all wonked the same way as well, less than Mary's and definitely less dramatic than St Claude, but the tops were happily displacing themselves towards the south. For completeness, the nearest window would probably have been to the west in this case.

Strange goings on I must say. All the candles wonk top towards the south no matter the direction of the nearest window.

Any ideas why?

Saturday, 7 March 2015


Praying for clear skies
One thing that surprises people who stay here is just how dark it is at night and you can see millions upon millions of stars. I just love looking up at the stars, something I could never do, in most of the places I have lived.

When the theme for my photo group a couple of weeks ago was “sky”, I decided to get out there and take a picture of a beautiful starry night.

Never having taken a photo of the night sky before, I did a bit of research. It all looked simple enough and out I went on what turned out to be the only starry night that week. It was a total failure.

I couldn’t get the camera to see what I was seeing, no matter what I did to the settings, not helped by the fact that you can’t see anything on the blooming camera in the dark! Back to the drawing board, or should I say - more research and a proper set up of the camera in daylight.

Orion over the forest
Then of course the rain set in and not a starry night to be seen.

While photographing miserable skies I came across the little angel above, who must have sent up a prayer for clear skies to return and I managed to capture Orion over the forest opposite our house, but too late for my sky-week photo, besides the moon was too bright anyway, not to mention the settings that still need some tweaking.

Stars over the house
A clear night was promised for last night, so I was out again and managed a view of some stars over our house, not a brilliant photo, but the settings on the camera are starting to be approximately right and at least you can actually see some stars, even though I haven’t a clue what they are called. The moon was full so there was a lot of light pollution – note to self to do this kind of thing next time on a new moon night.

I never realised there would be so many problems being a star photographer..

For information on holiday accommodation where you can see millions of stars at night with or without a camera click here.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Last Sunday of winter

Entance to the abbey
It is official, we have passed the last Sunday of winter. How do I know? Well I’ll tell you - you can get into the abbey in Cluny free of charge on the first Sunday of every month throughout the winter period and this Sunday was the last free Sunday of the season. So even though the weather left a lot to be desired, we went to Cluny to enjoy the abbey one more time before we had to pay for the pleasure.

It never ceases to amaze me how many changes we notice every time we go there.

The cloister - always worth a photo
When Cees’ son came to visit a couple of weeks ago, he went to the abbey while we were at our tai chi lesson and mentioned how impressive the film was. Yes, the film is impressive, but as we had seen the original film, all the replacements for that one have been rather under-whelming. But we were there and I managed to convince Cees to go and see it one more time. Surprisingly the film has undergone some spectacular changes since our last viewing and it is now a not to be skipped experience.

Above what the abbey looked like in its glory, below what's left
It is a great pity that the commentary is only in French with no subtitles in any other language as non-French speakers will miss out on a lot of information and explanation. But that doesn’t take away from the quality of the film which now has reached a stage where the whole abbey comes to life and really makes you imagine you are there. Then when you go into the abbey ruins and see just what a tiny amount of it is left, it makes me mad that this architectural carnage was allowed to happen. What is even more incomprehensible is that it was done deliberately, not as an act of crazed anger against religion, or collateral damaged caused by war, this was a financial decision by the town itself to fund its expansion by selling off the stone. A real crime.

Always the opportunity to take another photo
Having said that, even with so little of the original buildings left, we enjoyed our wander round the whole place and the museum as well which is so much better laid out than it used to be and now no longer qualifies as the “most boring museum in the world” in fact it has entered the “you really must visit this museum” category – no mean feat. Despite the weather I managed a few nice photos and just enjoyed walking around the whole place soaking up enough of the atmosphere to last me until next winter.

Now the summer can begin - I could do with some sunshine.
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