Computer Says No……

This is an ‘off the cuff’ or ‘spur of the moment’ blog, written after our visit to the departmental prefecture at Saint Lo.

Both myself and Susie have lived in France for about 20 years. When we first arrived we had to obtain a ‘carte de sejour’ which doubled as an identity card and work permit. After a few years the French Government decided that these were no longer needed and withdrew the requirement to renew them. Fast forward to 2016, Brexit happened and the government here thought that cards for British permanent residents should become mandatory again.

So here we were, some five years later, in the midst of Covid, driving to our appointment at the prefecture to complete the final bits of paperwork so that we could obtain our cards. It was an unreasonably early rendezvous, just before 10 a.m. and as it was a lengthy drive, we set off at 8.

To alleviate the largely boring journey, we listened to some podcasts, along with occasional interjections from our very English sat nav voice. A podcast of a Gerald Scarfe’s radio program on the subject of Europe and Brexit was playing and Daphne (as I’d christened the disembodied and occasionally helpful voice) kept pointing us, generally, in the correct direction. It turned out that the podcast consisted of edited sound bites which alluded to the pros and cons of remain or leave. Daphne seemed to be uncertain as to which of these two camps to lean towards as she kept telling us to ‘turn left’ or ‘turn right’. Then after we’d listened to a sound bite from Boris Johnson she decided that we should, ‘make a U turn where possible’. Her timing appeared to be impeccable.

Well, we secured a convenient parking spot and suitably masked, walked to the prefecture. An amiable security guard met us just outside the main door, checked our names off his list of appointments and invited us to use the hand sanitizer. A further check of our passports at reception and we were directed to follow the one way staircase and present ourselves at the appropriate cubicle. Our documentation was again checked, our I.D. photos were cut out and attached to yet another form which we had to sign.

The last element of our application was to provide fingerprints. This was achieved with an electronic scanner connected to a computer terminal operated by the official dealing with our cards. Susie presented her hands, first right, then left and finally both thumbs. Scanned without problem. Then came my turn….

Both hands scanned well, however my thumbs proved to be difficult and the scan of them locked up the computer. I do wonder if my prints flagged up a ‘red alert’ when they sent them to Interpol, however no SWAT team or vans with blue lights appeared and with the assistance of two colleagues (who decided that rebooting the computer would solve matters) our official was back on line. I again presented my now infamous prints and all went through.

Of course, this being France, we couldn’t have the cards immediately. They will arrive via the postal service in two to three weeks. No doubt she will serve me with my European arrest warrant at the same time. We made our way to the car and drove home. We chose music, not podcasts to amuse us on the way. All the while I nervously glanced in the mirror to see if we were being tailed but it looks like my crimes are minor. I’m not destined to be classed as a criminal mastermind just yet…

The Year Of Living Safely..

There was a time (P.C…pre covid) that if you wore a mask which covered your face and you weren’t in the medical profession, your probable intent was to hand over a plastic carrier to a terrified counter assistant and tell them to empty a cash drawer into it. How things have changed…

This was to be the year of the ‘big trip’. A near four week tour of Western Canada, to mark my 70th birthday. Almost everything was planned and booked. Flights, hotels and a ferry through the Inside Passage, from Vancouver Island to Bella Coola. Then came Covid and our flights were cancelled. Canada more or less pulled up the drawbridge.

During French lockdown, when only one of us was allowed out to shop (with the required form, signed and dated) we dared to hope that lockdown wouldn’t last forever. We planned an alternate holiday (as we still had flights to Amsterdam) taking in a train tour of Holland, Germany and Poland where we would meet up with friends.

It became apparent though, that travel to other countries, whilst not forbidden, was too risky for us. Another change of plans. Surely staying on French territory was safer? We looked into visiting Corsica and got quite enthused. But then our lovely pet sitters, Gill and Charlie came under the UK governments quarantine regulations and logistically it was too complex. Holidays 2020 were cancelled completely.

Most of our home based Spring and Summer was given over to a garden makeover. We had over 40 fir trees felled, keeping the cherry trees and a large ash tree on the drive which was topped and thinned out. The amount of extra light is amazing and the garden is thriving on it.

A few weeks ago, Susie tried to separate two of our cats that were fighting. She ended up with a nasty bite on her wrist, which developed an abscess and has needed microsurgery and an extended stay in the hospital at Avranches, which serves delightful gourmet meals. There’s more than a touch of irony there…

While she has been in hospital, we very sadly lost Podge, our 13 year old black lab, who Susie had known from a few days old, so Susie had a really difficult time when she heard the news. Two hunters found her in a field not too far away and she is now buried near the lawn.

We can now frequent our weekend restaurants, though wearing our obligatory masks until we are seated. Masks must also be worn in shops. It’s by no means a pleasant experience but if we take as many precautions as we can, perhaps we can have a holiday next year…

A holiday, a holiday, the last one of the year *

(* final verse)

This is a small town. You can (as we did) look round it in a day. Admittedly, that’s much easier to do if most of the shops are already closed up, if not until next year, till Toussaints. This is the next French public holiday on the 1st of November, when they celebrate the UK leaving the EU. I jest, it’s All Saints Day.

It was a brilliantly sunny morning when we started our little tour, it was still sunny when we finished, an hour later…no, I’m kidding again. We visited one side of the port, one of the beaches, the citadel, walked along the old walls and back to the town. It was more than an hour certainly but not yet time for lunch.

We popped back to the hotel and had a short break, munching on crisps etc. (The etc were delicious) and ventured out again. The forecast rain held off and we walked along the other side of the port, past rows of fishermens huts which had been turned into artisans ateliers and shops, though nearly all were closed. A little further on, we stopped to watch an oyster boat come into port and took several opportunities to try out the local benches because of a recurrence of Toulouse leg fatigue. We found one cafe open, drank decent coffee and ate really poor quality waffles. No Michelin stars here…

Wearily, because we were weighed down by waffles, we returned to the hotel, where I slept for almost two hours…such is the effect of bracing sea air…or maybe it was waffles..

Tonight we had our last meal where washing up after wasn’t a requirement. It was very pleasant and Susie had the freshest oysters possible unless you ate them on the boat bringing them into harbour. We aim to leave by 10 tomorrow, and should be home by 4pm. I’ll be glad to get back to some form of normality…as long as it doesn’t involve more walking…

 

 

Many rivers to cross…*

*Or, how we went from Toulouse to two showers.

It was far easier than I thought to find our way out of Toulouse this morning. We were heading for our last destination, Chateau D’Oleron. It started in quite promising weather as I pulled out of the hotel garage, found my way on to the peripherique and subsequently to the autoroute for Bordeaux..

We’ve travelled via autoroute for most the time this trip. A feature of these toll roads in France (in contrast to the UK) is the frequency of their ‘aires’ or rest stops. These are either with or without petrol. The signs for the non petrol ones usually show a large P, a picnic table and a shady evergreen and two children playing on a rustic looking see saw. We’ve shortened this type to ‘pee, tree, play’.

I’m not one for driving at the maximum and am usually overtaken quite frequently. This morning a very rapid Range Rover went past, though just after it’s car number and ‘trop vite’ flashed up on one of the overhead gantries. I did wonder if this extended to a speeding fine. Going round the Bordeaux peripherique is a bit of an experience though you do cross two spectacular rivers, the Garonne and the Dordogne.

We stopped to fill up and bought two of the most disgusting ham and cheese baguettes for lunch. Pressing on, the sun disappeared and quite close to our destination it began to rain. We arrived at the hotel in a heavy drizzle and quickly brought in enough things for tonight before moving the car to a proper parking spot, just round the corner. The hotel is really boutique, quirky, homely and warm. We have his and her showers in the bathroom, or if you were athletic you could soap yourself under one and run across to rinse off in the other.

It being off season, our choice of eating places was very limited. However, we had a great meal just up the road from the hotel. No Michelin stars but very honest and tasty.

We hope the sun will poke through the clouds tomorrow and we’ll have a stroll round the small town here…if not we’ll get wet..

I was born under two Michelin stars..

It’s been a day for ‘splashing cash’ in smaller and greater amounts. This morning, we walked no, make that limped in an ungainly fashion due to Toulouse fatigue, to Capitole. We went in search of a coffee house, which seemed to have closed, paused to have a coffee from a street vendor and listened to an excellent blind busker singing to a backing tape of No Woman, No Cry.

We located both the shops we’d intended to visit, the first, selling rather kitsch ‘Hello Kitty’ sort of merchandise. Two items were purchased, a cute human shaped tea infuser which hangs over the side of your cup and a large coffee mug, moulded into a grumpy face. Any subtle hint of irony or stereotyping has now been abandoned apparently. Secondly we called into the tea shop that Susie used to frequent when she lived near here. Amazingly we purchased some tea…

After a restful couple of hours back at the hotel, we walked round to Michel Sarran a two Michelin starred restaurant. We’ve never dined at this level before and considering the second mortgage size of the bill, it my be some time before we repeat the experience. But, what an experience. The food, flavours, textures and presentation were all at a different level to other restaurants we’ve dined at. We were presented with a copy of the menu, signed by the owner as we left, which made our evening complete. I make no apologies for including all of the food images…

Tomorrow we leave Toulouse for Chateau D’Oleron. Visiting a big city is great for a few days but I think we are both ready for a couple of relaxing days…

Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare…

Some cities you love or hate, some you love and hate and some leave you a little undecided. Barcelona I love and London is definitely love and hate, though perhaps hate is too much of an emotive word. We walked extensively (emphasis on extensively) round Toulouse today. I began with pre conceived ideas about it, which changed as the day went on. I can’t ignore it’s obvious homeless rough sleepers, an encampment of whom were about to be evicted by the municipal police from a shop frontage this morning. I’m not condemning them at all, just that their presence makes you feel a bit on edge. However, the rest of Toulouse began to win me over. It has fabulous architecture, intriguing history, lots of open spaces, quirky and swanky boutiques and more variety of bars and restaurants than you can poke with a Michelin star.

On our rambles, we came across Capsule a quirky small pavement cafe run by two lovely girls. We had a hot drink and a couple of very yummy patisseries and found out that they had only been open less than a week. We loved it so much we decided to return for a late lunch.

From late morning we wandered around, taking in the Capitole, then down to the Jardin des Plantes and up the Allees Francois Verdier, where an antiques market was in full swing. There’s certainly plenty of variety in Toulouse.

By now we were flagging and our weary legs led us back to Capsule for a much needed light snack and a cold drink. It’s a shame they aren’t open tomorrow, as I’m certain we would have returned. Retracing our route from this morning, we walked past the river and then the canal, where we paused to watch a tourist boat negotiate the locks back into the river, with the lock keeper operating the gates by remote control. This evening we’ve relaxed in our hotel room, massaging our over used legs with virtual essential oils…or eating crisps as we know it..

We’ll wander a bit further tomorrow, then in the evening we have a date at a two Michelin star restaurant. Let’s hope they turn the lights on…

We want to see the bright lights tonight..

All this travelling is playing havoc with my body clock, so I’m unsure as to whether it’s Friday or Saturday, I have little idea of the date and the only way I can tell the time is if I’ve eaten lunch or dinner…ah, you knew food would enter at some point…

Yesterday afternoon we were joined at Maggie and Martin’s by two new house guests. Peta, who is an old friend of Susies and Janice, who is house sitting for Maggie and Martin next week. We all went out for a tapas meal at Le Relais in Mirepoix. We had a great meal in a private side room and as is usual with us, we were the last ones to leave..

Today, we said goodbye to Peta, then Maggie, Martin and Janice and continued our travels to Toulouse. Susie loves Toulouse, so much so that her enthusiasm was having a negative effect on my perception of what the city would be like. Anyway, as usual the satnav took us on a small detour before dropping us at the door of the hotel. We checked in, parked, unloaded, found our room and once orientated, set off for Compans Caffarelli and it’s Japanese Gardens. Let’s make it clear, I’m not a huge fan of gardens, though these were impressively beautiful. Marred a bit by the number of people disturbing the Zen quality of the scenery, it was still tranquil and serene.

We found our way back to the hotel and got ready for our 8pm reservation at Sept, a Michelin starred restaurant, some 20 minutes stagger for two overweight and travel weary pensioners.

I think it’s meant to enhance the establishments ambiance but each table only had one small light and the restaurant was lit like a cinema just before the main feature begins. Add to this the staff being outfitted all in black, I was amazed there weren’t more culinary collisions. We were offered the choice of two degustation menus and chose the one with the least courses. The food was outstanding, though I’ll apologise for the poorly lit photos…

It was almost 11pm by the time we came out and we sauntered back to our hotel through the Saturday night student revellers. Amazingly, there isn’t a plan for tomorrow. I’m sure one of us will come up with something..it may involve food one way or another.

Kick out the confitures, brothers & sisters

*For those confused by the blog title (and who wouldn’t be), Google MC5, 1969…

When we stayed in Pezenas, three years ago our breakfasts were greatly added to by jam from a small producer about 40 minutes drive away and on our way towards our friends in the Ariege we decided to take a small diversion to try and buy some.

We left our B&B in Pezenas after breakfast, though not before we got a parking ticket while we collected our suitcases from our room. The jam makers shop was located in the strangely named Neffies. It was a little hard to find, though the square where the shop was located was very interesting. Susie bought quite a few jars of differing flavours, we got back to the car and headed off for Rivel, where Maggie and Martin live.

A short hop down the autoroute and we arrived, had a long chat over coffee, did some unpacking and had a lovely dinner.

The next day, we went to see more friends, Annie and Gary, to collect some furniture of Susies, which they had been storing. This is now being stored with Martin and Maggie until we can arrange for a man with a van, to transport it up to Normandy.

in the evening, we went to Creamundo for dinner. We’d been three years ago and the cuisine is still excellent. Well seasoned, with big flavours and even bigger portions…

Yes, that really was beef stew and fries, which Chef emphasised were Belgian fries, not French…..

 

The Long And Winding Road…

Today was our last full day in Pezenas. There were places here that we hadn’t either explored properly before or that we wanted to see again, so today was mostly given over to that. I say mostly, as by the time lunch was over, today had become a mini version of a UN meeting.

We began this morning with breakfast at our B&B. It was worth waiting for, coffee, bread, orange juice and super mini pastries, freshly delivered (and still hot) from the boulangerie round the corner. Following breakfast we wandered through the artisan area of the old town, up to the 13th century Jewish quarter, then a stroll down the 18th century Cours Jean Jaures.

Lunch was about due and we looked for a charming French bistro..we ended up at a Thai restaurant. It wasn’t bad and we were seated close to two ladies who were speaking english. Susie ended up chatting to them and found that one was indeed English and the other lady, Finnish. She spotted that Susie was wearing Issey Miyake and the conversation soon turned to fashion. The Finnish lady owned a boutique nearby and stocked Annikki Karvinen, an 87 year old fashion designer and of course, Susie has some of her clothes. We were invited to visit her boutique and of course, Susie now has more Karvinen clothes. The boutique also stocks art by the english lady and the english husband of the Finnish lady.. I hope you are all paying attention as there’ll be questions at the end….

We had reserved a table tonight, at a restaurant with no roof, though it was on the proviso that if it rained the restaurant would be closed. You might guess it began raining about an hour before the restaurant opened and I confirmed that it was closed online. Just across the road was an establishment we’d earmarked as a back up. Having dined there tonight it’s only suitable for emergency purposes and I make no apologies for a lack of photographs which were largely uninspiring.

So tomorrow we leave Pezenas, sure that we will return, if only to visit that boutique. On we drive to Rivel, to stay with our friends Maggie and Martin…

Good morning sunshine…

We aren’t having much luck with breakfast here. We are having some, but it isn’t where we are staying. It may be poor communication but we’ll see if we fare better tomorrow.

It was hot and sunny today, probably into the high 20’s and we had chosen this day to visit Sete, which is on the Med coast, not too far from here. We’d already booked a promising restaurant for lunch which was a little away from the centre, so we parked up just across the bridge and prepared for an hours wander round a beautiful town. Oh dear…

I’m not saying Sete doesn’t have it’s good points, it has a lovely waterfront. But there’s no charm, it’s full of commerce and tourist trap bars and restaurants. The town centre is quite built up and pedestrianised. We got lost trying to find the Tourist Information Centre which says a lot. Anyway, we eventually did and armed with a map and directions we went looking for Terre et Mer, our lunch spot.

It was worth the walk…The waiter was charming, food delicious and we ate outside in glorious sunshine, what more could you want?

It was very warm when we waddled back to the car, perhaps the excess food didn’t help. We walked over the bridge, just a French version of the ‘Yellow Submarine’ went under. A peculiar looking thing, I guess it may be a glass bottomed boat, at least I hope so, otherwise there will be some very wet tourists if it’s semi submersible.

We drove back to Pezenas and found our sneaky parking spot had been taken, so we’ve had to leave the car up at the old railway station overnight. Tomorrow we go in search of special jam….hopefully that doesn’t involve one leaving our car park….