A little Re of sunshine…

The purpose of our stay in St Martin was to relax and decompress after the ‘Tour De France’, similar to the last stage into Paris where the winner shares a bottle of champagne with his team mates whilst riding their bikes. Well, we neither rode bikes or shared a bottle of champagne, though I managed to have a couple of beers during the weekend.

We had stayed in St Martin De Re and in our hotel, La Baronnie before. It’s a lovely, luxurious hotel and does a fab breakfast. The town is small, though the harbour area is both interesting and lively. There didn’t appear to be a huge amount of tourists and we had two delicious meals, in O Parloir, a quirky restaurant with pop art decor and Baline Bleu, which is a more traditional portside eating place. Our first night in the hotel was unfortunately disturbed by some Irish guests, making a row and unloading boxes from a car at 4:30 in the morning. No, we didn’t know why either.

We wandered around the town, looking in some of the tourist shops, stocked with nautically themed items and those horizontally striped T shirts, designed to accentuate the two kilos you’ve gained in Michelin starred restaurants. The harbour is pleasant to sit beside so we had coffee and just people watched.

We left on Monday morning and drove up the boring D road to join the autoroute for home. Unfortunately Charles, our sat nav voice, had a minor embolism near Angers and directed us through the city center. He had done this once before, so I should have ignored him and continued on to Nantes, but his voice is so persuasive I decided not to. Besides, who then would have brought me the mid morning G&T? What it did do was to convince us that Angers was worthy of a visit rather than an unfortunate wrong turn.

So, we arrived home mid afternoon, somewhat weary but pleased to see our animal crew again. We’ve discovered places we want to return to and others which we feel we’ve ticked off our list. France has many more corners to discover… a bientot!!

Winners, not Two loo’s ers

Well, as I was hinting at in the last blog, our experience of staying at Creamundo was quite different to eating there. It’s a lovely place, Nicolas is wonderful chef and whipped up the most wonderful breakfasts with french toast or scrambled eggs straight out of the kitchen. But the stairs to our room were challenging, the wifi was out of range upstairs and it was turned off late in the evening. I suppose that’s a good thing, to divorce yourself from the connected world but a little frustrating when you have a blog to publish.

Anyway we met up with friends during our stay, had two great meals (one in a chateau) and tried to relax for a while.

Toulouse may only be a short drive from the Ariege but it’s a world away in many respects. I must admit that on my second stay there I did begin to appreciate it’s qualities. It’s busy, with a large student presence and very handy for shopping, which Susie did. She’s recently taken up crocheting again and she called in to a wool shop, where she bought so much they were herding sheep into the rear of the shop so they could re stock.

We had two fabulous meals in Toulouse, the second in Sept (which we’d dined in before). It’s a one Michelin star restaurant with no menu. You eat what’s put in front of you which can be revealing, interesting or challenging. They also dim the lights when the place is full, mainly so you can’t see the bill at the end.

The night before we ate at Hito whose cuisine is French but with a Japanese twist. It’s very small and almost floodlit by comparison to Sept. We were served by a Russian waitress who was really charming and the food left us speechless with it’s textures and flavours. A definite one to return to and probably our favourite meal of this trip.

So, we left Toulouse on Saturday morning by almost deserted streets, negotiated the inner city and the peripherique and after a long drive arrive here, in St Martin de Re, which is where the next blog will begin…

Uzes loses and iffy wifi

I must say, here and now, that this blog may be either long or truncated due to lack of or unreliable wifi during the last week or so. It is also possible that tiredness and over eating had an influence of my writing abilities.

So, we had intended to visit Uzes while in Nimes. On paper (or the internet) it seemed an easy trip but we had an unfortunate attack of Nimes Knees so decided to wander round the Roman Museum instead. Preparations for the evenings bullfight were in full swing and from the upper floors of the museum we could see the horses being led away from their transporter. It’s a nice museum with excellently curated exhibits and a friendly staff. We’d had a snack at the museum cafe before our visit where our waiter told us that his 17 year old daughter was going to begin a job as an aupair in Peterborough. Bit of a change from Nimes…

We went back to the hotel to massage our wonky knees and prepare for our evening meal at the restaurant on the top floor of the museum. We were one of the first to arrive and were seated on the terrace, overlooking the arena where mercifully, the bullfight had just ended. During our meal we were serenaded (all at the same time) by a jazz band, a samba band and a France Bleu disco. It didn’t spoil our meal or disturb our nights sleep. We really like the Ibis Styles hotel in Nimes and would use it again. Next morning we left for Pezenas, by way of Aigue Mortes.

Pezenas is only a 90 minute drive from Nimes. Sadly our plans were again thwarted by roadworks and a loud French motorist who shouted at me for cutting him up on a roundabout..the nerve of some people.

This was our third visit to Pezenas and apart from staying in a boutique hotel, which was tired and not a little scruffy nothing had changed. We wandered round the artisans shops and had an excellent tapas meal on our second evening. It certainly outdid the hotel bistro, whose food was not scruffy but definitely a bit tired.

We then moved on to Leran, to visit friends in the area. We stayed at Creamundo whose breakfasts were out of this world but whose wifi was….well more of that in the next blog.

Arles be back…

We had an early start this morning, as our train to Arles left Nimes at 8:15, so when we arrived 30 minutes later a lot of the town was yet to wake up. Still, by the time we had walked from the station the Roman arena was open and we could wander round it. The arena is still used for bullfights sadly, so essentially, not much has changed in 2,000 years.

It’s amazing to see the original Roman construction under the arches and how talented and clever the workmen were in ancient times. After a few minutes we were joined by a group of noisy French schoolchildren, one of whom I would have cheerfully thrown to a passing lion in the arena. They followed us round for most of the morning…

Next stop was the Roman amphitheatre, though we paused for coffee first. The amphitheatre is not as well preserved as the arena but has a large modern stage for performances. It has brilliant acoustics, in fact you can every shout from a French schoolboy in an orange T shirt. Yes, he avoided the lion….

We’d also chosen to visit Arles because of Luma, an arts site and exhibition space whose main building was designed by one of our favourite architects, Frank Gehry. There are obvious echoes of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, in the use of aluminium and the strange form the building takes. There’s also a huge central atrium, housing a helter skelter as a one way elevator alternate. It’s fun (no we didn’t try it) and the building itself is stunning.

Surprisingly we also ate lunch at Luma, in their Drum Cafe. They served up a wonderful Vietnamese inspired vegetarian lunch with the most outstanding chocolate dessert. It’s probably one of the main reasons I’d return to Arles, yes it was that good.

We slowly trudged back to the station, suffering the effects of humidity and chocolate. There was no sign of the Orange T shirted schoolboy. No doubt he was back home and safely tucked away in the cupboard under the stairs. Our train arrived dead on time and we staggered back to the hotel. Arles is worth a second visit we think, as is Nimes. It’s our last full day here tomorrow and we plan to visit the Roman museum. Provided it isn’t washed away during the night…

Macon whoopee..with added pluie

We left Troyes with a strong impression that we may well be back. Not only because the town is lovely but it has ‘Chez Felix’, a cat themed restaurant situated in the ‘Ruelle De Chats’. The food wasn’t particularly spectacular but the interior quirky and the atmosphere welcoming. We enjoyed our evening and set off the next morning for Macon (with a K sound not a C).

We found the hotel, parked up and had a quick explore. We tried to find the restaurant for that evening but ended up with a map malfunction (my version of getting lost). Anyway once we got back to the hotel we thought that Macon was nice but not really nice enough to make a return visit worthwhile, Our meal at Ma Table En Ville changed that significantly. It’s a small restaurant but the food was excellent, tasty and well presented. For a one night stop it may be a place to come back to.

We were off again the next morning for Nimes with a trip to Pont Du Gard along the way. Most of the trip was uneventful, though we did see from the overhead gantry signs that the A9 into Nimes was closed and that an ‘alerte rouge’ was in force. We just hit some really heavy rain as we drove onto the exit ramp for Pont Du Gard but it eased off quite quickly and we arrived in the ‘Pont’ car park under fairly sunny skies. What a spectacular sight the Pont is especially when you consider it’s practically 2,000 years old.

Having walked over the lower part and fed the inner historian we made our way back to the car and set off for Nimes where we found out all Hell had broken loose while we sauntered round Pont Du Gard in the sunshine. Thunder, lightning, 2 months rain in 30 minutes, trees uprooted etc. Luckily our hotel and it’s car park were unaffected though our choice of restaurant was closed due to flood damage.

This morning we had an explore, taking in the ‘arenes’ or Roman arena and the Maison Carre, a Roman Temple. We found out that we couldn’t see the interior of the arenes because of the flooding and a small matter of an imminent ‘feria’ or bullfight tournament during the latter half of this week…Trust us to turn up now.

Anyway we had prebooked somewhere to eat tonight but when we got there a note had been stuck to the window to the effect that they had no electricity and couldn’t open that evening. So, back to plan A and the place from last night which had now reopened. It was a lovely meal and we are returning on Friday.

Tomorrow we are off to Arles by train…barring rockslides and bandit raids that is..

Un, deux, Troyes..

It was a warm late summers morning when we drove away from Les Douaires. I was slightly apprehensive about the start of our holidays but happy that after almost two years of Covid lockdown and restrictions we were finally able to ‘go away’, albeit to France.

After a long and sometimes slow drive we arrived in Troyes and our hotel for the next two nights. Troyes is pronounced ‘trois’ and is the city where the troy weight for gold originated. So, nothing to do with Greek legends and wooden horses.

It’s a lively town, a little touristy and with a sizable student population, which we observed on our first night, eating and drinking, well mostly drinking but then it was Saturday. We’d reserved a table at Le Valentino, which was really nice but a little reserved. We strolled back through the old town which is really charming and got to bed quite early as we were both very tired.

Today, fortified by a buffet breakfast, we explored more of the old town which I gradually warmed to. There were slightly less people around which probably helped. The historic centre is quite small, though we managed to fill in nearly five hours of walking. Perhaps I should point out that the walking was interspersed with stops for sedentary recovery of tired limbs and ‘refuelling’

We staggered back to the hotel and had a nap before going out for dinner. Yes, this holiday will follow the pattern of other preceding ones, walking, sightseeing and stuffing our faces. Tonight we ate at ‘Chez Felix’, an appropriately cat themed restaurant in the ‘Ruelle De Chats’.

It was really nice and had a much warmer ambiance than the previous night. I chose a dessert which contained a pear sorbet and a sizeable shot of eau de vie. Be warned, it’s very potent.

Anyway, we are now back in our room, with an alarm set so we can breakfast fairly early. Our next stop (for one night only) is Macon, 300km further south. Then on to Pont Du Gard, Nimes etc…..

Hi ! Tea?

…..well, coffee actually

Landivy is a sleepy village in Northern France. There’s no getting round that impression, certainly to a casual tourist. Luckily we aren’t tourists but explorers and locals to boot. So, when we heard about a tea room opening there it piqued our interest. Lets face it, anywhere we can sit down and put on a kilo or two is interesting to us…..

The tea room (or salon de the in French) is called Le Patis and it’s run by two lovely guys, Jon and Jason. It was the week of Susie’s birthday celebrations (yes, a week because a day just isn’t long enough) so I said I’d treat her to a high tea. Introduced into England in 1840 by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, afternoon tea (which evolved with savoury sandwich additions into high tea) began because she felt hungry about four in the afternoon. Dinner was usually served at eight o’clock in the evening so she asked for a tray of tea, bread and butter and cake be brought to her room in the late afternoon. This became a habit and she invited friends, thus it became fashionable.

Anyway, we arrived at our appointed hour, despite a lengthy diversion for road works and were welcomed warmly. The tea room is bijoux but it’s interior quirky and interesting. Our choice of tea or coffee was taken and soon we were feasting on sandwiches, home baked scones with jam and clotted cream and home made cakes. It was honestly the best high tea we’ve had since coming to France, which is saying something considering we’ve been here twenty years..

There was a long chat with Jon and Jason after we’d stuffed ourselves (Susie took home some cakes she couldn’t eat and scones we bought to have later) and we promised to return for a second round. Our stomachs only allowed us a weeks break and we had high tea again this week. It seems like https://www.facebook.com/LePatisLandivy will become a regular port of call for us. We won’t have to be dragged there kicking and screaming, that’s for sure.

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…