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 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…



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…