Monday, 26 August 2013

More visitors and... a new kitchen....

Somehow another couple of weeks have drifted by.  Well, I say drifted by... but we've had visitors and there's always plenty to keep me occupied before visitors arrive (cleaning, meal planning, shopping etc), then while they're here and even after they've gone!

Our visitors were our very good friends Caroline and Paul and their children, Cara and Reuben.  They live in Staffordshire and we met them nearly 11 years ago when we were all on holiday in Fuerteventura.  Cara was only 2 years old and Reuben wasn't even a twinkle in his dad's eye yet!  It's always easy to remember how and when we met because Danny and I were in Fuerteventura to celebrate my 50th birthday!

Here are a few photos from their visit.....
Liam loves Cara (and I think she loved him too!)

Everyone loves our swing seat and Cara & Reuben are no exceptions!

Oops... a ball needed retrieving!

Mmmm.... Cara likes her chocolate mousse!

Danny and Reuben enjoy their 'jellies'

While Caroline, Paul, Cara and Reuben were here, we took the opportunity to show them the beautiful village of Coulon, situated in the Marais Poitevin (or 'Green Venice').  I've mentioned this area before on my blog and this time, we found a part of it we hadn't seen before.  This is a collage of a few of the photos we took there ....

We still have two lots of visitors during this year's summer season so look out for pictures of their visits!
Now, did you spot in this post's title those magic words "new kitchen"?  Well, to be fair that's a bit of an exaggeration but maybe it got your attention! Anyway, the situation with the kitchen is that although I can't have the window changed to a door just yet because the artisan who is now going to do the job is fully booked up until February, he has told us that there is nothing to stop us going ahead with refitting it!  I can't tell you how brilliant that is!  A friend of ours here is fitting the kitchen for us and he told us he could start today!  So, no sooner than our guests had left, Danny and I got stuck into packing up the contents of some of the old units, removing those units then stripping the walls ready for repairing and painting.  Having a friend to fit the kitchen means that he will tackle the job in sections so that any inconvenience is minimised.  For those of you who haven't seen it, here is what the "old" kitchen looked like...


....and here are some pictures of the first section "going"

Danny even managed to get two coats of new paint on this part of the walls before Les started this morning...

..... and this is how it looks after Day One...

Obviously, I'll keep you posted as things progress!  It's so exciting to be able to tell you about this progress after all the various disappointments (which I refuse to dwell on because I do believe that everything happens for a reason - even if that reason isn't always immediately obvious!).  But at last I feel Danny and I are starting to put our stamp on this house.

I'm going to leave you with a picture that I think is not just amusing, it epitomes our life here!  Naturally, we always stock up the fridges when guests are due.  But this picture is one of our fridge, having been replenished AFTER our last guests left!!

Now isn't that a happy fridge?!

Until next time...à bientôt tous!

Monday, 5 August 2013

Latest ramblings!

I want to share with you a comparison of my life here with my life in the UK.  I think most of you know how clear our roads are, here in rural France.  It was particularly brought home to me as I drove over to my hairdresser the other day.  She's about 18 kilometres away from where we live - that's about 12 miles.   I allow about 25 minutes for the journey and am always early!  My hairdresser in the UK was less than 4 miles from where we lived and yes! I allowed the same amount of time to get there even though I should have been able to get there within 10 minutes!

And as I was driving over to have my hair done, I did what I've been meaning to do for months.  I stopped and took a couple of photos because there are such  breath-taking views along the way.  From where I stopped, this was the view on one side of the road....

....and this is the view on the other .....

To continue with the theme from my previous post, this last weekend we went to a 'vide greniers' in a small village called Arçais in the Marais Poitevan area.  I had heard about this village from my friend Donna who went there coincidentally last weekend and her pictures of it looked so good I decided we should visit it too.  So when I discovered there was a vide greniers on there, it seemed the perfect opportunity to go.  Our wonderful Satnav took us a very long winded way there and it took us well over an hour but I sometimes think it's no bad thing because you get to see even more of the area that way.  Anyway, we got there, parked up and had a wander round.  Here's a picture of the main street, as we arrived...
There was little to interest us but I did succumb to a nice bracelet for €3!
After a while, we decided to have some lunch in what looked like a very nice restaurant.  It was packed which was a good sign too!  They were rushed off their feet so we had a bit of a wait but it was worth it.  Here's Danny tucking into his "Entrecote frites"
and me, looking very serious for some reason as I tuck into my "Moules frites"...!!!

In case you're wondering why we are eating indoors - which is most unusual for us! - it's because there were no seats outside that were à l'ombre - or 'in the shade' and I couldn't eat with the sun beating down on me!

Suddenly, while we were finishing off our meal, there was the sound of trumpets being played outside.  It turned out to be a procession of people dressed in historical costume; they walked up and down the road then congregated on a makeshift stage.  Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea what it was about though!!

Here are pictures of it....

The sign at the front of the stage includes the words "Les Grelets" which seems to be a type of medieval musical bell instrument.  The "Xanton Chassenon" on the sign is the name of a village in the Vendée region which I assume is where the troupe came from.  Fascinating though and if any of my readers can throw more light on it, I'd be very interested to know!!!
Now just a few titbits before I sign off.  Back in the spring when I was optimistic about how my garden was going to develop, I bought some fruit bushes that were to go into my potager (kitchen garden).  Of course that hasn't happened yet but I planted the bushes in large pots in the meantime and was thrilled to discover that I actually had some raspberries!  These are the very first three of my raspberries!!

Of course, there's been more since then but it was so exciting to find these first ones that I just had to rush out and take a photo!  Can you imagine what I'll be like when I start growing things properly in my potager?!  (Note the optimism!)

I don't want to go on about the garden - there'll be plenty of time to tell you about it when things progress.  But in the meantime, Finn and Liam keep losing their ball in the hole!  Well, I say 'losing' - we actually think that Finn drops it in there to upset Liam and amuse himself.  So this has been a very common sight for the last few weeks.....

However.... in the last couple of days, both Finn and Liam have worked out how they can go in and out of the hole themselves.  On the one hand it's very naughty of them and we should be reprimanding them..... but on the other hand, it does save Danny having to lie prostrate at the edge of the hole on an almost daily basis!!

Now... an amusing little something to finish on......about what Danny and I have called the "gravillon fairy"!!  The French word "gravillon" means gravel or loose chippings and they are used for repairing potholes in the roads.    All around us, we keep coming across lanes which have been repaired recently.  But when do they do the repairs?  These are lanes quite close to the house but we don't see or hear any lorries that might be involved in doing the repairs during the day nor do we hear them at night.  So it's a mystery and Danny and I have decided that there simply must be a "gravillon fairy" at work!
À bientôt mes amis

Friday, 2 August 2013

This French Life...

The last three weeks have not been just about visitors! Nor have they been just about doing stuff around the house and garden.  We made the mistake last year of not getting out as much as we could have done so this year we are trying to do so. An ideal way of seeing new villages (new to us, I mean!) and to get to know the area better is to go to "vide greniers". I may have explained these before but essentially, they are like the English car boot or American garage sales.   The phrase 'vide greniers' is literally translated as 'empty attics'.  It seems that each village that has a 'vide greniers' does so on a particular day each year, so it might be the third Sunday in July for example.  There are various websites that give you details. Click here for an example.

They are very organised and well laid out events, often taking up all of the central roads in a village.  I am particularly impressed by the condition of articles being sold as they are usually very clean and nicely displayed.  I did some boot sales in the UK and have to admit, the stuff I was selling usually went straight from the loft, into the car and onto an old pasting table at the boot sale.  Another thing that impresses me is the prices because more often than not, people are only asking a very small amount for their goods.

Of course, nothing gets in the way of eating in France and it's not at all uncommon to find the sellers cluttered round tables behind their 'selling tables', with various family members/friends, tucking into their lunch, a bottle of wine or two to accompany it!

Those of you who know rural France know that you can drive for hours around these villages and not see a soul!  Shutters are often closed, there are no bars or restaurants open and the villages have an air of emptiness about them.  Not on the day of 'vide greniers' they're not! (Nor on a market day, come to that!).  At one 'vide greniers' we went to recently in the village of Saint-Pompain we were pleasantly surprised to find a nice little bar open.... here's Danny at that very bar!

Another 'vide greniers' we went to recently was in Bressuire, a small town near us and one with which we are familiar.  But they held a new 'vide greniers' at the foot of the chateau there and although it was very small compared to most of the ones we go to, the setting was particularly picturesque...

Last weekend we experienced something totally different.  It was a "Marché flottant" or floating market.  It is held in the village of Le Vanneau on the last Saturday of July each year.  This village is in an area known as the "Marais Poitevan" or Green Venice.  Please take a moment to read all about the area here as it is a particularly beautiful part of our region of Poitou-Charentes.  As you will read, merchants used the waterways before there were roads and the floating market recreates this each year.  Unfortunately, we got there later than we should, not realising that the market didn't go on all day but it didn't spoil our enjoyment... nor did it save me from spending a small fortune on cheese!!  Here are some photos I took that day...

Now, the last thing I want to share with you in this post, was our invitation to and our experience of the recent "Pique-nique village" - or 'Village Picnic'.  Let me first explain that we live in a small hamlet comprising maybe a dozen houses in all.  One day, some weeks ago, one of our 'neighbours' called round to invite us to the annual 'pique-nique village'; he explained that the event starts around 12.30pm and lasts pretty much all afternoon and evening.  It was being held at his house and he said that you take a picnic lunch and then in the evening they light barbecues on which you cook whatever meat you've brought along.   We were very pleased to have been invited but I confess, equally pleased that, because it was on the day that Danny's son Joe would be arriving for his visit, we would not be able to stay for the whole day.  It's hard to explain, but there's a limit to the number of hours you can spend struggling with the language!!
Anyway, I packed us a pretty meagre picnic especially by my usual standards - some shop-bought quiche (well, sorry!  but I had been so busy getting ready for Joe's visit that I didn't get round to making a quiche myself!), some salad and some (yes, home-made) potato salad.  I guessed that we might need to take our own plates and cutlery so I packed those too, along with some soft drinks as we would both be driving to the airport later.  The first hiccup was when we got there and spotted someone else unpacking their picnic chairs from the car!  So when we were greeted by our host, my first question was did we need to bring chairs.  The answer was a resounding 'yes' so we had to come back home and get a couple of our folding chairs!!  And then go back and start again!!
Our host and his wife - François et Marie-Line - had very kindly provided us with a printout from Google Maps showing all the houses in the hamlet and had added all the names of the people who live here.  So the first thing was a massive introduction job - everyone was introduced to us and almost without exception, it involved the usual double cheek kisses for all!  Even the young children came up and kissed us.  Finally we sat down around maybe three tables that had been set out in a long line in the shade of some trees in François and Marie-Line's garden.  The tables were covered with plastic cloths and on them were various dishes of "nibbles".  François went around pouring glasses of apéritifs including the favourite here of Pastis (which is an aniseed flavoured liqueur typically containing 45% alcohol!!) and somewhat surprisingly, Port.  As I said, we were both due to drive later so we refrained from this rather tempting start and we sat there chastely sipping orange juice instead!!
This apéritif-drinking and nibbles-eating went on for a good hour or so!  I noticed that most of them started out with neat Pastis, moving to adding water, by the second or third glass.  It was clearly going to be a long hard day of drinking for most of them!  Then, Marie-Line cleared all this away and invited people to start their picnic lunch.  For one ghastly moment I thought it was going to be a kind of 'bring and share' arrangement but thankfully everyone stuck to their own.  I mean it's one thing bringing a meagre meal for yourself but quite another, offering it to your new-found friends! 
I know that traditionally lunch is the main meal of the day in France but I hadn't bargained for the lavish meals that they all produced at the village picnic that day!  To a man, they all had starters; some tucked into half a melon - yes half a melon each! The couple opposite us were eating boiled eggs with some sort of salad. Then various salads were eaten; all beautifully presented on their plates.  Baguettes were enjoyed along with bottles of wine.  A main course followed and I noted most people were eating chicken (I assume cold) with maybe crisps or in some cases, just by itself.  Then some people had cheese (which, incidentally here, is a course eaten before dessert) and finally, people tucked into their desserts.  But picture this...... the whole time this meal was being eaten, Danny and I had our one little plate each of shop-bought quiche, salad and potato salad!  I can't tell you how embarrassed I was!  I still chuckle to think of it as I wonder what our neighbours made of it all!!  At one point, when we refused some wine, someone even asked us if we didn't like alcohol!!!
It wasn't long after the meal was finished, that we decided to make our exit.  Aside from the embarrassment of our meal, it had been a good experience and we are both really glad we made the effort to go.  It wasn't easy language-wise but I managed and a couple of them did speak a little bit of English.  When I was asked what jobs we did in the UK and I told them I was a Tax Inspector, it caused very much merriment!  Always an ice-breaker that one!!! We found out that the picnic is held every year, usually on the second Sunday in July, and each year a different family in the hamlet hosts it.  Hopefully we'll be invited next year and if so, our intention is to stay for the whole day so we get an idea of what goes on for the whole event.  Then, the year after that, we'd like to host it ourselves.
At least next time we should be able to have a few drinks (so the language problem won't be so noticeable?) and I'll pack us a bigger meal!  You live and learn don't you! And I'm sure we must have provided some amusement for our neighbours!
I hope you've enjoyed reading about how we're settling into this French life and I look forward to writing more soon.
A bientôt.