Friday’s French – je me débrouille


“Je me débrouille” is one of Jean Michel’s most oft-used expressions. The verb brouiller comes from the Gallo-Roman brodiculare which is turn comes from the verb brodigar in the Italian dialect of Bergamo (a lovely city, what’s more) meaning to sully or soil, a derivative of the German brod, meaning broth. In old French, it was used figuratively to mean to alter and finally to mix up or disrupt.

This is not Bergamo of course, but Milan, which is the next big city.

This is not Bergamo of course, but Milan, which is the closest big city.

Apart from its use in “oeufs brouillés” (scrambled eggs), the initial meaning has been lost. It is now used figuratively to mean “to create confusion by eliminating order” as in “brouiller les pistes” which literally means to cover tracks but metaphorically means to confuse or cloud the issue.

This has led to a series of uses that all revolve around the idea of something not being clear.

Il a des idées brouillées:  His ideas are somewhat muddled.

Après avoir fermé le coffre, il faut brouiller la combinaison – After closing the safe, you have to scramble the numbers.

Cette affaire d’argent l’a brouillée avec sa famille. – This money business has created bad feeling with his family.

La buée a brouillé mes lunettes – My glasses have misted up.

Il m’a brouillé avec l’informatique – He really put me off computers.

Now for débrouiller. Well, it’s the opposite of brouiller, used in expressions such as débrouiller les fils (untangle the thread)s, débrouiller les papiers (sort out your papers), débrouiller un élève en informatique (teach a student the basics of computing).

In the reflexive form, i.e. se débrouiller, it takes on the meaning of being able to work something out for yourself despite the difficulties, which is the way Jean Michel uses it.

Tu es sûr que tu as assez de briques? Je me débrouille : Are you sure you have enough bricks? I’ll make do.

As-tu la liste des courses? Je me débrouille : Do you have the shopping list? I’m looking after it.

Il pleut. Comment fais-tu pour le béton? Je me débrouille : It’s raining. What will you do about the concrete? Don’t worry.

In fact, the essential meaning is “don’t worry, I’ll find a way and you don’t have to ask me any more questions about it”. But I’m one of those (annoying) people who likes to know how problems are solved so I’m always asking “Tu vas te débrouiller comment ?” (How are you going to do it?). But I don’t always get an answer. I should learn to use it more myself, but being a woman, I always feel I have to give an explanation for everything!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Cement Mixers and Crows


Jean Michel has widened the window in the laundry to put in a new one as practice for the bay window that he is going to make in the 70 cm thick wall in the kitchen to let in more light and give us a view of our little wood which is currently full of daffodilsand primroses.

Daffodils and primroses in our little wood

Daffodils and primroses in our little wood

Now he needs a cement mixer. He’s come to the conclusion that he needs a 150 litre model and has combed leboncoin.com, our favourite secondhand website. He has found a likely candidate in Blois and we’ve hooked up the trailer.

Jean Michel cutting through the lining bricks  from the inside

Jean Michel cutting through the lining bricks from the inside of the enlarged window

When we arrive at our destination on Saturday afternoon, he has a look at the cement mixer and, despite what was written in the ad, sees there  is a plaque saying that it is 110 litres. Hmm. We sit in the car and look at all the other ads on my iPhone (I have a leboncoin app). We phone several people but to no avail, leaving messages when there is no answer.

Just as we are get home, the phone rings. A man near Montrichard, about 40 minutes away, has a 165 litre model that seems to correspond to what we are looking for. It’s 200 euro as opposed to 500 or 600 euro new. We make an appointment for Monday morning as he’s busy all weekend. It’s the end of the hunting season, he tells Jean Michel, and he’s looking after the final feast.

The road ahead is where the Tom Tom tried to take us!

The road ahead is where the Tom Tom tried to take us!

We arrive on time despite the fact that our Tom Tom tries to take a short cut over a grassy track. Fortunately, there is just enough room to turn around, never simple with a large trailer.

The farmyard

The farmyard

A sliding gate opens in a high hedge and the hunter indicates where we are to park. We can see the cement mixer at the far end of the garden. The grounds are large and flat with a basic-looking house on one side. There are several enclosures and sheds. Dotted about the garden are small statues.

Jean Michel and the hunter in his flat cap

Jean Michel and the hunter in his flat cap

While Jean Michel sizes up the cement mixer, I take a few discreet photos. There is a donkey, lots of hens running around, at least two geese and three dogs of various sizes. There are also three large bird cages which, to my untrained eye, appear to contain crows and magpies.

The hunter points out the cleanness of his cement mixer and the blades inside that he made himself to replace the original inefficient ones. Jean Michel then discovers it’s fifteen years old so tries to bring down the price. No, that is my final price, says the hunter, so Jean Michel says he’ll take it and starts getting the trailer ready.

Getting the cement mixer onto the trailer

Getting the cement mixer onto the trailer

Between them, that get it into the trailer and attached with two straps. Jean Michel hands over the money and we’re all set to go. But I am curious about the crows.

“What do you do with the birds in the cages?”, I ask, careful not mention crow or magpie just in case I’m completely wrong and they’re some sort of special species.

Bird cages with crows up the top

Bird cages with crows up the top

He explains that he captures them and sets them free further afield where there are fewer crows and magpies. Some of his hunter friends seem to be a part of this operation. He then lets slip that he has far two many crows on his own property and they steal his eggs. There you go!

Stopping to pick up the cardboard

Stopping to pick up the cardboard

We set off for home, but have to stop a couple of times on the way. First, some loose cardboard flies out of the back of the trailer and second, one of the straps snaps. Fortunately, Jean Michel notices it immediately and the other strap is still firmly securing the cement mixer.

Cement, sand and gravel

Cement, sand and gravel

We arrive back home with no further mishaps and unload our new acquisition. After lunch, Jean Michel goes off to buy sand, gravel and cement. When he comes back, I help him bag it (well, I prepare and hold the bags while he shovels) and he takes it around the back to the window in the wheelbarrow. By the time we’re finished, we’re well and truly ready for a shower and dinner. It’s a 5:2 fast day and we’ve worked up an appetite!

Posted in Renovation | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Voting in the provinces


There are no provinces in France but anything that happens outside Paris is called “en province”. In fact, France is divided first into 27 regions, including Normandie, Picardy and Brittany (our region is called Centre and not Pays de la Loire as one might imagine), while some of them are overseas (Guadeloupe and Martinique, for example), which in turn are divided into 101 départements.

France's regions in bold letters and départements

France’s regions in bold letters and départements

The present elections are for the départements (sometimes called departments in English which can lead to confusion) and called élections départementales. They used to be called cantonales.  Our département is called Loir et Cher, after two of the rivers it contains. We also have the Loire of course, but we share that with a lot of others as well.

Election billboards outside the polling station

Election billboards outside the polling station

We made sure we registered on-line as residents of Blois before 1st January, which is the cut-off date for the place in which you vote for the coming year. Last time, we voted in Paris. Our polling station  is n° 408 which we learnt from our new voting cards which we only received earlier in the week. Voting is always on a Sunday in France. Fortunately it’s just down the road in the school that closed last year.

Sign pointing to voting bureau 408

Sign pointing to polling station 408

When we arrive around midday we are surprised to see quite a crowd. We follow the usual procedure. First we show our voting card and identity card. We are then invited to pick up a ballot. As we have already prepared our ballots at home (we received theseby mail during the week as well), we say we don’t need one. “Ah”, says the attendant, “since you have taken an envelope, you should pick up at least two ballots.”

The voting bureau is at the end of the building where the people are standing

The polling station is at the end of the building where the people are standing

I proceed to take one of each, while Jean Michel refuses altogether. While he’s arguing, I go into a booth (isoloir) and put my ballot in the little blue envelope. I come out and stand in line for the next step. Jean Michel arrives behind me. “You have to go into the booth”, he says, “you can’t just put your ballot in the envelope”. I explain that I’ve already been in booth while he was arguing!

Step 1 where you should your ID and election card

Step 1 where you should your ID and election card

I throw away my other ballots in the rubbish bag and take a couple of photos, hoping that it won’t be considered out of turn. No one seems to notice. I then give my ID to a man sitting at the voting table. He looks at it and gives it to the next man who calls out my name, loud and clear. The lady on the other side, who has the electoral roll, asks how to spell it.

Standing line to vote

Standing line to vote

She then finds my name and I go past the urn to sign the roll. After I have done so, I am invited to put my ballot in the urn. “A voté” says the master of cermonies.

Jean Michel about to but his ballot in the urn

Jean Michel about to but his ballot in the urn

I then take a photo of Jean Michel about to vote.  We walk home feeling very Blésois now that we’ve actually voted here !

The school in our street from the outside

The school in our street from the outside

As I’m writing, the estimated results are UMP-UDI-Modem-DVD (right-wing/centrist parties), 36%, far ahead of their competitors, Socialist Party and allies, 28.5%, Front National (ultra-right-wing) 24.6%, the largest ever for these elections and the single party with the largest number of votes, and far left 6.3%. However, I don’t know what the turnout is but the figures at 5 pm showed it should not make 50% but is higher than the previous élections départementales by several percentage points. Unlike Australia, voting is not compulsory in France.

Spring flowers on the way back from voting

Spring flowers on the way back from voting

Most of France will probably have to vote again next Sunday because of the election system. One of the parties must have an absolute majority (mor than 50% of the votes) to get through on the first round. So looks like we’ll be doing the same thing next Sunday.

Posted in French customs, Les Grouets | Tagged | 7 Comments

Friday’s French – Important, importance, substantial, substantiel


Unlike English, important in French can indicate quantity where in English, it only means “of great import or significance”.

e.g. Il y avait un nombre important de demandes : there were a large number of applications.

Il y a un nombre important d'églises en France

Il y a un nombre important d’églises en France – There are a large number of churches in France

In English, we have to choose among a whole range of words such as large, considerable, substantial, big and extensive!

You sometimes see substantiel in French but it is often a loan translation or calque. Substantiel is used more restrictively in French.

Nourriture substantielle = nourishing food

Exposé très substantiel = An essay with a lot of substance

Only in sentences such as il a obtenu des advantages substantiels = he obtained a substantial number of advantages  is it used in the typical English meaning of the word.

My Chambers dictionary gives SIXTEEN different meanings for substantial :

  1. Of or having substance
  2. Being a substance
  3. Essential
  4. Actually existing
  5. Real
  6. Corporeal, material
  7. Solid
  8. Stable
  9. Solidly based
  10. Durable
  11. Enduring
  12. Firm, stout, strong
  13. Considerable in amount
  14. Bulk
  15. Well-to-do, wealth, influential
  16. Of firm, solid or sound value.

WOW! What a useful word. Unfortunately it doesn’t give examples but I’ll try and find some. You can see that the solution in French is different every time.

He sustained a substantial loss = Il a subi une perte considérable.

My father was a very substantial man in his heyday = Mon père était un homme imposant dans la force de l’âge.

That is a very substantial argument = C’est un argument de poids.

The house has a substantial structure = La maison a une structure solide.

He offered substantial proof of his innocence = Il avait des preuves convaincantes de son innocence.

They run a substantial business = Ils ont une grosse affaire.

They are in substantial agreement = Ils sont d’accord sur l’essentiel.

His objections were substantial = Ses objections étaient bien fondées.

She comes from a substantial Scottish family = Elle vient d’une famille prospère écossaise

Une modification substantielle d’un contrat  concerns the substance of an agreement i.e. an essential component such as remuneration or qualification. This is called a substantial amendment in English but un élément substantiel d’un contrat is an essential part of a contract and not a substantial part.

Substantial completion is a term widely used  in construction and applies when the contractor has substantially but not completely performed the contract requirements. In French this is known simply as achèvement but we’re getting into legal subtleties here!

Do you know any other examples in which important/important and substantial/substantiel have different meanings in English and French?

Posted in French language | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Invited for Dessert


We haven’t seen Mr and Mrs Previous Owner for quite some time, what with moving, retirement blues, Christmas, New Year, the flu, Granada, getting over the flu and finishing the glass doors and shutters. However, we are now sufficiently en forme for a visit.

I took this photo from the stop of a step ladder on the other side of the wall enclosing the house when I was cleaning of the moss

I took this photo from the stop of a step ladder on the other side of the wall enclosing the house when I was cleaning of the moss

Mrs Previous Owner emails me and suggests either dessert and coffee or an apéritif. We decide on dessert and coffee because we know that the apéritif means a lot of vouvray and we’ll be driving to their home a half an hour away. We’ve also scheduled a visit to the nearly Brico Depot DIY to buy a window for the laundry.

I always feel badly when we see their house. Having to trade Closerie Falaiseau, which they spent twenty years lovingly doing up, for a modern house, must have been very hard. Fortunately, our enthusiasm for the Closerie helped them to get over the hurdle of having to sell for financial and health reasons after they both retired.

The daffodils planted by Mr and Mrs Previous Owner

The daffodils planted by Mr and Mrs Previous Owner

When we get there at 1.30 pm, Mr Previous Owner, who is very punctual,  welcomes us in and I am a little surprised to see that neither the living room table nor the kitchen table are set. Mrs Previous Owner appears and I give her the enormous bouquet of daffodils that Jean Michel gathered in our little wood earlier on. We have Mr and Mrs Previous Owner to thank for our wonderful carpet of daffodils.

Mrs Previous Owner takes us through to the veranda that fronts onto the kitchen. Despite the fact that we’ve been to their new home several times, I have no recollection of a glassed-in veranda! The table is set with plates, serviettes, wine glasses and coffee cups.

Wine glasses and coffee cups on the veranda

Wine glasses and coffee cups on the veranda

We sit down and Mrs Previous Owner brings out not one, but two stunning cakes from a local pâtisserie.

I don’t know what the situation in Australia is today, but back in my youth, no one would have dreamed of inviting someone over and not baking their own cakes or biscuits. In France, however, that is not the case and cakes bought at a good pâtisserie are more than welcome.

Chocolate and raspberry cakes from Eric

Chocolate and raspberry cakes from Eric Saguez’s pâtisserie

We accept the offer for a glass of vouvray to accompany the very delicious chocolate and raspberry concoctions made by Eric Saguez at his pâtisserie in Rue du Commerce in Blois, and even take seconds ! Good thing yesterday was a 5:2 fast day

Thanks to my iPhone, I am able to show them the new glassed-in doors and shutters. They are suitably impressed.

I tell them about the broken weathervane and Mr Previous Owner immediately says that if it happens again, he’ll be more than happy to repair it.

Our repaired weather vane

Our repaired weather vane

A little later, after coffee, when Jean Michel and Mr Previous Owner are in deep discussion about our alarmingly high property tax, I learn that Mrs Previous Owner hasn’t downloaded the photos on her iPhone for 3 years. We go upstairs to the computer so that I can show her how to do it.

It’s getting late and we still have to buy the window so we take our leave and promise to see them again soon at the Closerie, when the wisteria is in bloom.

Our standard white PVC tilt and turn window

Our standard white PVC tilt and turn window

At Brico Depot, we learn that they only sell white PVC turn and tilt windows which are not what we want since all our other windows are stained a dark oak colour. At least we haven’t gone out of our way. Two days later, however, having checked the prices for coloured PVC and wooden windows which turn out to be five times higher, we go back and get a white one. It is, after all, at the back of the house, down near the woodpile in an area which I intend to close off with bushes so I can put up a discreet clothes line. But that’s another project!

Posted in Blois, Closerie Falaiseau, Flowers & gardens, Food, French customs, Renovation | Tagged , | 13 Comments

More Light at Last


Jean Michel’s first retirement project is finished. All five doors on the front façade of Closerie Falaiseau now have glass panels instead of three glass and two solid wood doors. The difference in light is amazing!

Closerie Falaiseau, with the two full doors from the outside

Closerie Falaiseau, with the two solid wood doors seen from the outside

The first step in November is to order the new glass. The next step, in December, is to block up the ground floor doorway with glass wool insulation while the first door is being converted. It’s winter after all!

The door in the office with its wooden panels

The door in the office with its wooden panels

To replace the solid panels with glass, the surrounds have to be removed. Jean Michel  is hoping to be able to use them again but he soon realises that it won’t be possible. He’ll have to make new ones.

The door with one glass pane

The door with one glass pane

After the surrounds and solid panels have been removed, the glass panels are fitted and work on the new surrounds begins. This door is quite tricky because the top is curved to go under the arch. The glass has a straight edge of course but there isn’t a lot of leeway because it’s regulation double glazing and very thick.

Alain arrives just in time to help Jean Michel hang the door

Alain arrives just in time to help Jean Michel hang the door

The first door is now finished and ready to be hung. I’m just about to help Jean Michel carry it across the courtyard when our helpful neighbour Alain walks past and lends a welcome hand.

Door in place with the glass fibre behind

Door in place with the glass fibre insulation behind

The door’s up and looking good. All that has to be done now is to remove the glass fibre insulation outside for the light to come streaming through into the office.

Light flooding into the office in the morning

Light flooding into the office in the morning

The final step is to make the wooden shutter that will protect us from burglary and keep out the cold at night in winter. It obviously has to be identical to all the others in the house.

Downstairs shutter drying in the kitchen after the first coat of varnish

Downstairs shutter drying in the kitchen after the first coat of varnish

Once he has finished making it and put on the first coat of varnish, Jean Michel brings it into the kitchen to dry as the temperatures are going down fast.

Now the glass wool is on the upstairs door into the living room

Now the glass wool is on the upstairs door into the living room

Various events get in the way – my flu, Granada, etc. – before he is able to start the second door. Initially it goes much faster because he has already gained experience. He knows he won’t be able to re-use the surrounds so doesn’t have to take such care removing them.

Staining the door in the kitchen out of the cold

Staining the door in the kitchen out of the cold

However, it’s February and it’s much colder outside so the even the varnish on the door has to be done in the kitchen or it won’t dry. It’s also very cold in the garage where Jean Michel is working.

Alain to the rescue again

Alain to the rescue again

This time, since the door has to be carried upstairs, he makes an apointment with Alain to come by rather than trust to luck.

The house with the two new glass doors

The house with the two new glass doors

We’re delighted with the result of course, but we’re surprised to see that the door looks narrower than it did before.

Upstairs lock

Upstairs lock with the two shutters

Inside, you can see the locks and bolts better.

The two upstairs shutters being held together while the glue is drying

The two upstairs shutters being held together while the glue is drying

Because of the position of the lock, two shutters are needed this time. But as I explained in an earlier post, a little problem arises when Jean Michel is using the plunge router to make the profile on the edge of the surrounds. A screw comes loose and causes a bigger hollow than he intends. Fortunately, though, after a short rest, he’s able to rectify matters.

The delinquent plunge router that lost its screw

The delinquent plunge router that lost its screw

I volunteer to help with the varnishing this time but it’s a technique I’ve never used before (very different from painting) and I’m afraid I’ll make a mess of it so I leave it to Jean Michel who has a lot more practice.

Breakfast in the upstairs living room so we can look through the new door

Breakfast in the upstairs living room so we can look through the new door

Initially we’re not used to having the glass panels and the corresponding light and we keep thinking we’ve left the door open!  Now in the morning when we have breakfast in the upstairs living room, we don’t turn our chairs in the direction of the fireplace as we do at night, but towards the door and the countryside beyond. More light at last!

Posted in Closerie Falaiseau, Renovation | Tagged , , , | 18 Comments

Friday’s French – gens, personnes, monde, peuple, people


People learning French seem to find it difficult to know how to translate the word people! It’s because there are several different words that can be used depending on the context and meaning: gens, personnes, monde, peuple, people. Aïe!

Il y avait beaucoup de monde au marché. Il y avait plusieurs personnes habillées en noir. Les gens avaient l'air content parce qu'il faisait soleil.

Il y avait beaucoup de monde au marché. Il y avait plusieurs personnes habillées en noir. Les gens avaient l’air content parce qu’il faisait soleil. – There were lots of people at the market. Several people were dressed in black. People looked happy because it was sunny.

Let’s start with a few examples and see how they are used.

Les gens intelligents = clever people

Les personnes âgées = old people

Les jeunes (gens) = young people

Beaucoup de gens/monde = a lot of people

Il y avait beaucoup de monde = the place was full of people

Plusieurs personnes m’ont parlé de l’accident. = Several people told me about the accident.

Combien de personnes ? = How many people?

Ce sont de drôles de gens = They’re strange people.

Que vont penser les gens ? = What will people think

Le peuple australien = the Australian people

Les gens de la campagne = country people

Can you see a pattern emerging? Well I can’t !

Why don’t we say les personnes intelligentes and les gens âgés ? And why not les jeunes personnes ?

I checked my Larousse dictionary to see if I could find a difference

GENS :

  1. Personnes en nombre indéterminé – People when there is an indeterminate number [Les gens flânaient dans la rue – People were wandering in the streets]
  2. Les hommes en général – Men in general [Les gens sont influencés par la publicité – People are influenced by advertising]
  3. Telle ou telle personne, ou la personne qui parle – Such and such a person, or the person speaking [Vous avez une façon de recevoir des gens ! – You have a way of welcoming people!]
  4. Personnes appartenant à un état, à une profession – People belonging to a state or profession. [Les gens du spectacle – People in show business]

OK, it’s clear for n° 4 and maybe fore n°2 but it doesn’t really explain why we talk about personnes intelligentes but gens âgés.

So I asked the question on my French translators’ list and got some very different answers.

1. It’s always better to use personnes when you can.

2. Les gens intelligents et les personnes intelligentes sont différents. Maybe, but if it is, it’s very subtle. I googled the two expressions and in most of the examples they seem pretty interchangeable to me, with 30,900 hits for personnes intelligentes and 165,000 for gens intelligents!

4. Personnes is used when it could be perceived negatively such as personnes âgées, personnes handicapées (yes, handicapped is politically correct in French!) and gens when it’s positive : jeunes gens, braves gens. Ok, but what about les gens tristes?

5. Semantically, when using personnes the human dimension is stronger while gens is a neutral term. Personnes âgées shows respect for the elderly.

6. Jeunes gens is the plural of jeune homme and excludes jeunes filles.

7. Jeunes gens can also mean jeunes filles.

8. Personnes is used to distinguish a particular group such as grandes personnes (adults), personnes sourdes (the hearing impaired).

9. Correct French always “sounds” right. Yes, but only if you are brought up hearing correct French in my opinion!

10. Maybe gens is more difficult to use with an adjective because it can be either masculine or feminine or both.

My personal feeling is that it is mostly a question of what people usually use. In French, personnes âgées is by far the more prevalent expression (17,300,00 hits on google as opposed to gens âgés).

If you’re talking about a nebulous group – sad people, happy people, clever people, people in the street, people who live alone – you would use gens: les gens tristes, les gens heureux, les gens intelligents, les gens dans la rue, les gens qui habitent seuls.

If the group is more specific (with the exception of personnes âgées which is the more usual term as state above), such as the people on my left, the people who arrived late, the people concerned, you would use personnesles personnes à ma gauche, les personnes qui sont arrivées en retard, les personnes concernées.

But despite all this, personnes and gens are not always interchangeable. I started writing this post after hearing an English speaker use the wrong one but now I can’t for the life of me remember what it was!

However, in the initial set of phrases, it is not possible to say plusieurs gens, combien de gens, que vont penser les personnes or les personnes de la campagne. It would just sound odd!

And one last word before I finish off. People is used in French to mean celebrities.

Any questions???

Posted in French language | Tagged | 14 Comments

Weekly Blogger Round-Up: All about Romanians – Mediaeval Slovenia – Travel Safety in Albania


This week’s blogger round-up is focussed on Eastern Europe, a destination I find quite fascinating. To start off, Anda from Travel Notes & Beyond tells us what you should know about Romanians before you travel to the country where she was born. Next, Australian-born Jo Karnaghan from Frugal First Class Travel takes us to mediaeval Slovenia as part of an Adriatic sea cruise. To finish off,  Andrea from Rear View Mirror, an Australian married to an Albanian, answers a question she is often asked: “Is it safe to travel to Albania?” Enjoy!

What you should know about Romanians before you travel to Romania

by Anda from Travel Notes & Beyond, the Opinionated Travelogue of a Photo Maniac, is a Romanian-born citizen of Southern California who has never missed the opportunity to travel

travel_notes_romaniansAs a tourist in Romania, you may easily feel at home and forget that you are in a foreign country. But the welcoming and friendly spirit of the Romanian people will not help you bridge the cultural differences and understand their values. So in order to avoid a culture shock, there are some things you should know about Romanians before you travel to their country. Of course, Romanians are not all the same, but there are some cultural characteristics that most of them share. Read more

Explore Medieval Slovenia on an Adriatic Sea Cruise

by Jo Karnaghan from Frugal First Class Travel, an Australian who loves to travel – especially in Europe – and who has gradually learned how to have a First Class trip on an economy budget, without missing out on anything!

frugal_sloviniaSlovenia is a country famed for its Gothic architecture and medieval towns, the most fascinating of which is arguably the coastal city of Koper in the south-west. If you’re looking to go medieval in a big way then this city provides many old town historic sights as well as easy access to the country’s popular capital city.

Ports of call on an Adriatic Sea cruise will almost always include Croatia’s famous walled-city of Dubrovnik but if you’re looking to step back in time then ensure that Slovenia’s Koper is listed on your itinerary. Read more

Is it safe to travel in Albania?

by Andrea from Rear View Mirror (formerly Destination Europe), a fellow Australian who, after 6 years of living in France, has given up her Paris apartment to live a nomadic life slowing travelling around Europe, experiencing each destination like a local.

rearview_mirror_albaniaSince returning from an extended stay in Albania and publishing my guide to visiting the country, I’ve been receiving regular emails from readers wanting to know more.

Surprisingly, for me, one of the most common questions I’m asked is whether it’s safe to travel to Albania. I admit to finding this question a little perplexing. Aside from a brief period of unrest in 1997, Albania hasn’t been in a conflict since WWII.

Even during the Communist period when the country was mostly closed to outside visitors, it was still possible to safely travel around the country.

Random acts of violence are practically unheard of and even pickpocketing is uncommon. Read more

Posted in Eastern Europe, Romania, Slovenia, Weekly Blogger Round-Up | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

A-Tisket A-Taskat and Tea for Three


I’m still getting over the flu that I’ve shared with several MILLIONS of people in France this year.  My recovery after 5 weeks is remarkably slow and annoying. Every time I think I’m better, I seem to have a mini relapse. My friends and neighbours are faring no better than me and we still haven’t resumed our Nordic walking.

The three walkers (and the photographer) before we succombed to the flu

The three walkers (and the photographer’s shadow) before we succombed to the flu

So we decide to have tea together instead. I think  I should get a bit of exercise anyway so I decide to walk to the post box halfway down our street to post two letters and stop for tea on the way back. Even though the post box is in the same street, it’s a good fifteen to twenty minute walk from our house.

Chaenomeles japonica just coming into flower

Chaenomeles japonica just coming into flower

I set out at a fairly brisk pace as it is spitting slightly and I don’t want to get too wet. I keep my eyes open for a photo on the theme of ageing for the City Daily Photo theme day this month, to which I usually contribute with my second blog, Loire Daily Photo. Not a theme I feel particularly keen on at the moment.

Local school in our street that has now closed

Local school in our street that has now closed

I come across a few possibilities including the local school which, after serving generations of children in Les Grouets, our neighbourhood in Blois, closed last year because there weren’t enough pupils. However, my iPhone photos of it are a little disappointing.

The ageing gate

The ageing gate

I find a like-looking gate which doesn’t look as though it has been opened for a very long time. The surrounding trees, wall and tiles also look are though they are ageing fast as well.

Purple crocuses, some growing through the gravel

Purple crocuses, some growing through the gravel

A little further along, I stop, absolutely enchanted by a whole bed of purple crocuses, some of which are growing through the gravel. The gate is open so I go as close as I can without actually setting foot in the property. I don’t want to be found trespassing.

Freshly baked bread in front of our (non-functioning) bread oven

Freshly baked bread in front of our (non-functioning) bread oven

Happy with my find, as it has really brightened a very grey day, I continue towards to mail box, which is just after the organic bakery that unfortunately closed not long after the school. The baker still uses the kitchen but sells his bread elsewhere. It’s also where I buy 5-kilo sacks of flour and smaller amounts of grains to make my multi-grain bread.

Our closest mail box

Our closest mail box

As I go to post my letters, I discover one’s missing. Oh dear ! What’s more, it’s Jean Michel’s chez for Renault who accidentally charged him 1.01 euro on his Visa card instead of 101 euro and obviously wants him to pay the difference …  I start walking back, hoping that the letter has fallen face up and not face down in the mud and that no one has run over it!

The lost letter

The lost letter

Fortunately I eventually spy it on the road. It’s the right way up and the letters aren’t smudged. I go back to the post box wishing it wasn’t so far away.

Three barn doors

Three barn doors

On the way back I notice a barn with three doors which we might be able to use as inspiration for our barn which Jean Michel is going to turn into a garage as part of our renovation plan.

A windvane on my walk

A windvane on my walk

I arrive exactly on time at Françoise’s house. Liliane is already there so we play ladies and drink our tea in yet another set of Françoise’s many porcelain teasets which she inherited from her mother.  I am just so fortunate to have made such wonderful friends in the same street before even moving to Blois. It can take years to be part of a community when you move.

The living room sofa on a sunny day

The living room sofa on a sunny day

After about an hour, I go home to have a second pot of tea with Jean Michel who’s working on the shutters for our glass doors. I can’t find him although I can hear him answering me. I eventually realise he’s inside the house but since there are no lights on, I find it a bit strange. It turns out that he’s lying in the half-dark on the sofa in living room.

The delinquent plunge router that lost its screw

The delinquent plunge router that lost its screw – it is used to make that hollowed out big you can see on the left

This is so unlike him that I am immediately worried. He explains that he’s been using the plunge router on the new shutters. A screw came loose and caused a bigger gouge than he intended. Since using the plunge router requires considerable concentration and creates a lot of physical tension, he decided to stop and lie down for bit. (Just in case you’re wondering what a plunge router is, it’s a power tool used to rout or hollow out an area in the face of a woodpiece, typically wood or plastic as in the photo above).

Almost finished - the shutter being glued together

Almost finished – the shutter being glued together

I make a pot of tea but don’t have any myself or I’ll be totally water logged. I then go with him to inspect the gouge which doesn’t look that catastrophic. By then, he’s feeling better and is able to finish the shutter without any further problems.

The glass doors and shutters are now finished. I’ll tell you about them in detail in another post.

Posted in Country living, Flowers & gardens, Les Grouets, Loire Valley | Tagged , | 10 Comments

Weekly Blogger Round-Up: Monumental Churches in Charente Maritime – Villa Romana del Casale – Malbork Castle in Poland


My Weekly Blogger Round-Up hasn’t been very regular recently but I’m hoping things will start to return to normal soon. This week, it begins with a new blogger whom I discovered through Lou Messugo’s link-up last week. Susan from Our French Oasis introduces us to the huge churches that are monumental landmarks in Charente Maritime where she lives; Mary Kay from Out and About in Paris shares some some surprisingly modern photos of 4th century AD mosaics she took in Sicily, while Sara from Simply Sara Travel takes us to Malbork Castle which she visited during a day trip from Gdańsk in Poland. Enjoy!

A Pilgrim’s Skyline

by Susan from Our French Oasis, born in England and now living with her family in Charente Maritime, passionate about fishing, nature and food, eager to share the pleasures of living and eating through the Seasons and the simply beauty that surrounds us in everyday life.

french_oasis_pilgrimEvery day I take the same route to school. I leave our village and take the long straight road that cuts its way through open farmland, climbs a gentle sloping hill and then slithers down into the valley where in an ancient village a narrow bridge across a small river forces cars to cross alternately in single file.  Each morning the old lady who lives in the old stone house on the corner by the river-wall will open her shutters and upstairs windows to let the air in – come rain or shine; it is a route I am coming to learn well.

The seasons transform the landscape too, as it changes from fields of sunflowers in summer to bare ploughed soil in winter.  The light flickers moodily and the weather caresses and spits, depending on its whims.  But there is one thing that remains unchanged –  on a centuries-old skyline are the spires and towers of the area’s many churches. Read more

The Villa Romana del Casale and its captivating fourth century AD Roman mosaics

by Mary Kay from Out and About in Paris, an American by birth, Swiss by marriage, resident of Paris with a Navigo Pass for the metro that she feels compelled to use

out_and_about_casale

Wouldn’t it be incredible to unearth photographs from the fourth century AD imparting little-known details about ancient Roman life? We would learn about the clothes worn for an outdoor banquet, games that children played and revered mythological creatures.

Unique for their narrative style, vivid colors and range of subject matter, the Unesco-listed Roman floor mosaics at the Villa Romana del Casale also give a rare glimpse into the daily life of the man most scholars believe to be the former owner of the sumptuous villa, Marcus Aurelius Maximianus, Rome’s co-emperor during the reign of Diocletian (AD 286-305). Read more

Day Trip from Gdańsk: Malbork Castle

by Sara from Simply Sara Travel, a girl from New Jersey who traded in her bagels for baguettes and moved to Paris. The aim of her blog is to inspire readers to travel, embrace a new culture, and open their minds to new perspectives.

simply_sara_malborkI have to apologize. I’ve done a bait-and-switch of sorts. Here I was last week, giving a teaser of our time in Gdańsk, and the only thing I’ve revealed so far is one of the side-trips we took from Gdańsk to the beach town of Sopot. The Jersey Shore parallels excited me, what can I say? (If you missed it, read more in my post on how Sopot is the Atlantic City of the East.)

My apology is going to seem a bit empty in a moment though, because instead of getting to Gdańsk, I’m again going to divert over to our other day trip we took while in the area: to Malbork Castle. The truth is that as I try to grasp all we did in Gdansk, there are so many elements and facets to this city that I want to share, and it is overwhelming! But I will get to it soon, I really will.

Today though, it’s all about Malbork Castle. Read more

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Posted in France, Italy, Poland, Sightseeing, Weekly Blogger Round-Up | Tagged , , | 2 Comments