A Walk Along the Loire

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It’s Sunday and we’ve been looking forward to having a break after a week of kitchen renovation (Jean Michel) and seismic concrete translation (me).  During breakfast we look at the weather report. The temperature is below 20°C and rain is predicted so cycling is out. We decide to go for a walk along the Loire. By the time we dig up some potatoes for dinner and get ready, it’s our usual 12 noon.

Purple flowers along the banks of the Loire

Purple wild flowers (lythrum salicaria) along the banks of the Loire

We turn right after leaving the house, then left at the end of the street so that we can cross the main highway along the Loire and join the path on the other side. Jean Michel immediately wants to push through the vegetation to the edge of the Loire but I insist that we walk along the path to the right until we see a suitable opening. We soon do. It takes us to a sandbank that is usually underwater but with the recent lack of rain, the level of the Loire has diminished considerably.

The sandy bank with its vegetation

The sandy bank with its vegetation

We walk onto the uncovered sandbank. It’s almost like being at the seaside, a very strange impression. The sand is soft and vegetation has already sprung up.

The banks of the Loire with Blois in the distance

The banks of the Loire with Blois in the distance

Far down to the left we can see Mitterand Bridge and the spires of Blois.

Yellow wild flowers

Yellow wild flowers

I’m intrigued by the wild flowers. I don’t know these yellow ones. We later discover they are Ludwigia peploides or floating primrose-willow, which is an aquatic plant and, sadly, Susan from Days on the Claise, expert in such things, tells us it’s an invasive alien.

The second bluish-purple flowers

The second bluish-purple flowers

Nor these purple ones on the path beneath our feet. They look vaguely like cornflowers. Susan tells us they are long-leaved lungwort, which normally flower in late spring.

Some spiky flowers

Spiky Field Eryngo which Jean Michel thinks is thistle but in fact, it’s not. It’s in full bloom and is related to carrots and parsely

As predicted there is rain, but every time we think it’s more than just a few spits and put our jackets on, it stops ! And we get hot if we keep them on when it isn’t raining …

Jean Michel resting at Fosse aux Poissons

Jean Michel resting at Fosse aux Poissons

We continue along the path which provides glimpses of the Loire from time to time until we get to Fosse aux Poissons (the fish pool) where there is even a log to sit on – which we do because my feet are starting to burn.

The fisherman in the kayak

The fisherman in the kayak

While we are resting, a kayak comes past. Jean Michel scrutinises it. “That looks like a great idea for a fisherman”, he says, “not that I have any time for fishing this year.” I can hear regret in his voice.

The highway - you can see how dry the grass is at the moment

The highway – you can see how dry the grass is at the moment

We start thinking about going back as we’ve already been walking an hour and a  half. There is a parking lot at Fosse aux Poissons so we walk up the embankment to the highway and cross over. On the other side, there is a steep grassy bank that leads down to another path. We scramble down (well, I scramble – Jean Michel is a very practised walker and takes it in his stride).

Flowers that Jean Michel calls combs

Flowers that Jean Michel calls combs – you can see the embankment I scrambled down

I notice a strange flower waving in the wind. “We call them combs”, says Jean Michel, but they look more like brushes to me. It appears to be a Dipsacus fullonum or teasel.

The berries used to make

Blackthorn berries – the young shoots are used to make a local liqueur

We’re hoping the path goes as far as the Chouzy-sur-Cisse turnoff which we seem to have overshot. Jean Michel tastes some unripe mirabelle plums and then points out the black thorn bush to me. It’s tender shoots are used to make the liqueur that we tasted when we bought our three tonnes of free stone. “The berries are very bitter”, he tells me. He doesn’t taste them.

Little mirabelle plums not yet ripe

Little mirabelle plums not yet ripe

Our path ends with a very closed looking gate so I have to scramble up the bank again. Fortunately we only have to walk about 200 metres alongside the 90 kph highway before going left towards Chouzy to take the walking path to the right that will take us home.

The very closed gate at the end of the path

The very closed gate at the end of the path

By now my feet are killing me so we find a useful little stone bridge to sit on while we eat some biscuits. It starts raining in earnest so we finish our excursion with our jackets and hoods on.

A very wet end to our walk

A very wet end to our walk with the last of the Tour de France going under the rail bridge

I’m glad to get back after walking 9 K in 2 ½ hours which is not very fast, I know, but quite an exploit for me !

Posted in Blois, Country living, Flowers & gardens, Loire Valley | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

A Postcard from the Island

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Every so often, I receive a “postcard” from my friend Alan Stretton whom I have known for more than 40 years. This one took me back to Townsville, where we both grew up, and to my holidays on the Island, which is still my very favourite place today. I would like to share his postcard with you.

When Alan is not living in Canberra he is perfecting the art of slow travel; do less but experience more.

“The island referred to in the postcard is Magnetic Island off the coast from Townsville, Alan tells us. “Ever since I was a child we referred to it as ‘the Island’, to differentiate it from all the other islands in the sea.”

Magnetic Island by Alan Stretton

Magnetic Island by Alan Stretton

“Hello, Alan. How is the pizza?”

“The pizzas are delicious as always, Lucia. I was wondering if I could order the pasta with prawns, anchovies and chilli to take away?”

Silence and a look of puzzlement was not quite the response I was expecting.

“The rest of my family are leaving tomorrow but I am staying an extra day. I don’t want to cook on my last night.”

I can see Lucia’s look of puzzlement changing to one of incredulity.

“You want to take the pasta home and place it in the fridge overnight and then reheat it in the microwave tomorrow night?”

Her look makes me wish that I could just fade into the background of coconut palms and granite boulders. But I stumble on.

“I don’t want to cook on my last night on the Island. You are closed so I will have to go to Picnic Bay and the food there is not very good.”

“We do not normally do take away except for pizzas. But I will do it for you. But it will not taste very good. Are you sure you want it?”

I feel as if I am 14 again, at school, being grilled by the Deputy Head Mistress and all my seemingly innocent answers are clearly not cutting the mustard. And this from the normally charming Lucia who makes customers feel that she and Alberto opened their Caffè dell’Isola just so that they could serve you.

After another uncomfortable silence, a hint of possibility lightens Lucia’s face.

“Can you come here tomorrow just before we close at 3 o’clock?”

“Sure.”

“Good. If you come then I will cook dinner for you. It will be closer to the time you eat the pasta and I will use meat rather than seafood so it will reheat better.”

Lucia’s generosity means that honour is restored and we smile broadly again. Relieved, I return to my pasta and a large glass of wine.

The next afternoon I return to Caffè dell’Isola and Lucia cooks macaroni with Italian sausage, zucchini and feta for me to take away. She refuses to accept any payment. Luckily I had thought to take a decent bottle of wine to give Lucia and Alfredo as a farewell gift. They are trying to sell the cafe so may not be here when we next return to the Island. “Follow us on Facebook. We will be somewhere.”

With my dinner in the bag I walk across the road and the 50 or so metres of wet sand left by the low tide until I am standing in calf deep water watching many rays gliding at surprising speed and five or six small black tipped reef shark looking for small fish. When I stand still, they come within two metres.

I am glad to report that life in paradise is as good as they say.

Posted in Australia, Guest post, Lifestyle, Restaurants | Tagged | 2 Comments

Cycling in the Poitevin Marsh #2 – The Wet Marsh

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We wake up rested in our B&B and have a delicious breakfast in the courtyard in front of the main house, consisting of freshly-squeezed orange juice, two types of bread, two types of brioche (a sort of bun loaf), a mini-raisin roll, a slice of raisin bread, 5 types of jam, a soft-boiled egg and a yoghurt.  We won’t be having an early lunch …

Breakfast in the couryard

Breakfast in the couryard

Our starting point for the day is a few kilometres west of Maillé at Vix Bridge, on the edge of the “wet” marsh as opposed to yesterday’s “dry” march. The main waterway is the Sèvre Niortaise River but the whole area is riddled with little canals and bridges. It’s midday by the time we get on our bikes.

Jean Michel on a bridge over one of the canals

Jean Michel on a bridge over one of the canals

The ride is pleasant, along a canal, with trees on either side. No wind although there isn’t a lot of sun. My weather app says it won’t rain so we haven’t brought our capes. We come to the little town of Maillé with its port and posters made from old postcards showing life in the town in days gone by.

Old postcards made into posters in Maillé

Old postcards made into posters in Maillé

We go past an unusual pump room obviously an addition to the house, with the pump wheel outside.

A pump room built on to a house with the wheel outside

A pump room built on to a house with the wheel outside

As we approach Maillezais after cycling past more canals we are impressed by the enormous cathedral ruins looming towards us. It’s the sort of view you only get on a bike.

The looming ruins of Maillezais cathedral

The looming ruins of Maillezais cathedral

By this time, Jean Michel has started to get hungry so we find a table on the shady terrace of the Auberge de l’Abbaye. Not that we really need shade – the sky is looking increasingly ominous and I’m beginning to regret the capes.

Auberge de l'Abbaye in Maillezais with its interesting floral and vegetable arrangement

Auberge de l’Abbaye in Maillezais with its interesting floral and vegetable arrangement

We order a salad including a local speciality called a farci which is a sort of flan made of eggs, sorrel, spinach and other vegetarian ingredients. I rather like it but Jean Michel is not that keen.

Typical stone house with painted shutters

Typical stone house with painted shutters

The next village is Liez with its typical Romanesque church and stone houses with painted shutters.

The church spire at Neuil Abbey seen from the mediaeval garden

The church spire at Neuil Abbey seen from the mediaeval garden

We arrive at our destination of Neuil-sur-l’Autise where we visit the local abbey built in 1068, in much better condition than Maillezais but not as impressive.

Mediaeval bagpipes which start playing as you approach. The only problem is that the previous instrument is still playing another tune ...

Mediaeval bagpipes which start playing as you approach. The only problem is that the previous instrument is still playing another tune …

This time, we visit the inside, but it is so full of interactive technology that it doesn’t even feel like an abbey. I don’t mind the Renaissance musical instrument display though.

The cloisters at Neuil

The cloisters at Neuil

 

Even the cloisters are being overtaken with sound equipment for a concert, I presume. I manage to take one photo though and I love the capitals!

The very amusing capitals in the cloisters

The very amusing capitals in the cloisters

There is mediaeval herb garden and we take the opportunity to ask one of the ticket sellers if he knows what the plants are. He is extremely knowledgeable. We discover what an acanthus is. The leaves are often used for sculpted scrolls in churches. I put it on my list of plants to buy …

Acanthus flowers. You can just make out the leaves which seem to have suffered from some sort of disaster

Acanthus flowers. You can just make out the leaves which seem to have suffered from some sort of disaster

We return along the path we came on but this time we go to St Sigismond, where we stop for a lukewarm coke, then Mazeau. It’s started spitting but not enough to really bother us and there is enough wind to dry us out as we go. We just hope it won’t get any worse.

This must be the strangest sheep country I've ever seen!

This must be the strangest sheep country I’ve ever seen!

The view is more or less the same, with the addition of a flock of sheep in a most unlikely forest of trees.

A bridge over a canal - but which canal?

A bridge over a canal – but which canal?

We come out along a large canal with absolutely no idea where we are. Jean Michel rarely gets lost but the paths are so winding and there are so many canals that it’s not easy to find our way.

Crossing the canal in Oulmes

Crossing the canal in Oulmes

We’re not lost however and we eventually arrive in Damvix. By then, we have cycled 50 K and all I want is a cold drink. Since it’s 7 pm, we settle for a glass of local white accompanied by the music of a live pianist on the keyboards which I initially find aggressive but eventually enjoy.

A much appreciated drink in Damvix after 52 K

A much appreciated drink in Damvix after 52 K

Only another 10 K or so to go, according to Jean Michel. At least the rain has stopped. The path along the canal with its patches of waterlilies suddenly becomes very bumpy and we realise we’re on the wrong side.  We eventually find a bridge and cross over.

On the wrong side of the canal with its waterlillies

On the wrong side of the canal with its waterlilies

I notice a restaurant along the way called the Le Vieux Batelier (the old boatman). The name rings a bell but it’s not until we finally get back to the car, having clocked up 62 K, that I discover it’s the one I had seen in the tourist brochure.

Le Vieux Batelier

Le Vieux Batelier

Not to worry. We drive back so we won’t have to worry about cycling after sunset. We have the deck overlooking the canal to ourselves. Business, once again, is very slow, we learn from the couple who run the restaurant. Maybe it will pick up after Bastille Day. We certainly hope so.

View of the canal from the deck of the restaurant

View of the canal from the deck of the restaurant

Jean Michel has one of the local specialities – eels (the other is frog’s legs) and I settle for an excellent entrecote. We drink the local Fiefs vendéens red with its unusual bottle.

Old windmill at sunset

Old windmill at sunset

After dinner, we drive off into the sunset …

Posted in Architecture, Cycling, Food, France, Restaurants | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Cycling in Poitevin Marsh #1 – Aiguillon

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The outside of the new kitchen window is finally finished and we are taking a well-deserved 3-day cycling holiday. We’ve chosen Poitevin Marsh after talking to friends. It’s been on the agenda for a while and isn’t too far by car (about 2 ½ hours). I’ve reserved a B&B that looks as though it has decent beds and pillows, is air-conditioned (we’re having unseasonably warm weather at the moment) and won’t be noisy.

Leaving home under a bright blue sky

Leaving home under a bright blue sky

It’s midday by the time we leave and I’ve packed a picnic so we won’t waste too much time. We stop at the tourist office in Luçon, the closest town to our destination, to get some brochures and buy bike maps. It has an amusing floral arrangement in front with a 40-year-old vine and a vine-covered man.

tourist_office

It’s about 4.30 pm when we arrive at our B&B, Château de l’Abbaye de Moreilles. Just so you know where we are, Poitevin Marsh is on the Atlantic Coast, just north of La Rochelle and Ile-de-Ré.

Our bedroom building at the B&B

Our bedroom building at the B&B

We are greeted by the owner who turns out to be somewhat of a character. Our room turns out to be in a typical low stone building with blue shutters away from the main house, bordered by a hedge of lavander and with its own private garden. The beds and pillows are very comfortable and we have everything we need except a hot water jug but that is so rare in France that I wasn’t expecting it. The swimming pool is right over the other side so it is very peaceful.

Our bedroom at the B&B

Our bedroom at the B&B

We check the bike maps and set out for Saint-Michel-en-l’Herm, 20 K away so that we can cycle to L’Aiguillon-sur-Mer to have oysters for dinner (a round trip of 30 K). We park at the church as usual and have a moment of panic when Jean Michel discovers that he can’t unscrew the attachment that holds my bike in place on the bike holder. Fortunately he has his tool kit and together we manage to get it off. Phew …

The luxurious bike path that only lasts 2 or 3 K

The luxurious bike path that only lasts 2 or 3 K

It proves to be a little difficult to find the bike route but I eventually spy a somewhat luxurious path and we follow it for the next couple of kilometres. After that, we’re on a secondary road.

The inland cliff arising out of nowhere

The inland cliff arising out of nowhere

The countryside is somewhat desolate and very windy. We are surprised to see what looks like an inland cliff face rising out of nowhere. We later learn that nearly the whole marsh was once the sea which has gradually withdrawn over the centuries, with a little help from the local population especially the monks.

To the left, you can just see the bridge between La Rochelle and Ile-de-Ré.

To the left, you can just see the bridge between La Rochelle and Ile-de-Ré.

We eventually reach a dyke along the sea. As we get closer to L’Aiguillon, we have a view a far as the bridge between La Rochelle and Ile-de-Ré.

The beach at L'Aiguillon sur Mer

The beach at L’Aiguillon sur Mer

L’Aiguillon-sur-Mer itself is a bit of a disappointment. We are expecting something a little more lively especially as the summer holidays have already started. We push on a few kilometers to La Faute-sur-Mer hoping to find more activity. We do, but it’s very much a working-class holiday spot full of garish takeaways and fast-food venues.

The path to the beach at La-Faute-sur-Mer

The path to the beach at La-Faute-sur-Mer

We don’t check out the beach at La Faute because it’s a long way from the bike route over a sandy path. On the footbridge, there are several people fishing with carrelets, square fishing nets. They don’t seem to be getting much but probably enough for dinner!

Fishing with square nets on the bridge

Fishing with square nets on the bridge

We go back to L’Aiguillon and check out the three restaurants. We decide on Julie dans la Cuisine overlooking the oyster beds. It’s 8.30 by then and apart from three young waitresses, there is not a soul in sight. I ask where all the people are. “It’s Monday”, they say, and sigh. “Well, we know we’ll get great service”, I replly. We choose a table out of the sun and open the windows to let in some fresh air. It’s about 30°C outside but there’s a cool breeze from the sea.

Overlooking the oyster beds at L'Aiguillon sur Mer

Overlooking the oyster beds at L’Aiguillon sur Mer

We order oysters (unfortunately they only have N° 3 which are quite small) and mussels and French fries, along with a glass of the local wine. We taste it and it appears to be a sauvignon. I ask the waitress but she says she doesn’t know what it is and brings the bottle back ! Sure enough, it’s a sauvignon. She’ll know for next time.

N°3 oysters with typical vinegar and shallots sauce (which I don't like!)

N°3 oysters on a bed of salt with typical vinegar and shallots sauce (which I don’t like!)

 

A group of three adults, 2 children and a baby arrive and they are the only other patrons in a restaurant that can probably seat over a hundred people. The season does not seem to be off to a good start. Despite their size, the oysters are tasty but a couple of them have a brownish liquid. I ask why and the waitress goes off to see the chef. It’s because they haven’t been through the oyster beds. Hmm. I hope this isn’t going to be a problem.

Sunset over the dry marshland

Sunset over the dry marshland

By then it’s nearly 9.20 and we still have to cycle 12 km back to the car. We just make it before the sun starts to set. The long twilight, of course, is why we usually take our holidays in June and July. Tomorrow we’ll head further east to the wet marshlands. See you then!

Posted in Cycling, Food, France, Restaurants | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Instagram Favourites This Week #1

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Since I don’t have a lot of time to post at the moment I thought I would share my favourite Instagram photos. The format on Instagram is square which is an interesting cropping exercise. What’s your pick?

Our peace rose is giving us one bloom at a time, each as exquisite as the last

Our peace rose is giving us one bloom at a time, each as exquisite as the last

The first hollyhock in bloom.

The first hollyhock in bloom.

This is the little vineyard on the bike path from Blois to Cour-sur-Loire that I love

This is the little vineyard on the bike path from Blois to Cour-sur-Loire that I love

 

The wash house at Cour-sur-Loire surrounded by roses

The wash house at Cour-sur-Loire surrounded by roses

The kitchen window Jean Michel is making at the back of the house. Next step - the lintel.

The kitchen window Jean Michel is making at the back of the house. Next step – the lintel.

 

Posted in Closerie Falaiseau, Country living, Cycling, Photography, Renovation | Tagged , | 10 Comments

The First Day of Summer & Cycling Itinerary N° 9

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It’s the summer solstice – 21st June – which in Europe is officially the first day of summer. We get up very late and have a full breakfast, including tostadas, which we were introduced to in Grenada in January.  By the time we’re finished, it’s after twelve and we are due at the local wine-tasting day for lunch.

A hollyhock in our gamay grapes

A hollyhock in our gamay grapes

Our neighbourhood, Les Grouets, used to be a wine-producing area and our house, Closerie Falaiseau, was once a vineyard. Today we have a red gamay vine at the front of hte house that’s looking very hopeful and we intend to add a white variety, maybe my favourite chasselas, after the work has been finished on the barn. Considering that it isn’t even started yet, we might not be eating any of our own green grapes for some time.

Françoise and Jin at the entrance to the wine-tasting day

Françoise and Jin at the entrance to the wine-tasting day

We arrive at the wine-tasting venue at the same time as our friend Françoise and her American friend Jin who speaks excellent French. Jin has been running a 3-week summer programme for her university students for over 10 years now and Françoise has hosted several students, ranging in age from 20 to 80!

The beautiful private garden where the wine-tasting was held

The beautiful private garden where the wine-tasting was held

The wine-tasting is being held in a very large private garden which is the perfect setting. There are three local wine growers and a retailer from Blois, Les Forges du Château, which is also a wonderful morning tea, lunchtime and afternoon tea venue.

Eric Bacon serving one of his excellent kebabs with great concentration

Eric Bacon serving one of his excellent kebabs with great concentration

Eric Bacon, a caterer who lives in Les Grouets, is also present and has concocted some excellent chicken kebabs and a French-toast type dessert that he calls Grouettine.

Wine-tasters at the Loquineau stall

Wine-tasters at the Loquineau stall

We taste the wine at the different stalls then line up to buy our kebabs and Grouettines. We find a table that we move into the shade (it’s summer after all and it’s quite sunny for once) and are soon joined by some other friends and neighbours from our street.

Our host, who was presenting wine from Oisly

Our host, who was presenting wine from Château de Presle in Oisly

When we leave around 2 pm, there is still no music (it’s also the national Fête de la Musique) and not a lot of people, mainly due, in my opinion, to the fact that it’s Father’s Day which probably means a lot of people are with their families. We’re a bit disappointed after the huge success of Bread Baking Day but it is still fun to participate in a local event.

Typical house in the suburb of Vineuil

Typical house in the suburb of Vineuil

After the wine-tasting, we’re off cycling. We choose itinerary n° 9 on our Châteaux au Vélo map and park at Vineuil which is a suburb of Blois, on the other side of the Loire from us. We’ve done this itinerary before but in a different direction which means it doesn’t seem the same.

The gypsy caravan

The gypsy caravan

In fact, it all looks new to me but Jean Michel regularly predicts what we are about to see. “Around the next corner”, for example, “we’ll see a gypsy caravan”, he says. I remember the caravan but had absolutely no idea where it was.

The dovecote near Huisseau

The dovecote near Huisseau

As we approach Huisseau-sur-Cosson we come to a small château with a very picturesque old mill that I remember once I get there as well. We go a little further up the path and see a dovecote.

Teacups decorating a traditional well in Sologne

Teacups decorating a traditional well in Sologne

Jean Michel also remembers a tiny village full of flowers and a very cute little well with teacups on it.

There is free entrance to the grounds of Chambord all year round

There is free entrance to the grounds of Chambord all year round

By then, we’re about halfway around our 36 km loop and château de Chambord comes into view – one of our favourite ice-cream stops. As we sit in full view of the château, I realise that it is the only castle in the Loire with free access to the grounds all year round.

The church in Sainte-Claude-de-Diray

The church in Sainte-Claude-de-Diray

We go home via Sainte Claude de Diray and admire its church once again. This time, the little store where we borrowed the key is closed so we have a biscuit rest on the bench opposite instead.

We know summer's here - I had to deadhead the roses

We know summer’s here – I had to deadhead the roses

By the time we get back to the car, I’m ready for an apéritif in the garden. If the weather continues this way, we’re in for a great summer. Maybe we’ll see you here some time!

Posted in Cycling, Flowers & gardens, Loire Valley châteaux, Renovation, Wine | Tagged , | 10 Comments

A Day in Paris with my Daughter and the Nissim Camondo Museum

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My daughter Black Cat is a jet-setter. She works in New York where she lives with her Flying Dutchman and goes to places such as Bogota in Columbia for the long week-end. She’s back in France for a very short time to attend a wedding near Avignon. With less than two days in Paris, where she lived for many years and still has a wide circle of friends, she is giving me a whole day of her time, which I appreciate.

6.45 am in Blois train station

6.45 am in Blois train station

I take the 6.56 am train from Blois. I’m surprised at how many passengers there are but it’s the only direct train that gets to Paris before 11 am and it also stops briefly in Orléans. It’s bright and sunny and 12°C. Jean Michel takes my jacket from me just before I board the train because it is going to be 28°C by the end of the day!

View of Austerlitz train station and bridge from the opposite side of the Seine

View of Austerlitz train station and bridge from the opposite side of the Seine

The journey takes 1 hr 23 mins. At Gare d’Austerlitz station, I start heading for Boulevard Henri IV which is 20 minutes away on foot. My iPhone says to turn left and walk along the river to the next bridge but I decide to take the closest bridge and walk down the other side of the Seine. There’s a lovely view of the station.

On the bike path! Great view of Notre Dame though

On the bike path! Great view of Notre Dame though

I cross over and turn left. Suddenly I realise I’m on a bike path next to a freeway and there is no way I can go right at the next bridge. The iPhone was right. Hmm. I have a great view of Notre Dame but am stuck on the bike path. I see that there are breaks in the freeway traffic from time to time and eventually find a metal fence I can climb over during a lull. I scoot across and heave a sigh of relief.

Black Cat, always very photogenic

Black Cat, always very photogenic

I soon meet up with Black Cat and it’s so wonderful to see her after six months, even though we often talk on Skype. I suggest we go to Carette’s on Place des Vosges for breakfast. We’re so busy talking that I don’t realise I’ve taken her to the wrong café! We get up hastily before we give our order and walk further round the square to Carette. We’re able to sit outside and take our time catching up.

Flowers in the arcades around Place des Vosges

Flowers in the arcades around Place des Vosges

We eventually decide to head for the Nissim Camondo museum which I’ve already visited many years ago but after reading a post by Carolyn Barnabo on her My Sydney Paris Life blog, I’ve been wanting to go back. Black Cat has never been there. We have a long history of visiting galleries and museums together. We started when she was about 3. I used to limit our visits to one hour maximum and always take her to a select café afterwards.  She now works as a marketing manager for a prestigious art institute.

La Bastille

La Bastille

We take the bus in the wrong direction but the driver suggests we get out at Bastille and take another bus as ours has been rerouted because the King of Spain is visiting. We’re not sure what the connection is but we follow his instructions and arrive at Gare Saint Lazare. We start walking towards the museum which is next to Parc Monceau.

The entrance to Parc Monceau - we're not the only ones around!

The entrance to Parc Monceau – we’re not the only ones around!

This is the first time I’ve walked any distance since my last bout of flu and I need a break. I ask what we’ll do about lunch and we decide to buy sandwiches and sit in the park. We see a Kayser bakery with a huge queue outside which amuses Black Cat. There is one in New York where you can go and buy baguettes and croissants but she says they aren’t that wonderful. We find a less popular bakery with a smaller line.

Ruins in Parc Monceau while we're having our lunch

Ruins in Parc Monceau while we’re having our lunch

The park is absolutely full but we find a shady bench opposite an old ruin and I hear all about her trip to Bogota. There is a lovely old town apparently and she also visited a salt cathedral, one of three in the world !

One of the main squares in Bogota

One of the main squares in Bogota

We head off for the museum and when we get there, there’s not a soul in sight ! Black Cat gets in free because of her art institute card while I pay 9 euros. We are both given audio guides. We sit down and read Carolyn’s post to get an overall idea before beginning the visit.

The classical façade of the Nissim Camondo museum

The classical façade of the Nissim Camondo museum

Very briefly, Moïse de Camondo, who built the house in 1911-1912 and named it in honour of his son Nissim who died in the first world war, was a wealthy Jew from Constantinople born in 1860. He was not interested in the family banking business but in art and particularly that of the 18th century. He spent his life collecting the wonderful pieces that are in the museum today.

The house is still as it was during Moise's lifetime

The house is still as it was during Moise’s lifetime

His much younger wife ran off with the manager of the family stables, leaving him with his son Nissim and daughter Béatrice. After Nissim was killed, Béatrice devoted herself to her father and when she married  Léon Reinach, also from a family of distinguished Jewish bankers and intellectuals, they both lived in the family house.

One of the upstairs rooms with its windows overlooking the park

One of the upstairs rooms with its windows overlooking the park

They had two children, Fanny, born in 1920 and Bertrand, born in 1923, after which they moved into their own home, not far away. Moïse became an increasing recluse and devoted himself entirely to his collection. When he died in 1935, Béatrice executed his will to the letter and the house became an annex of the decorative arts museum the next year.

The tassels on the curtains are exquisite

The tassels on the curtains are exquisite

Béatrice was not overly concerned with the situation of the Jews during World War II!. After all, her brother had died for France and her father had bequeathed his house and all his art collections to the state. She was also a French citizen.

More tassels!

More tassels!

How, the entire family – Béatrice, Léon, Fanny and Bertrand – was arrested and interned at Drancy deportation camp in France before being taken to their deaths in Auschwitz in 1943 and 1944.

One of the bathrooms. The left door leads to the toilet which has an opaque window overlooking the park.

One of the bathrooms. The left door leads to the toilet which has an opaque window overlooking the park.

The house has been beautifully preserved and is a delight to visit. The rooms are serene and stately with windows giving onto Parc Monceau below. At the time, no expense was spared and there are a lot of “modern” conveniences such as well-appointed bathrooms and a built-in kitchen.

Beautiful enamel table

Beautiful enamel table

I am particularly taken with the tassels on the curtains, which I always find fascinating. With our audio-guides we can find out more about various objects such as the lovely and very rare enamelled desk in one of the living rooms.

The library - Moise regretted that he didn't have enough time to read (and collect) many books

The library – Moise regretted that he didn’t have enough time to read (and collect) many books

As we are about to see a short film on the Camondos, a young German art student stops to share her delight with us. “My fellow students at the Louvre kept telling me about this museum but I didn’t imagine how wonderful it would be,” she says. “It’s like being in someone’s house.” Which sums it up exactly!

The view of the Louvre from Café Diane

The view of the Louvre from Café Diane

After visiting the museum, we take another bus, this time to the Tuileries Gardens where I want to sit under the trees in my favourite Café Diane and look at the Louvre.

My favourite highly scented roses in the Palais Royal gardens

My favourite highly scented roses in the Palais Royal gardens

We head over to Bourse via the Palais Royal gardens where I lived for 8 years up until October 2014 because I want to smell and photograph a particular rose bush. I am a little bit nostalgic looking up at my previous balcony but it soon passes and we leave, as I have a train to catch and Jean Michel is waiting for me at the other end. Tomorrow is our wedding anniversary.

Celebrating our wedding anniversary at Hauts de Loire restaurant

Celebrating our wedding anniversary at Hauts de Loire restaurant

We say goodbye in the metro and go our separate ways. I’m sad to end such a wonderful day with my lovely daughter.

Posted in museums, Paris, Sightseeing | Tagged , | 24 Comments

A Hedgehog, a Poppy Field and a Horse & Buggy

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My son Leonardo, who lives in Berlin en route for New York (and incidentally is the person who encouraged and helped me to set up this blog), is visiting for the weekend. We’re in the upstairs living room and Jean Michel is looking out at the garden. “There’s a hedgehog!” he says and we rush over to look. In fact, there are two little hedgehogs working their way round the garden.

Spot the hedghog!

Spot the hedghog!

I rush down with my iPhone while Jean Michel gets out his telephoto lens for Leonardo to use. I’m afraid to get up close and frighten them away, which is the advantage of a telephoto lens, of course. The results are fabulous.

One of the hedgehogs is still there when we’re having lunch in the garden so our entire time is spent jumping up to take another photo or video. It turns out that the hedgehog isn’t frightened at all which is strange as they are nocturnal creatures. Leonardo suddenly says, “I want a selfie with the hedgehog” and lies down on the grass next to it!

Leonardo taking a selfie with the hedgehog

Leonardo taking a selfie with the hedgehog

After lunch Jean Michel and I go cycling while Leonardo goes off to the gym to do weight lifting. It’s a pity he won’t be around more often – he would be very useful for lifting the freestone that Jean Michel will be using to make the new kitchen window.

We can't resist this hedgehog!

We can’t resist this hedgehog!

We begin cycling at what I call the Giraffe Intersection because during the summer, they blow up a huge plastic giraffe for the kids to play on while their parents are snacking on focaccia and croissants at Pat-à-Pain. When they remove it in winter, I get completely lost.

A poppy field

A poppy field

Our route takes us through little villages full of roses and fields of barley, wheat and poppies. We’re growing our own barley, wheat and oats this year – quite by accident. The mixed bird seed on the window ledge dropped into the garden bed below and sprouted, much better than my lobelia and verbena seeds, but that’s always the way, isn’t it?

The horse and buggy, a little hazy, but I couldn't decently get any closer

The horse and buggy, a little hazy, but I couldn’t decently get any closer

Ahead of us we suddenly see a horse and buggy. Not the tourist sort, but a real one. The man and young boy are appropriately dressed in colourful caps and there’s even a wicker basket at the back. They are obviously out for a Sunday drive. I have to take the photo without getting off my bike or getting too close as I’m not sure how these people would feel about being photographed openly.

The wall of roses at château de Cheverny

The wall of roses at château de Cheverny

One of the main reasons we have chosen this itinerary is so that I can see my favourite wall of roses at Château de  Cheverny. They are just as stunning every year. I’m working on producing a similar effect with my Saharan roses (see apricot and pink roses in first photo), although my wall is somewhat smaller.

The bridge at Cellettes

The bridge at Cellettes

Our last stop before we get back to the car is the beautiful park in the pretty little village of Cellettes where we initially intended to look for a house – until we discovered it’s a thoroughfare for trucks from Monday to Saturday!

The Pierre Ronsard roses at the back of our house

The Pierre Ronsard roses at the back of our house

We do not regret, for one moment, having bought Closerie Falaiseau in Blois. And now we even have a hedgehog!

Posted in Closerie Falaiseau, Country living, Cycling, Flowers & gardens | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Our First Neighbours’ Day Party

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I’ve been wanting to have a neighbourhood party since we bought Closerie Falaiseau three years ago but it was a little tricky while we were still living in Paris … I check the date – 29th May – and ask what my oldest and dearest friends in the street think about it. Great  idea, they say, but neither will be able to attend.

Our neighbour Chantal at her snackbar Crousti'Pause, rue Denis Papin.

Our neighbour Chantal at her snackbar Crousti’Pause, rue Denis Papin.

I call in to see my next door neighbour (the one that ISN’T going to have a poultry yard) at her snackbar in Blois and she thinks it’s a wonderful idea. “We’ll come”, she says, “and so will our friends down the road that I knew from high school.” I ask for advice about food and she suggests that I simply tell people to bring a picnic basket with what they need.

The flyer presenting ourselves and inviting our neighbours to the party

The flyer presenting ourselves and inviting our neighbours to join us

Jean Michel and I spend some time finding the right wording for the flyer and I add a logo I find on a website. La fête des voisins also called Immeubles en fête (which roughly means “partying flats”) was created at the turn of the century (this one!), at the initiative of one Atanase Périfan in the 17th arrondissement in Paris. It was promoted by the mayors of Paris (all twenty-one of them) and low-income housing owners and its popularity rapidly spread to the rest of France. It is now held on the last Friday of May or the first Friday of June. It became Europe-wide in 2004.

Jean Michel putting a flyer in one of the letterboxes

Jean Michel putting a flyer in one of the letterboxes

I print out 70 copies (two flyers per page) because the last house in the street is 132 (it’s a long street) and we set out after dinner on the Monday 18th to put them in everyone’s letterboxes. We have lots left over so I can only surmise that many people have two numbers (like our neighbours on the other side).

At the end of the road, we see the Harley Davidson man whose wife’s car we ran into the first night we ever slept at the Closerie. He thinks it’s a wonderful idea and will come with his wife.

Outside our front gate

Outside our front gate

Next day, a lady walks past while I’m weeding on the footpath and we chat for a while. She says her husband has a pétanque game but they will try to come afterwards. Another neighbour we know also calls by to say he’s coming. We’re up to  12 which seems a decent number.  I invite Mr and Mrs Previous Owner and they are delighted to come.

We keep checking the weather and although it will be a little chilly and overcast, no rain is predicted. Responses trickle in and it looks like we might make it to twenty.

Balloons with "fête des voisins" written on them

Balloons with “fête des voisins” written on them

Jean Michel is going to set up a couple of trestle tables and a banner made of balloons saying “Fête des Voisins”.

Friday dawns and to my dismay, I am too sick to get out of bed. My terrible January flu seems to be back. I make my way to the sofa and finish off the two translations due that morning, then drag myself back to bed. I am feeling very miserable and very disappointed to say the least.

Waterlilies and irises in Chouzy-sur-Cisse

Waterlilies and irises in Chouzy-sur-Cisse

Jean Michel goes off and buys the balloons and at 5 pm is setting up the first trestle table in the area opposite where we park trailer. By then, I am feeling even worse than I did during my first flu so ask him to ring the doctor (whom I incidentally do not like). The doctor says to bring me straight over so I clutch my sick bag as we hurtle over to Chouzy-sur-Cisse.

The doctor reassures me that I don’t have Lyme’s disease from a recent tick bite, nor a urinary infection, nor encephalitis or meningitis from all my recent mosquito bites. We go home and I collapse into bed again fully clothed.

Being restored with a glass of rosé

Being restored with a glass of rosé (photo by Mrs Previous Owner)

At 8 pm, I wake up and take some aspirin, feeling slightly better. I can hear joyous voices wafting in from the outside. I go down and get my deck chair and wander across the road. Someone spies me and starts clapping. A loud “hourray” goes up !

Two new friends on their scooters

Two new friends on their scooters

I am amazed to count a total of 31 adults and 5 children. Everyone comes to talk to me in my deck chair and I can see they are all enjoying themselves.  There is plenty of food and I end up having a glass of rosé bought from the Cheverny Cooperative the day before. I slowly start to feel better and after an hour or so and a second glass of wine with a sandwich can actually get up and mingle.

The party soon moved into the street

The party soon moved into the street

Most of the people present are our neighbours who are geographically the closest, although lady comes from the top of the street.  She tells me she felt a little shy at first so drove past. One of the other neighbours recognised her and called out so she stopped and joined us.

I’m told by another neighbour that she once tried to initiate a fête des voisins and met with little enthusiasm. My principle is that when you hold a party, even if only one person comes, then it’s worth it because that person wants to be there !

Most of the people didn't know each other before the party, but the conversation never stopped

Most of the people didn’t know each other before the party, but the conversation never stopped (photo by Mrs Previous Owner)

Another lady tells me she and her husband are moving away in a couple of months’ time because they have never managed to establish a social network in Blois. How lucky we are !

About 10.30 pm, as night falls, the party spontaneously breaks up and everyone helps to clean up. Next morning only the balloon banner still remains. At the market, we meet no fewer that three of our neighbours present at the fête. All repeat how much they enjoyed themselves.

And off comes the cork! (photo by Mrs Previous Owner)

And off comes the cork! (photo by Mrs Previous Owner)

So we’ll be on the ball next year for the 2ème fête de voisins (and I won’t be sick because spending three days in bed is no fun!)

All About France #5

All_About_France_blog_link_up_2I would like to dedicate this post to Phoebe Thomas from Lou Messugo, who’s neighbour day party two years ago inspired me, and at the same time participate in her All About France #5 blog link. For other contributions, click here.

Posted in Life in France | Tagged , | 20 Comments

May Flowers in the Country

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Last time, I took you on a tour of my garden in May. I thought you might like to see the wild flowers in the surrounding countryside as well. Here are the photos I took last Friday when we cycled along the Loire from opposite Saint Claude sur Diray to Saint-Dyé-sur-Loire, then through the forest to Château de Chambord, a 30 km round trip.

eglantineThe first flowers I noticed were all the dog roses (églantine in French) which are a delicate pink.

sureau

These are elder trees (sureau). The berries are used to make elderberry wine.

faux_acacia

These very tall trees (Jean Michel is on the bike path in front of me) are the Robinia pseudoacacia or false acacias that I mistook for wattle in my last post. It’s a bit confusing as the French actually call them acacias.

water_irisesThese yellow water irises are a little past their prime but I still love seeing them.

buttercupsButtercups are everywhere at the moment. These are on the banks of the Loire at Saint Dyé. When I first came to France, I fell in love with the buttercups and used to take my moped out into the countryside and lie down in the fields feeling very romantic.

geraniums

You see both these flowers on stone walls everywhere. I understand that the lavendar one on the top right is a geranium (what we usually call geraniums are actually pelargoniums). I have no idea what the ones on the left are though.

blue_astersThese pretty little asters are also very common. You can see another geranium at the bottom of the photo.

cornflowersThese cornflowers are next to a field of barley on the path from Saint Dyé to Chambord.

chambord

No flowers in this one but I couldn’t resist posting a photo of one of my favourite châteaux!

 

 

 

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Posted in Flowers & gardens, Loire Valley, Loire Valley châteaux, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 8 Comments