Photos of the Week – Tuileries Gardens

Back in Paris this week, trying to recover from our renovation stint! A favourite cousin came through Paris so we spent a delightful afternoon catching up in the Tuileries at Café Diane because it really does have the best view.

My favourite view from Café Diane

My favourite view from Café Diane

The irises are about to bloom

The irises are about to bloom

The boatman is back!

The boatman is back!

Posted in Flowers & gardens, Paris, Restaurants | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Friday’s French – travail

I wrote a short post last week about travaux so I thought I should talk about travail today. You may remember that travail comes from the low Latin trepalium, instrument of torture, derived from the Latin tres, three, and palus, stake.

En plein travail intellectuel

En plein travail intellectuel

I was about to give travaux scientifiques and travaux manuels as examples of travaux when I realised that you can also say travail scientifique and travail manuel and it doesn’t quite mean the same thing, even though the translation is often the same. In fact, travaux scientifiques – scientific work – are often the product of travail scientifique – also scientific work! But the line between them can be very fine.

C’est un travail scientifique original = It’s an original scientific work

Il vient de publier les résultats de ses travaux scientifiques. = He’s just published the results of his scientific work.

Il a fait un travail scientifique extraordinaire = The scientific work he carried out was extraordinary (though this can be translated in many different ways depending on the context).

The distinction between travail manuel and travaux manuels is a little easier.

Il aime le travail manuel = He likes manual work.

Les travaux manuels occupent les enfants et aident à leur développement = Manual work occupies children and helps them to develop.

But the main meaning of travaux manuels is arts and crafts.

Travail intellectual is intellectual work in the sense of brainwork or mental work while travaux intellectuels corresponds to the work produced and is often opposed to travaux manuels.

Il fait un travail intellectuel = He does intellectual work.

Jean Michel often says “Qu’est-ce que c’est que ce travail?” to mean“what’s going on here?”

And here are a couple of expressions to finish off:

Le travail c’est la santé which approximately means that work is good for you.

“à travail égal, salaire égal” = equal pay for equal work.

Alors, au travail !

Posted in French language | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Weekly Blogger Round-Up: the San Pellegrino headquarters – Le Crotoy flea market – Gourd festival in Nice –

In this week’s Blogger Round-Up, Mary Kay from Out and About in Paris takes us to Bergamo in Italy where she was given a special guided tour of the San Pellegrino art nouveau building, while Janine Marsh from The Good Life France takes us to a flea market in Le Crotoy in the lovely Somme Bay on the coast of Normandy, one of our favourite cycling spots. To end up, Margo Lestz from The Curious Rambler introduces us to the gourd festival in Nice, “the perfect place to see all things Niçois”. Enjoy!

The Casino of San Pellegrino Terme – a magnificent Art Nouveau building reminiscent of La Belle Époque

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

san_pelligrinoIf you’ve ever ordered a bottle of San Pellegrino sparkling mineral water while seated on the terrace of a Parisian café or purchased a six-pack of the distinctive green bottles from your local grocery store, you may have noticed the elegant building on its label and wondered about its history. Thanks to a special guided tour of the Casino (Grand Kursaal) of San Pellegrino Terme yesterday afternoon, I now know that the building is one of the most famous examples of Art Nouveau (or Liberty Style as it’s called in Italy) structures in Europe. Recently restored at a cost of 10 million euros, it’s also one of the most impressive buildings that I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. Read more

Le Crotoy on the Somme France

Written by Janine Marsh from The Good Life France, an independent on-line magazine about France and all things French, covering all aspects of daily life including healthcare, finance, utilities, education, property and a whole lot more.

le-crotoy-2It was a lovely spring weekend in the north of France – perfect to indulge in the national French pastime of visiting a brocante. France is famous for its second hand markets, bric-a-brac markets, marche au puces, braderies and vide greniers – flea markets are known by several names and they are held in all regions.

They take place throughout the year but the majority are from March to October when better weather means stalls can be laid out in the streets of towns and villages. Some are small with just a few sellers and some are huge like the Lille Braderie with 10,000 stalls. Read more

Celebrating the Gourd in Nice

by Margo Lestz from The Curious Rambler, who lives in Nice, France where she likes to bask in the sunshine, study the French language and blog

painted-gourds-02Nice is a French city, of course, but it also has a strong and proud culture all its own. It was Niçois long before it was French and the people work hard to keep their Niçois traditions alive. It has its own language, anthem, traditional costumes, dances, songs, and food. The language is taught in schools and there are dance groups that perform at many events throughout the year. These associations ensure that the traditions are passed from generation to generation. And the calendar is dotted with several events each year that are typically Niçois. Read more

Posted in France, French customs, Italy, Sightseeing, Weekly Blogger Round-Up | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A Laundry in a French House No Less! #1

We’ve set aside two weeks to make a laundry at Closerie Falaiseau. Like most French houses, it doesn’t have one. I’ve talked about this before. In fact, Jean Michel has already drilled a 10 cm diameter hole through a 70 cm wall to evacuate the water from the washing machine in the downstairs bathroom into the drain and not the shower!

The walls of our half-timbered tower would have originally been made of wattle and daub.

The walls of our half-timbered tower would have originally been made of wattle and daub.

So far, we’ve been using the little house as a laundry but it’s not very practical for the cleaners when they are washing and drying two full sets of sheets and towels, including bathrobes, for the next gîte guests.

The bedroom in the gîte

The bedroom in the gîte

We have a small room at the end of the workshop that seems perfect. There is a door that leads directly into the far end of the workshop from the gîte bedroom with its en-suite bathroom (with the first washing machine).

Traditional wattle and daub ceiling

Traditional wattle and daub ceiling

The ceiling is wattle and daub which is a traditional way of constructing walls and ceilings in which vertical /horizontalwooden stakes, or wattles, are woven with horizontal/vertical twigs and branches, and then daubed with clay or mud. Ours is probably about 400 years old. At present, most of it is propped up with two large storage cupboards.

Jean Michel poking at the beams

Jean Michel poking at the beams

We dismantle the cupboards, which are large and heavy, and cart them off to the little house. Jean Michel then attacks the ceiling and starts letting out ominous sounds through his face mask. As he uses a poker affair to pull down the rotten bits of clay, he discovers that parts of some of the beams are rotten as well.

Painting the beams with limewash

Painting the beams with limewash

This requires an extra step not included in the initial programme. First treatment with a product called Crésyl, based on cresol, which probably poisons the user as much as any lurking insects and spiders. It smells foul in any case.

Spraying with limewash after putting up the beams

Spraying with limewash after putting up the beams

After that, the original beams are painted with limewash before adding secondary beams to support the ceiling. The wattle and daub is then sprayed with limewash, which is a much more environment-friendly product altogether. It should all last another 20 or 30 years, which is all we need anyway.

Preparing the floor panels for the ceiling

Preparing the floor panels for the ceiling

Jean Michel then puts up a ceiling made of thick particle-board floor panels. He can’t use normal plasterboard ceiling panels because they are not strong enough to hold up any falling mud and daub.

Large hole to be filled with stones balanced on top of each other and wedged into place

Large hole to be filled with stones balanced on top of each other and wedged into place

I then don my throwaway overall (though I can’t find my cap) and take over the ceiling by painting it, first a primer, then a second coat. I also use filler to plug up any holes in the wall, particularly a couple of very large ones (about 10 cm in diameter) that seem to come from a previous attempt to drill holes in the wall.

I learn the technique of balancing stones on each other until the hole is filled vertically in order stop the render coming out. Jean Michel neglected to inform me of this step so I’ve already had to redo one of the holes. Trial and error is the best teacher, he tells me. I prefer not to waste time personally.

Jean Michel using the percussion drill

Jean Michel using the percussion drill – we’re both wearing earplugs

Meanwhile, Jean Michel starts drilling the first 8 cm diameter hole to evacuate air from the clothes dryer. The second serious problem kicks in. As he uses the percussion drill on a different wall from the one in the bathroom, the clay and stones inside the wall start collapsing from the vibration. This wall is obviously of inferior quality.

Some of the stones that are supposed to be inside the wall

Some of the stones that are supposed to be inside the wall

He then discovers that for some reason, there is a beam between the wall  and the concrete floor slab that is rotten as well. The plaster wall starts breaking up. Another visit to Brico Depot proves necessary to buy thin bricks to hold up the plaster and replace the beam. He spends a lot of uncomfortable time half-lying on the floor.

The plaster wall after filling with bricks and plastering

The plaster wall after filling with bricks and plastering

By then, we are well into the second week and decide to extend our stay by a third week, having our tea break in the garden and feeling sorry that we can’t be out on our bikes using the weather to better advantage and, in particular, seeing all the tulips in Château de Cheverny.

Tea break in the garden

Tea break in the garden

I’m sure you can’t wait for the next episode!

Posted in Accommodation, Architecture, Blois, Closerie Falaiseau, Renovation | Tagged , , | 13 Comments

Photos of the Week – Wisteria & Lilies of the Valley

We have been enjoying spring so much in Blois that we are sad to go back to Paris even though it will be a break from our travaux! We can’t get enough of our wisteria at Closerie Falaiseau. We also love the wisteria at the entrance to the house in our original John Modesitt oil painting. I’ve posted a photo of the house on Blois Daily Photo.

Aperitif time in the garden

Aperitif time in the garden


Our wisteria taken from the side, Jean Michel's favourite view

Our wisteria taken from the side, Jean Michel’s favourite view

Not wisteria this time, but early lilies of the valley nexxt to equally early tulips!

Not wisteria this time, but early lilies of the valley nexxt to equally early tulips!

Posted in Closerie Falaiseau, Flowers & gardens | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Friday’s French – travaux

This is going to be a very short post because we are up to our necks in travaux. Travaux, the plural of travail is, interestingly enough, from the low Latin trepalium, instrument of torture, derived from the Latin tres, three, and palus, stake.

Jean Michel en pleins travaux en train de percer un mur de 70 cm.

Jean Michel en pleins travaux : percement d’un mur de 70 cm.

Well, I can tell you, the pain in both my hands (being left-handed I am fairly ambidextrous) from wielding spatulas, trowels, paint brushes and rollers for the last week certainly makes it feel like torture! The end result will be a laundry, initially without a sink.

Travaux is a very useful word and covers practically anything. Note that in French, it is always used in the plural and never in the singular, in this context. And you can use it by itself without any explanation. Nous faisons des travaux = We doing renovation works/alterations/plumbing and so on.

renovation work = travaux de rénovation

roadworks = travaux routiers

woodwork = travaux sur bois

plumbing work = travaux de plomberie

alterations = travaux d’aménagement

major projects = grands travaux

farm work = travaux de la ferme

metalwork = travaux sur métal

I’m sure you can find plenty of others! Je dois reprendre mes travaux de peinture!

Posted in French language, Renovation, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Weekly Blogger Round-Up: Navigating Europe’s main airports – Riviera medieval festival – Packing Tips –

 This week’s Blogger Round-Up is all-Australian, starting with Carolyn from Holidays to Europe with practical suggestions as usual, this time on how to get to and from Europe’s major airports. Phoebe from Lou Messugo gives a detailed description of a mediaeval festival on the French Riviera while Jo Karnaghan from Frugal First Class Travel gives more packing tips, based on other bloggers’ suggestions (including mine).  Enjoy!

Getting to and from Europe’s main airports (part 1)

by Carolyn from Holidays to Europe, an Australian based business passionate about sharing their European travel expertise and helping travellers to experience the holiday in Europe they have always dreamed of

Airport sign.After a 24 hour (or longer) flight to Europe from Australia, the last thing you probably feel like doing is working out how you are going to get from the airport into the city, and I don’t blame you! I’ve been there and somehow miraculously found my way from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport to my apartment via public transport and let me tell you, it was no fun – especially with one husband, two kids and assorted luggage in tow and only a miniscule understanding of French. Read more

Medieval Festival – Knights Templar on the Côte

by Phoebe from Lou Messugo, a traveller, francophile, expat, mum and foodie now living in Roquefort les Pins where she runs a gîte after many years of travelling and living in Asia, Eastern Europe and Australia.

Biot_templiers_6For three days every year in early April the lovely village of Biot (pronounced Bi-otte not Bi-oh as you may think if you know anything about French pronunciation) goes back in time to the 13th century.  The setting couldn’t be more perfect as the old centre of Biot is a fortified medieval hill village, perched just a couple of kilometres inland from the Mediterranean sea, commanding sweeping views out to sea one way and over to the mountains the other, creating the perfect backdrop for this historical event. Read more

Travel Bloggers Share Even More Great Packing Tips

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!

Hi Frugalistas!

travel_scalesMy travel blogger friends are back with more great packing tips.  Take it from the experts, and you too can pack like a travel pro!  Your key to successful one bag packing is here…..

Vanessa (@turnipseeds) at Turnipseed Travel is a crafty one.  She’s got two great recommendations for travelling successfully with just a tiny carry on bag:

“Burp” the extra air out of your toiletry bottles before you fly so they have room to expand with the air pressure of the plane.  Otherwise you’ll have a messy leak!  Read more

Posted in France, Travelling, Weekly Blogger Round-Up | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The House of Happiness

There is a beautiful lilac bush just across the road from our house in a large vacant lot followed by meadowland that goes down to the Loire. Our rainwater flows into the vacant lot so Jean Michel keeps the area free of  brambles and nettles. He has also cleared a parking space next to it. The lilac bush is on the left.

The lilac bush from our bedroom window when we get up in the morning

The lilac bush from our bedroom window when we get up in the morning

The weather is lovely and we’re having our tea in the garden, making the most of the spring flowers. Jean Michel suddenly gets up and says, “More people cutting the lilac”. He opens the gate, sees an elderly lady and a young man and says “Hello. I would really appreciate it if you could cut the lilac from the back of the bush and not the front. That way, everyone can appreciate it.”

The lady looks surprised. “Ah”, she says, “but figurez-vous (which means something like believe it or not), the lilac was planted by my father. I used to live in this house”. “Well”, we say, “that’s quite different”. “Won’t you come in”, I add, trying not to seem too excited, “I have lots of questions to ask you”.

Closerie Falaiseau

Closerie Falaiseau in June

The lady is loquacious, to say the least, while her 30-year old son is more reserved. She explains how the garden and the house were divided into two. There was a stone wall separating the garden starting at the drain pipe on the left of the last door on the right and ending where my planters are now. She and her parents and six siblings lived in the left half.

The wall ended on the right of the photo where you can see the two planters

The wall ended on the right of the photo where you can see the two planters

Downstairs, the room corresponding to the archway on the left was a combined living room and kitchen with a bathroom behind and the boys’ bedroom was on the right. I learn, to my disappointment, that the stone sink and bench, which I thought were original features of the house, were added by the people who began restoring the house before our previous owners bought it.

Stone seat and sink that I thought were original!

Stone seat and sink that I thought were original!

Upstairs, where she loved to sit and read, were the other bedrooms. Her father was a bricklayer and had a large vegetable garden in the vacant alotment across the road. She tells us that she had the most wonderful parents imaginable, that the house was always full of people and that at Christmas, they had parties where everyone sang and danced until 6 o’clock in the morning.

“I call it la Maison du bonheur (the house of happiness)”, she says. She now lives in a flat in Blois, overlooking the Loire, “because”, she explains, “I love the Loire almost as much as this house. There used to be a sandy beach on the edge of the river and we used to love going there to play and sunbake.”

The little house that the parents moved into after their children grew up

The little house that the parents moved into after their children grew up

But the children grew up and married and the house was too big for her parents so they moved to the little house next door. Her son explains that his grandparents used to look after him during the day and he went to the school down the road, which is now closed. Now in his early thirties, he confesses that it has always been his dream to buy the house one day.

The school in our street which is now closed

The school in our street which is now closed

Their nostaglia is palpable. The little old lady talks non-stop and is obviously delighted to be able to share her memories with us and not at all interested in seeing the inside of the house which she doesn’t recognise. She is obviously disorientated so we go outside again. In response to something she says, I ask her how old she is. She looks a little surprised and replies 64.

I try not to look as shocked as I feel. I would have said she was 80! I think about it later and I finally come to the conclusion that her nostalgia for the past has prevented her from entering the modern world. She looks the age her mother would have had.

The little old lady in front of the lilac bush

The little old lady in front of the lilac bush

Jean Michel takes his secateurs and cuts her a huge bouquet of lilac from behind the bush this time. She promises to come back again at the end of the year after we’ve moved here for good to show us her old black and white photos of the inside of the house. We promise in the meantime to make the most of our House of Happiness.

Posted in Architecture, Blois, Closerie Falaiseau, Flowers & gardens, Loire Valley | Tagged , | 10 Comments

Photo of the Week – My Wisteria

wisteriaEach time our wisteria blooms I fall in love with it again! This year, it’s early of course, but it means we get to enjoy it for longer before we have to go back to Paris.

Below is a photo taken last year by a lovely American couple from North Carolina who rented Closerie Falaiseau from mid-April to mid-May. Because they knew how much we love the wisteria, they had this photo mounted on canvas, framed it themselves and sent it to us as a wonderful surprise. Wasn’t that a lovely thought?

And I’ve only just realised that it is when the leaves grow that the wisteria looks its best!



Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Friday’s French – gate, clôture, barrière , portail

I am a firm believer in learning vocabulary if you want to speak another language with any fluency. However, it has the disadvantage of giving the impression that A always equals B. Which is not true of course.

Notre portail vert qu'on a repeint pendant une vague de chaleur

Notre portail vert qu’on a repeint pendant une vague de chaleur

I still remember learning that gate = barrière = and fence = clôture and find it difficult not to automatically say “barrière” and “clôture” each time The problem is that they are not always equivalents !

Our house in Blois has a portail (which we repainted in a heat wave), which is used to designate a large metal or wooden gate. The bits on either side of our portail are murs or walls because they are made of stone. Our little house also has a portail but it’s wooden.

No barrières in sight! So I asked Jean Michel , “qu’est-ce que c’est qu’une barrière“. He thought about it and very helpfully said “Je ne sais pas”. So I’ll tell you what I think it is. As far as I can see, it refers to a barrier, such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia (grande barrière de corail), a safety gate or a crowd barrier (une barrière de sécurité), a language barrier (barrière de la langue – now that’s useful!) and more important still, a level crossing gate (barrière de passage à niveau) – you may remember my close shave in Germany last summer.

Une porte cochère

Une porte cochère

A gate can also be a porte, such as the town gates or gate to a castle or even a garden gate if it looks like a door. Those enormous gates that you see on the façade of many buildings in France originally designed to take a horse and carriage through are called portes cochère.

Une porte de jardin

Une porte de jardin

If it’s not enclosed on all sides by a wall and not big enough to let a vehicle through, it’s a portillon.

Un portillon

Un portillon

A large metal gate that doesn’t have any solid parts the way our green gate does is called a grille d’entrée.

Une grille d'entrée à la Place Stanislas in Nancy

Une grille d’entrée à la Place Stanislas in Nancy (though the actual gates are missing!)

Fortunately, fence isn’t quite as complicated. Below, you can see a clôture which is definitely a fence, but the stone wall behind it is a mur d’enclos.

Une clôture en fer devant un mur en pierre

Une clôture en fer devant un mur en pierre

Theoretically, you can have a clôture en bois such as the one the neighbours used for their chicken yard below, but most people would call it a palissade. The wire fence next to it is a clotûre though.

The first two panels erected between our wall and the neighbour's gate

Une palissade, suivie d’une clôture, suivie d’un portail.

So next time you want to say “fence” or “gate”, I hope you’ll do better than me!

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Posted in French language, Uncategorized | Tagged | 8 Comments