Cycling in Slovenia – our power bikes pass the test!

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We’re in Malibor in the north of Slovenia, a country known for its hills. We ask for a bike map from the tourist office and study it. In Malibor, there are cycle paths everywhere so we assume that outside the town, the bike circuits will be well indicated. We choose n°3 north of the city, which goes through vineyards and forests and is 31 k with a total gradient of 390 m.

We get as far as Kanmica without any problem but there, the bike paths disappear. Next to the church, we find a board with a bike map but our circuit is not on it. Oh well, we’ll just head for Saint Urban, the first stop. We start on a busy road but soon take a left turn up a quite a steep road. So far, so good. Our new electrically-assisted bikes* are doing well.

However the road keeps going up. Surely this can’t be the circuit indicated? You would have to be a really experienced and extremely fit cyclist to get up here! We’re a bit puffed and our leg muscles a little strained when we reach a bench off to the left of the road. We drink a half a litre of water each, take photos and study google maps on my iPhone to check we’re on the right route. However, there doesn’t seem to be any other road. As we leave, we look over to the right and see our church in the distanace, still much higher up.

Eventually, just before we mount the last steep hill to the church, we see a sign indicating  circuits 1 and 3. This must be the right route after all. The last stretch is extremely steep, probably about 40%. Jean Michel makes it up, but I have to get off halfway because I haven’t change into lowest gear (I’m still in 3 out of 9), even though I am in power mode. I use the “assisted walking” feature to push the bike up the rest of the way as it is pretty heavy.

The view from the top is absolutely stunning. Jean Michel is jubilant that our bikes have got us up such a steep slope (well, his anyway). I eventually get my breath back and drink another ½ litre of water. I take a photo from the window frame especially provided for visitors!

As we go back down the slope, I have my heart in my mouth, it’s so steep. I’ve never done this before. However, when we turn off to the left towards our next destination, Gaj Nad Mariborom, the slope is less frightening. We coast down for a while through forestland then up another hill, that is not nearly as bad, to the church in Gaj Nad Mariborom.

From then until we are back in Kanmica, it’s plain sailing, all downhill. Our bikes have excellent disc brakes so we don’t have to worry about overheating. I have also learnt very recently, to my great embarrassment, particularly considering how many years we have been cycling, that I don’t have to press both brakes on the handlebars at once. Just pressing the right brake (back wheel) makes turning and going down hills much easier. My only excuse is that the only bike I rode as a teenager had back-pedal brakes and when I first rode a bike with handlebar brakes, no one thought to explain about the two different brakes.

After Kanmica, we cycle for a couple of kilometers on the bike path along the main road and then join the bike path along the Drava River which we didn’t manage to access yesterday. We go past two timber rafts and learn about the annual timber rafting event in Moribor, one of its most well-known festivals.

We then ride past what is claimed to be the world’s oldest vine, planted 400 years ago.

We end up at the wine bar at the Water Tower, one of the city’s best-known monuments originally called the Gunpower Tower and built in 1555 as part of the city’s fortifications. However, it’s a fast day, so we just have tea as we watch the swans glide down the river.

After crossing the Drava via the footbridge and taking the same photos as the ones on all the tourist brochures, we go up a very steep path to join the roadthat takes us back to our hotel four kilometres away, on the edge of town.

We vote this is one of our best rides ever, along with the S-bend in Austria and other parts of the Danube in Germany. Now we’re ready for the hills of Romania!

*Kalkhof power bikes, with a torque of 70 kN/m. There are 9 gears and 3 settings: “eco”, “sport” and “power”. The battery has an autonomy of 70 to 120 km depending on how often you use the “sport” and “power” settings. The battery is removable and takes about 8 hours to charge when empty. Price: 2500 euro.

Posted in Cycling, Sightseeing, Slovenia | Tagged | 4 Comments

Cycling from Breschia to Lake Iseo

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We are on our way from Blois to Romania and Jean Michel has chosen Lake Iseo as our first stopover. We’ve booked an apartment for two nights in Cazzago San Martino 2 km from the Turin-Trieste motorway. By 5 pm, we are on our bikes and ready to begin our holiday.

The scenery is delightful as we wind our way along small country roads through the vineyards of the Francia Corta region. This is our first “real” ride with our new electrically-assisted bikes and we are more than convinced! The itinerary is graded as “easy, family” but the Italians are used to hills and bad roads I guess. I would hardly think that loose gravel, occasional main roads and quite steep descents are suitable for children. With our power bikes though, it’s a breeze!

We join the bike itinerary at Monterotondo where there is a local fête in full swing. Throughout the evening we hear a lot of music and later learn it is Italy’s national day, festa della Repubblica.

A dirt path takes us through a natural peat bog reserve and we glimpse tiny lakes surrounded by vineyards and cane fields. We meet many other cyclists and joggers.

The next village is Cremignane and we have our first view of the lake, followed by a quiet road to Clusane sul Lago. We are attracted by a lakeside restaurant called Rosmundo. It’s still early so we book for 7.30 pm which will give us time to reach the end of the itinerary at Paratico. The last 5 K are not very interesting. The bike path runs along one side of the main road.

We arrive back at the restaurant in plenty of time, ready to sample the local specialities. Jean Michel has fried fish from the lake while I have an excellent scallopina al limone. We have a carafe of frizzante and I finish off with tiramisu.

It’s 8.30 pm by now and we have a 15 K ride home. We have the bike paths to ourselves now and the light over the little lakes is lovely.

After Monterotondo, we have a a bit of trouble finding our way back to our apartment and iI’s nearly dark when we get back at 9.45 pm. We’ve done a round trip of 43 K which we could never have done with our previous bikes.

Next morning, the sky is clear and blue and we set out for Breschia at 10 am. Once again we join the itinerary at Monterotondo and head in the opposite direction. The castle of Dosso rises majestically from the surrounding vineyards.

We have a cappuccino break in Paderno Franciacorta along with the locals. Jean Michel reads the Brescia Times in Italian, seated in front of a poster of the Empire State Building while drinking a cappuccino and eating a pain aux raisins. It’s 11 am and a group of men are already drinking Campari.

We pass a square with a mediaeval castle and an angel of mercy. A local comes up to talk to us (in Italian) and tells us Breschia is 13 k away. It’s getting hotter by the minute. We have trouble finding our way out of town – the bike signs are not very visible – but ask some cyclists who reassure us we are in the right direction. All we usually get is that little green squiggle on the signpost below. This was the only time we saw one that showed distances.

At Rodengo-Saiano, we stop to visit San Nicola’s but it’s already closed for lunch. We will stop on the way back. The bike sign says that Breschia is in 9.70 k. In fact it is 12 K. We pass through Gussago and see a beautiful private home with stunning frescoes.

It’s the end of the Saturday market in Breschia. It’s also steaming  hot and we are thirsty and hungry as it’s nearly 1.30 pm. We find a rstaurant in a shady street off Piazza Paolo VI and sit down without even looking at the menu. It turns out to be a “bistrot” with salads and pasta. It’s called Dei Notte di Calabria. We order pasta al ragù and a glass of chardonnay. Jean Michel goes into mild depression when he sees the small plate of pasta (what did he expect for 8 euro?) but I reassure him that he can order something else if he’s still hungry. We then order focaccia stuffed with steak tartare and patatine which I can’t finish but Jean Michel is looking happy again. We have a cold glass of rosato to go with it.

In the meantime, the piazza has filled up with people obviously dressed for a wedding. At first we think they are Jewish but more turn up and the Catholic church is chock-a-block by the time we visit. It’s an interesting piazza, with a round Romanesque church from the 12th century over an 8th century crypt, next to a 17th century Baroque cathedral and a typical Lombardian palazzo and tower.

Next is piazza della Loggia, with its 15th century Venetian palace and monumental clock.

After visiting the vestiges of a Roman forum, it’s 3.30 pm and 34°C so we decide that the World Heritage monastery of Santa Giulia will have to wait for another time. We still have a 2-hour ride home.


This time, having finished all our water, we stop for a cold coke at another bar in Paderno Franciacorte. We are next to a group of 4 teenage boys. It’s very amusing to listen to their antics in a language we can’t understand.

By the time we get back to our apartment after stopping on the way to buy fruit, vegetables, cheese and yoghurt for an at-home dinner, it’s 6 pm and we have clocked up 65 K. Our total riding time is 4 hours which means an average of 16 K which is pretty good going and certainly better than the 12 K we did with our other bikes.

We can highly recommend the Breschia – Paratico bike itinerary for its great variety, lovely scenery and interesting architecture. However, I would not say it’s easy riding! The instructions given by are essential if you are to find your way. Our choice of Apartamento Franciacorte in Cazzago San Martino, found on, was excellent. It was very comfortable and the owner friendly and helpful. At 180 euro for two nights, it was very good value for money.

Posted in Accommodation, Architecture, Cycling, Italy | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Friday’s French – propre, clean, own, proper

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I was talking to my Australian friend Susan from Days on the Claise recently and she mentioned the different meanings of propre in French. It does seems strange that the same word should mean both “clean” and “own”. My trusty Dictionnaire Historique de la Langue Française has come to the rescue.

Les ustensiles propres à notre cheminée renaissance sont désormais propres – The utensils bought especially for our Renaissance fireplace are now clean.

Propre meaning “own” is derived from the Latin proprius “which only belongs to oneself, which cannot be shared with others”. So, it is the equivalent of “own” in English:

J’ai ma propre voiture – I have my own car.

Elle l’a vu de ses propres yeux – She saw it with her own eyes.

A similar meaning, but expressed differently in English, is illustrated by the following sentences:

C’est un trait qui lui est propre – it’s a trait that is peculier to him; it’s distinctive/specific characteristic of his.

Les coutumes propres à certaines régions – The customers characteristic of certain regions.

Another close meaning has given a similar word in English – proper:

C’est vraiment le mot propre – It really is the right/proper word.

This leads to the idea of “appropriate” which is also clearly a derivative in both languages:

Ce n’est pas un lieu propre à la conversation – It isn’t a suitable/appropriate place for talking.

Still with the same origin of meaning but slightly different is the following:

Un poste propre à lui apporter des satisfactions – A job like to bring him satisfaction

Un sport propre à développer les muscles des jambes – A sport that will develop the leg muscles.

Another expression is en propre or en nom propre as illustrated in the following sentences:

Avoir un bien en propre – To be the sole owner of a property.

Whence the word propriété ou property in English.

So what about the other meaning of  propre – “clean”? Where does it come in?

Believe it or not, the origin is the same! From the Old French, propre, meaning “worthy of a person, worthy of oneself” which is sort of based on the idea of “which only belongs to oneself”, it came to mean “well-organised, careful, elegant” (around 1280) until it finally became established in the 17th century as meaning “of accepted or decent appearance”, i.e. appropriate.

However, it was not until the middle of the 19th century that a personne propre was applied to someone who washed carefully and practised modern hygiene.

Propre, however, is not appropriate for all situations in which we would use “clean” in English. Can you provide some examples?

I’m contributing this post to Lou Messugo’s All ABout France linky. For other posts about France, click here.

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Famagusta – Cyprus

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Famagusta on the east coast of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, was the first stop on our one-week self-driven tour. In mediaeval times (particularly under the maritime republics of Genoa and Venice), Famagusta was the country’s largest port city, trading with the ports of the Levant. In Turkish it is also called Gazimagusa which can be a little confusing. The old city is entirely surrounded by walls.  The town has a very interesting and colourful history. Unfortunately, during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, Famagusta was bombed causing the entire Greek Cypriot population to flee into the surrounding fields. They have never returned. Many of the original Catholic and Greek orthodox churches have been turned into mosques.

Our first view of Famagusta citadel, outside the walls.

The Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, originally known as the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas built in the 14th century

The entrance to the Palazzo del Provveditore, the Venetian palace of the governor, built on the site of the former Lusignan royal palace

Bougainvillea on the other side of the Palazzo del Provveditore

Church of Sts. Peter and Paul (1359) was converted into a mosque in 1571 and renamed as the Sinan Pasha Mosque

One of the few remaining traditional Turkish homes

A door indicative of past splendour

It’s amazing to see how many churches there are in such a small town

The walls of the citadel

The modern mosque outside the citadel which woke us up at 5.17 am every morning!

Posted in Architecture, Cyprus, Travel photos | Tagged | 2 Comments

Cyprus – Kourion

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The archaeological remains of Kourion, one of Cyprus’ most important city-kingdoms in antiquity, are the most extensive on the island, and excavations have unearthed many significant finds. The city-kingdom was built on a hill overlooking the fertile valley of the river Kouris. The archaeological finds suggest that Kourion was associated with the Greek legend of Argos of in the Peloponnese and that  its inhabitants believed they were descendents of Argean immigrants. The once-flourishing kingdom was eventually destroyed in a severe earthquake in 365 AD.

The magnificent Greco-Roman theatre – the site’s centrepiece – was built in the 2nd century BC and extended in the 2nd century AD.

This mosaic is in the ‘House of Eustolios’, which was originally a private villa that was turned into a public recreation centre during the Early Christian period by Eustolios to comfort the locals after an earthquake destroyed many of their dwellings

The site in itself is quite spectacular overlooking the sea

The spring flowers lend a special aura to the entire site

The Earthquake House illustrates life in the city of Kourion at the time of the earthquake which destroyed it in 365 AD.

Another part of Earthquake House

The cold room, hot room and warm room of the public baths can be clearly identified.

While we were wandering around the site, a hang-glider kept appearing and re-appearing

This is one of 16 columns forming a portico built in the 2nd century AD.

The cold room, hot room and warm room of the public baths can be clearly identified.

These two gladiators have given their name to the House of Gladiators

Posted in Architecture, Cyprus | 6 Comments

A Garland of Wildflowers in Cyprus

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We are visiting the ruins of Salamis, an ancient Greek city-state on the east coast of Cyprus. It’s a perfect spring day. There are yellow wildflowers everywhere and, in particular, yellow daisies.

We see a young woman making a crown of daisies. A little further away, her husband is playing with their two sons.

I ask if I can take a photo and she immediately poses.

After spending quite some time among the different ruins, we start walking back towards the entrance. We see the young woman again. This time she’s wearing the crown of daisies.  She waves at us. I hesitate to take a photo but don’t want to intrude.

As we are walking away, her husband calls out in English. We stop and the young woman comes forward and gives me the crown of daisies.


It’s too late to take a photo of her and it would seem rude if I refused the crown so I smile and thank her.

A little further on, I ask Jean Michel to take a photo of me with the crown, but I really would have preferred to take one of the young woman. I have neither the look nor the age to be wearing such a traditional object.

But what a kind gesture on her part. I feel part of the Cyprus spring.




Posted in Architecture, Cyprus, Flowers & gardens | Tagged , | 7 Comments

A City Break in Angoulême

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We haven’t had a break since we went to New York in September what with having to fill the coffers again after our three months’ holiday in 2016, digging the trenches for the automatic watering system and Jean Michel’s varicose vein operation but he’s now up and about again so we’ve chosen to spend two nights in Angoulême, which is 280 K south-west of Blois. Sunny weather is predicted with temperatures around 11 or 12°C during the day.

L'Embarcadère where we had lunch

L’Embarcadère in Rochecorbon

By the time we leave it’s nearly midday so we plan lunch at L’Embarcadère in the troglodyte village of Rochecorbon, not far from Vouvray. We’ve been there twice before and enjoyed it. I book a table but needn’t have bothered as there are very few people. The February “ski” holidays are in full swing which means that local tourism is down. We have a pleasant lunch with real chip potatoes, always a good way to start a little holiday.

Our Appart-City hotel

Our Appart-City hotel

After another couple of hours’ driving, we arrive at our apartment-hotel in Angoulême at 5.30 pm. We nearly had to give up the idea of Angoulême altogether as the local hotels were either too expensive or too “modern” with garish coulours that I could never have slept with. Angoulême is the “comic book” capital of France and a lot of the interior decor caters for the annual comic book festival held at the end of January each year.

The old abbey of which are hotel is one of the remaining buildings

The old abbey of which are hotel is one of the remaining buildings

In the end, we decided to try Appart’City at the bottom of the hill leading up to the old town. The building, which we later discover is an old abbey, is not very attractive, but the one-bedroom apartment, with a separate kitchen and bathroom, is excellent value for money at 70 euro a night (optional 8.50 for breakfast). It’s clean, with white walls and sober colours, the bed is comfortable, the kitchen has everything we need, even a mini dishwasher, it has a decent shower and it’s not noisy. Excellent choice.

The Charente seen as we walk up the hill to the old town

The Charente seen as we walk up the hill to the old town

After a short rest, we take the zigzag path up to the old town, with sweeping views across the newer part of the city which has a total population of 42,000, much less than I would have imagined, but “greater Angoulême”, created in 1989, has 141,000 inhabitants. The Charente River is below us.

A comic-strip wall in Angoulême

A comic-strip wall in Angoulême

We wander through the old town which is surrounded by ramparts. All the streets have paving stones. We find it quite animated with many shops and bars. The comic book influence is everywhere but we are also surprisesd by the large number of beautiful old façades.

Our first glimpse of the cathedral town and dome

Our first glimpse of the cathedral town and dome

The sun is starting to set over Angoulême’s main monument, the Romanesque Cathedral of Saint Peter, built in the 12th century and renovated several times since then.

Saint Peter's Cathedral

Saint Peter’s Cathedral

After a glass of wine on one of the town’s many squares we walk back down to our hotel, taking the direct route this time. On the way, I am intrigued by a building which has a comic strip projected onto it, one panel at a time. Not being an adult comic fan, I don’t know who the characters are, but the result is very effective and there are several sequences.

Comic strips at night on an otherwise blank wall

Comic strips at night on an otherwise blank wall

We are perfectly happy with a platter of bread and cheese with a good glass of red wine in our little apartment.

The law courts with a combination of old and new

The law courts with a local producer to remind us that we are in Limousin, famous for its beef

Next day is sunny and not too cold. We walk up the hill again and have a cappuccino at the François I opposite the impressive-looking Law Courts built in 1826 in the neo-Classical style by the architect Paul Abadie who seems to have been involved in the construction or reconstruction of most of the main buildings in Angoulême.

Two of the beautiful façades in the centre of Angoulême

Two of the beautifully sculpted façades in the centre of Angoulême

We continue our walk through the city in search of the “last haberdasher’s shop” in Angoulême. This is a dying race in most towns in France these days. A little chat with the owner confirms this. She will be retiring in three years’ time. The shop belonged to her parents. She explains why the shank buttons keep coming off my jacket. It’s their concave shape, it seems, so I buy some straight ones.

Roman-tiled rooftops and the rcently built church of Sainte Aubézine

Roman-tiled rooftops and the recently built neo-gothic church of Sainte Aubézine completed in 1960

Our path takes us around the ramparts until we reach the cathedral whose dome and bell-tower we keep seeing in the distance.

Walking along the ramparts towards the cathedral. You can see the dome.

Walking along the ramparts towards the cathedral. You can see the dome.

The inside is somewhat disappointing, mainly due to all the reconstructions that have taken place.

The back of the cathedral, which offers the best view

The back of the cathedral showing all the different influences

By now it’s nearly lunchtime so we wander back to Le Saint André which I reserved when we went past earlier. As n° 1 out of 176 restaurants on TripAdvisor, I thought I should. It quickly fills up. At 14.90 euro for a three-course set menu, it’s good value for money. The leek and conté cheese tart is excellent, the kefta meatballs aren’t bad and the apple and pineapple tatin tart is very good. Jean Michel has the pork mignon and moka and praliné sponge roll. He says they are simple but refined. The restaurant is obviously a favourite with the locals and the two owners explain the menu and chat with their regular patrons.

Church of Saint André after which the restaurant is named

Church of Saint André after which the restaurant is named

After coffee, we walk back down the hill for an after-lunch siesta. We would like to visit the paper museum across the other side of the Charente in the afternoon. There are many old water mills and reconverted factories along the banks of the river, including the international comic book centre in a series of old wine and spirit stores.

The Paper Museum on the banks of the Charente, next to the Ecole Supérieure européenne de l'image

The Paper Museum on the banks of the Charente, next to the Ecole Supérieure européenne de l’image

Only the bottom floor of the paper museum is open. The museography is not very good and gives little idea of what was once a huge industry.

The Comic Book Centre

The Comic Book Centre

We take a different path up to the old town. Jean Michel takes me straight to a Salon de thé he noticed during our morning walk – Parfums Sucrés Daniel Hue. The cakes and tea are both good.

Place du Minage

Place du Minage

We finish our rampart walk in the other direction and return to our hotel from the other side as the sun sets over the city. We settle for yoghurt and salad in our apartment. We rarely eat out at night when we’re on holidays. You can have too much of a good thing!

Lower Angoulême with our Appart'City hotel in the middle

Lower Angoulême with our Appart’City hotel in the middle

Next day, it’s cold and overcast. We chose our two days well! More photos below if you’d like to have a more complete idea of Angoulême.

The war monument

The war monument

Another typical building in the historical part of the city

Another typical building in the historical part of the city

Our tearoom

Our tearoom

The castle which is now the town hall

The castle which is now the town hall

More sculpted façades

More sculpted façades

A modern façade looking up towards the old town

A modern façade looking up towards the old town – our hotel is on the right

A comic book statue

A comic book statue

Looking down at our Appart'City hotel and the Charente

Looking down at our Appart’City hotel and the Charente

Le Saint André where we had an enjoyable lunch

Le Saint André where we had an enjoyable lunch

The bell-tower of the cathedral

The bell-tower of the cathedral

Joan of Arc in Angoulême Cathedral. They are all different!

Joan of Arc in Angoulême Cathedral. They are all different!

The cathedral spires are on the left and xxx on the right

The cathedral spires are on the left and Notre Dame d’Obézine on the right

The church of Saint Martial in the centre of the city

The church of Saint Martial in the centre of the city where we had our apéritif

Hôtel Saint Simon built in

Hôtel Saint Simon built by the Dussouchet family in 1530 to 1550


Walking up the hill to the walled city

Walking up the hill to the walled city


Posted in Accommodation, Architecture, City breaks, France | Tagged , | 8 Comments

French-Style Primaries

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The first time I voted in the French presidential elections in 2007, there were no primaries. In 2012, the main parties held their own primaries but it was an internal vote and you had to be a party member.


This year, however, someone has thought up a new system. Anyone on the electoral role can participate in the primaires citoyennes as they call them (citizens’ primaries). The centre and right wing parties held theirs in November and the left wing and environmentalists in January.

There is no obligation to participate in the primaires on the part of the presidential candidates (Far Left Wing candidate Marine Le Pen abstained, for one) but those who do participate must agree to respect the outcome. Any political party or group can ask to be part of the primaires and the parties set their own rules about deciding who will represent them.

Voters in the right and centre primaires had to sign the following on their honour: “Je partage les valeurs républicaines de la droite et du centre et je m’engage pour l’alternance afin de réussir le redressement de la France.” (roughly, “I share the republican values of the right and centre and I am committed to the principle of alternation [of political parties in government] for France’s successful recovery”.

To auto-finance the ballot each person contributes 2 euro each time they vote. As in the presidential elections, there are two rounds. A total of 4.27 million people voted in the first round in November. The winner was François Fillon from the Republican Party with 44.1%, followed by Alain Juppé, 28.6% and former president Nicolas Sarkozy, 20.7%. The other 4 candidates obtained less than 7% of the ballots. During the second round, Fillon scored 72.89% while Juppé didn’t do much better than the first time with 27.11%. All but one of the France’s 95 départements (administrative divisions) voted for Fillon.

The left wing and the environmentalists have just held their primaires citoyennes. Once again, the far left wing did not participate. The contribution this time was 1 euro per person per vote. The sentence to be signed was “Je me reconnais dans les valeurs de la Gauche et de la République, dans le projet dune société de liberté, d’égalité, de fraternité, de laïcité, de justice et de progrès solidaire”. (“I agree with the values of the Left Wing and the Republic, in their vision of a society of freedom, equality, fraternity, laicity, justice and progress based on solidarity.”)

A total of 1.65 million people voted in the first round. Benoît Hamon came out on top with 36.03%, followed by Manual Valls, with 31.48% and Arnaud Montebour with 17.52 percent.  All three are members of the Socialist Party. The other four candidates totalled 13.66%. During the second round, Hamon headed the list once again wiht 58.37% and Valls 41.63%. Once again, all but two départements (not the same ones!) voted for Hamon.

The total number of voters on the electoral roll in France is 44.8 million. There would seem to be another 3 million who have not registered.

In both lots of primaires, it would seem that about 15% of the voters were from the other side!

Since then, right wing candidate François Fillon has somewhat tarnished his image. His wife, Penelope, was paid €830,000 to be a phantom parliamentary assistant, his children received another €84,000 as his equally phantomesquechimerical assistants while they were still students; Penelope is also said to have been paid €100,000 as a literary consultant although there is no evidence of any output. Fillon himself may have embezzled funds when he was a senator and he omitted to declare €200,000 in earnings as a senior advisor for a company called Ricol Lasteyrie. He seems to have little choice but to dip out although he has asked for two weeks to make up his mind.

Juppé, the next in line, declared yesterday that he would not be “plan B” after François Fillon. He has a somewhat shady background as well.

Meanwhile, the Socialists are seriously divided about Benoît Hamon’s politics and many are debating about whether to follow Macron, President Holland’s extremely young finance minister from 2014 to 2016 who founded a breakaway party, “En marche” in April 2016 and chose not to participate in the primaires citoyennes.

Where all this will lead to, it’s hard to say. Marine Le Pen is certainly rubbing her hands with glee. The presidential elections are scheduled for 23rd April and 7th May. Vive la France!

AllAboutFranceBadge_bisThis post is a contribution to Lou Messugo’s All About France link-up. 

For other posts about France, click here.

Posted in France, French customs | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

Friday’s French – savoir-faire, savoir-vivre, savoir-être, know-how, expertise, interpersonal skills

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Savoir-faire looks like a word that should mean the same in French and in English. But it doesn’t! Savoir-faire in English is the ability to act or speak appropriately in social situations.

What do you think is illustrated here? Savoir faire, savoir vivre or savoir être and in which language ?

What do you think is illustrated here? Savoir faire, savoir vivre or savoir être and in which language ?

Savoir-faire in French, however, means skills acquired by experience in various practical problems when doing one’s work.

Savoir-vivre in French is knowing and practising the rules of politeness and usages in social situations, which sounds suspiciously like the English savoir-faire.

Savoir-vivre in English is good breeding and knowledge of polite usages.

In French, but not in English, we then have savoir-être which is the capacity to adapt to different situations and adjust behaviour according to the characteristics of the environment, the issues involved and the type of person concerned.

That seems to correspond to some extent to our interpersonal skills in English which are the life skills we use every day to communicate and interact with other people, both individually and in groups. They are also called social skills and people skills.

How about a few examples to make it all a bit clearer.

We’ll start with savoir-faire in French and go from there. I’ve chosen “real-life” sentences from the web because the subject is a little complicated.

Les maîtres artisans expriment leur savoir-faire ancestral associant des prouesses techniques et des innovations dans leurs créations.

Rough diamonds are brought to life by master craftsmen using skill and artistry that has been passed down through generations.

So here, the French savoir-faire is rendered by skill and artistry in English.

Même s’ils ont récupéré du matériel hautement technologique, du matériel militaire américain en Irak, ils n’ont pas le savoir-faire pour mettre en place un missile.

Syria’s stockpile is potentially “like a gift from God” for militants since they don’t have the know-how to assemble such weapons, while some of Syria’s chemical agents are believed to have already been fitted into missile warheads.

Here, know-how is used in English, which is by far the most common equivalent of the French savoir-faire.

Now, savoir-faire in English.

It betrays your lack of savoir-faire, of good taste, of any sort of culinary judgement. You can almost hear the stifled gasps of fellow diners.

Il n’y a rien de pire que les chuchotements et autres bavardages à l’opéra, même si vous avez l’impression que personne ne vous entend. Vos voisins pourraient s’agacer de votre manque de savoir-vivre et vous décocher un rappel à l’ordre poli… dans un premier temps.

Certainly not know-how, skills or artistry, is it?

Next, savoir-vivre in French

Au travail, certaines interactions sociales peuvent mettre mal à l’aise. Et malheureusement, beaucoup de personnes se couvrent de ridicule car elles ne savent pas que les règles de savoir-vivre au travail sont différentes de celles qui s’appliquent dans d’autres contextes.

We all know that the essence of good manners and etiquette is to be respectful and courteous to all – all the time. But what about in the workplace, what’s expected of us? When it comes to workplace etiquette, there are written and unwritten rules.

So the French savoir-vivre corresponds to good manners and etiquette in English.

And what about savoir-vivre in English?

How can something as instinctive as the need to create your own nest or space be so unimportant to so many people? A futon just doesn’t do it. Some people have “it” — savoir-vivre — and some don’t.

Then we have savoir-être in French

La différence entre deux candidatures a priori égales se fait désormais sur le « savoir-être ». Plus le candidat est « adaptable », « optimiste », « créatif » ou « doté d’un esprit d’équipe », plus il séduira le recruteur.

To succeed in management you need good interpersonal skills, you need to understand how to deal with other people.

So savoir-être in French corresponds to interpersonal skills in English.

A little summary to end with:

French savoir-faire Savoir-vivre Savoir-être
English skills, artistry, know-how Savoir-faire, good manners, etiquette Interpersonal skills

Now, before you go, which of these concepts do you think are illustrated in the photo – don’t forget to specify the language and explain why!

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Friday’s French – galette, galet, shingles, gâteau, cake, pancakes, crepes, biscuits

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It’s galette des rois time again.  This is the cake used to celebrate the Epiphany in France, the 12th day of Christmas, January 6th, the day on which the three kings reached Bethlehem. It has become an essential part of New Year throughout the country and is practised in different forms that you can read about here and here.


But I want to talk about the word itself. A galette is a flat cake, based on the word galet or flat stone, the sort you get on beaches in Normandy when they don’t have any sand and which are called shingles in English. Galet is a diminutive of gal meaning rock in Gaul.

By analogy, a galet is also a small cylindrical or conical wheel used to guide or support a mobile mechanical part. Ah huh, I hear you say. We’d call it a roller or wheel in French. The photo will help you identify it just in case it might come in handy.


A galette is also a buckwheat crêpe as opposed to one made of wheat flour. They are very popular in Brittany in particular and now used almost exclusively for savoury crêpes.

A ship’s biscuit is also a galette because of its shape, not to mention the tortilla which can be called a galette de maïs.

And talking about biscuits, that’s a word that doesn’t have quite the same meaning in French and in English. You can use it to mean our biscuit, which is also called a gâteau sec (literally dry cake). A biscuit salé (salty) is a cracker or cheese biscuit (which the French would never use with cheese, I might add – bread only is the rule!).

A biscuit pour chien is a dog biscuit but surprisingly a biscuit is also a sponge cake. If you want to be precise, you can say biscuit de Savoie. And those sponge fingers (or lady fingers as they say in the US) that you use to make tiramisu (my favourite dessert) are called biscuits à la cuiller because of the fact that you use a spoon to put the pâte à biscuit (cake mixture) onto the tray to cook them.

Cake exists in French but almost exclusively means a fruit cake, but not what we call fruit cake in Australia. A French cake is always cooked in a loaf tin, is quite dry and has a small amount of dried fruit scattered through it. If it is made with olives or something else savoury, it’s also called a cake, as in cake aux olives. The main ingredients are eggs, flour, butter and baking powder (plus sugar if it’s sweet).

Except for gâteaux secs as mentioned before or gâteaux apéritif which are appetizers, the word gâteau is used for all other sorts of cake and even for rice pudding (gâteau de riz).

If you are feeling confused, don’t worry! It takes many years to get it straight. I am still calling dog biscuits “gâteaux de chien” and immediately correcting myself. We bought some recently to try and stop the neighbour’s dogs barking. I’ve yet to test them but my brother swears it will work. He says training dogs is a piece of cake. (C’est du gâteau). Now the opposite of that – ce n’est pas du gâteau is apparently the equivalent of “it’s no picnic”.

AllAboutFranceBadge_bisI’m joining Lou Messugo’s AllAboutFrance link-up today. For other contributions, click here.

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Posted in French customs, French language | Tagged | 16 Comments