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 , | 21 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!

 

 

 

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

May Flowers in the Loire

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I have never had any doubts about moving to Blois despite the dreary winter but spring in our garden and the surrounding villages and countryside is just so wonderful that I don’t think I could ever spend it anywhere else! Let me share some of our May flowers with you starting with the traditional lily-of-the-valley that Jean Michel picked for me in the garden.

muguet

Next come the Ronsard roses, viburnum and irises outside our front gate.

ronsard_irisesFollowed by the first rose to bloom – the Peace Rose. It has no scent but I love the colours and the story behind it. Only one flower seems to bloom at a time.

peace_roseThe climbing roses on the half-timbered tower at the corner of our house flowered next. They don’t have any scent either but are very romantic.

tower_roses

I love the weigela for its abundance. It grows at one end of our vegetable garden and is a little bit hidden away but will be very visible from our future kitchen side window.

wegelia

And just look at the next one – it’s wattle, isn’t? I brought back seeds one time but had no success. Then I discovered we already had one in our little wood!

wattle

I took this photo on a rainy day. You can see the clematis on the wall which we planted two years ago and are very proud of. However, there is an armandii clematis which has been less successful. I accidentally broke the flowering end and it’s been sulking ever since.

front_view

These are the peonies in the little house next door. I’m going to try dividing the tubers in autumn.

peonies

The roses below are my favourites and bloom right up until December but May/June is the best period.

front_steps

And below is the view out of my office room this morning – it corresponds to the window on the left in the photo above.

window_box

 

 

 

Posted in Blois, Closerie Falaiseau, Flowers & gardens | Tagged | 13 Comments

Why I love the market even when it’s cold or rainy #2

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We are halfway through the Saturday market (you can read #1 here) and having our coffee, waiting to hear about the Chambord second-hand and antique fair on May 1st from a lady who was an exhibitor.

Jean Michel and the Chambord vendor

Jean Michel and the Chambord vendor

“I slept the night in my car”, she explains. “It was very cold – it rained all night. The first buyers turned up at 4.30 am. I wasn’t even up ! (Who’s to blame her ?). During the day, it was so wet, I changed three times”, she adds. “I don’t understand why anyone would come on such an awful day. The ground was completely soaked.” When the friend on her left asks how much  money she made, she replies “About 150 euro. I usually make 800 to 1000 euro at Chambord.”

The brocante in Chambord two years ago on a perfect day

The brocante in Chambord two years ago on a perfect day

We were lucky when we went three years ago at the suggestion of Mr and Mrs Previous Owner. It was a beautiful sunny day and the place was absolutely crowded.

We’ve finished our coffee and the story’s over so we move on, after being invited to attend two forthcoming brocantes, one combined with the local horticulture school’s annual exhibition. We’ll definitely be going to that one ! Let’s hope the weather is better …

The Turkish fruit and vegetable stall

The Turkish fruit and vegetable stall

Our next stop is a Turkish couple who sell good quality fruit and vegetables. Initially we didn’t get much of a smile from Madame but now that we have become regulars, she has opened up. Her husband loves a good joke and sometimes joins us for coffee. They own a grocery store in Vendôme.

Our cheese monger

Our cheese monger

Next comes the cheese monger. We buy a selection of cheeses about every three weeks and have a cheese meal once a week.  We’d much rather do it that way than just have a little bit at a time. The French custom of having cheese at every meal is gradually dying out because of the high calorie content and lack of physical activity. We have a large bowl of lettuce and a piece of fruit to follow.

The honey vendor just opposite has a wide selection of local honey.

The honey vendor having a conversation with the clothes seller next door

The honey vendor having a conversation with the clothes seller next door

The fishmonger is next in line and there is often a queue. We buy fresh mackerel whenever we can (an oily fish in Europe unlike the Australian fish of the same name) and cook them whole. I usually buy several pieces of wild salmon at a time and freeze them. There are three fishmongers at the market but we’re not really satisfied with any of them, unlike the market we went to in Paris which had a wide variety of freshly caught fish at reasonable prices.

The kitchen stall. Imagine packing and unpacking it all every time!

The kitchen stall. Imagine packing and unpacking it all every time!

The kitchen stall a little further along is where we buy our kitchen knives and vegetable peelers which disappear mysteriously from time to time. Jean Michel is convinced that when he next adds the compost to the vegetable garden, it’s going to be full of knives.  We can also have our knives and scissors sharpened although a knife grinder turned up at the market recently with a very neat outfit indeed.

The knife grinder

The knife grinder

Depending on the season, we might then find a stall just selling asparagus, artichokes or strawberries all of which are local specialities.

Specialised asparagus sellers appear in season

Specialised asparagus sellers appear in season

We never miss having a chat with Damien, our local biscuit maker. He is quite passionate about his trade and is always trying out new recipes. He seems to know half the people in Blois as well and entertains us with the local gossip.

Damien and his Les Grouets biscuits

Damien and his Les Grouets biscuits

The last on the list is a man who sells fruit and vegetables grown by local producers. I sometimes go by his stall at the beginning of the market to see what he’s selling so that I don’t double up at the other stalls.

So those are are regular stalls, but there are plenty of others who are either permanent or come and go according to the  season. And you never know what else might be going on as well. Today, for instance, there were folk dancers teaching the locals! Would you have joined in?

Posted in Blois, Food | Tagged | 4 Comments

Why I love the market even when it’s cold or rainy #1

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We go to the fresh produce market in Blois every Saturday in Place Louis XII no matter what the weather. You never know what you’ll find! We arrive any time between 10 am and 11 am and park in the underground parking lot nearby.

A brass band in winter

A brass band in winter

Over the last 3 years and particularly since we moved here permanently six months ago, we have developed a set routine to include our favourite vendors.

oysters

In winter, we start with the oyster vendor and buy two dozen spéciales as these are our favourites. At 7.20 euro a dozen, they are considerably cheaper than the ones we used to buy in the 1st arrondissement in Paris. Our vendor and her husband live and raise their oysters in Charentes and come to Blois three days a week. Between them, they cover the Amboise market on Friday and Sunday mornings, two markets in Blois on Saturday morning and various selling points on Friday and Saturday afternoon, from the beginning of September to the end of April.

The saucissons vendor on the market with local varieties such as deer and wild boar.

The saucissons vendor on the market with local varieties such as deer and wild boar.

Next stop is the saucisson seller with local varieties such as deer and wild boar. Saucisson in French corresponds to dry sausage of the salami type as opposed to saucisse of the frankfurter type. Saucisson is one of our favourite appetizers.

One day there was even a donkey to attract donations for children with cancer

One day there was even a donkey to attract donations for children with cancer

The chicken and rabbit vendor  comes next. Rabbit is one of Jean Michel’s specialities that we buy from time to time and have with chasselas grapes or prunes depending the season.

The mushroom vendor who sells button mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and Japanese shitake

The mushroom vendor who sells button mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and Japanese shitake

After that, we have the mushroom man. He works with a partner who grows button mushrooms (called Parisian in French) , shitake and oyster mushrooms. He loves joking and talking to each customer. He always wants to know what you are going to do with the mushrooms and selects them accordingly – very firm to be eaten uncooked, large if they are to be sliced, tiny to accompany a roast.

The egg lady who is part of the fruit & vegetable stall

The egg lady who is part of the fruit & vegetable stall

The next vendor is the organic baker. The vendors (a young man or a young woman) are not very friendly, but Jean Michel prefers their baguette with his oysters – I prefer the multi-grain bread I make myself.

one of the philosophical signs on the fruit & vegetable stall

One of the philosophical signs on the fruit & vegetable stall

A large self-serve fruit and vegetable stall comes next. The owner of the stall is a farmer himself and all the produce he sells is fresh and local. In between the cardboard boxes are little signs with philosophical quotes such as “Humility is like a pair of scales. The more you make it go down on one side, the higher it goes on the other”. The lady behind the scales writes everything down on a piece of xcrap paper and then adds it up. They also sell free-range eggs so we take along our empty cartons.

Three generations of Italians run the stall

Three generations of Italians run the stall

Next on the list is the Italian stall. It’s very popular so we always buy four types of ravioli and some tagliatelle and freeze them so we won’t have to queue as often. You can plunge the pasta directly into boiling water still frozen and cook it like fresh pasta. The stall is run by three generations and their produce comes directly from Italy.

When it's no longer scallop season, they sell fresh fish, shells and prawns

When it’s no longer scallop season, they sell fresh fish, shells and prawns

In winter, we often buy scallops (coquille Saint Jacques in French) from a stall run by two young men. Their hands must be frozen by the end of the morning, after opening literally hundreds of scallops. For the last two or three weeks, a young woman has been present, cooking scallop kebabs on a gas-fired griddle plate. She has a little sample plate cut into small pieces with a couple of whole scallops. Jean Michel thinks they are for sampling too ! I explain to the woman but she just laughs and says “don’t worry”.

The red & black coffee stall

The red & black coffee stall

Now comes the best bit. The coffee stand. Not only can you buy coffee grains, you can also buy fresh espresso, tea and hot chocolate. We order our two cups of black espresso and hand over our empty packets to be refilled with colombie and déca (decaffeinated coffee). There’s the usual banter between the lady who serves the coffee and the man who owns the stall. He pitches in when it get busy but spends the rest of the time talking to all his mates who stop by.

The make-shift coffee tables behind the stall, also red and white.

The make-shift coffee tables behind the stall, also covered with red and white table cloths.

We take our coffee to the trestle tables and benches behind the stall. It’s just started to rain so we appreciate the awning. By now the tables have filled up as it’s the weekly meeting place for a group called “On Va Sortir” (let’s go out) but there are still a couple of places left. We say hello to the others at our table and listen in on a conversation about the famous Chambord brocante held the day before during which it rained solidly.

Jean Michel and the Chambord vendor

Jean Michel and the Chambord vendor

They have a friend who had a stall. She suddenly arrives with her daughter and sits down in the space next to  Jean Michel. We were very keen to hear about her “wet” experience. Rendez-vous in my next post to hear her story!

Posted in Blois, Life in France, Mushrooms | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Favourite Spring Flowers

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I have two half-written posts that I don’t seem to be able to find time to finish so I thought I’d share some of our spring photos with you in the meantime. Those you follow Loire Daily Photo will already have seen some of them.

Pansies last right through winter and are stunning at the moment

Pansies last right through winter and are stunning at the moment

Lily-of-the-valley, which has lots of little bells and smells devine

Lily-of-the-valley, which has lots of little bells and smells devine

This lilac is opposite our front gate. You can see yellow daisies on the left that our neighbour gave us. They multiply every year!

This lilac is opposite our front gate. You can see yellow daisies on the left that our neighbour gave us. They multiply every year! The yellow shrub is kerria japonica.

These are the flowers on the horse chestnut trees further along our street

These are the flowers on the horse chestnut trees further along our street

Viburnum flowers start out a pale green then suddenly become bright white.

Viburnum flowers start out a pale green then suddenly become bright white.

Our wisteria with diosma in front

Our wisteria with diosma in front

Lilac in a bouquet in the kitchen. This is the most common colour. It also comes in dark purple and white.

Lilac in a bouquet in the kitchen. This is the most common colour. It also comes in dark purple and white.

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Cycling along the Loire from Jargeau to Germigny

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We’ve talked it over and decided that, based on the experience of the practice window, the kitchen windows may take a lot longer than expected and we may well have to forego our summer cycling holiday this year. I was hoping to go to Romania but we would need at least a month to cross half of Europe by car so the plan is now to go for short trips closer to home instead whenever my workload permits. Otherwise Jean Michel is going to be stressed out of his mind trying to get everything finished.

Jean MIchel contributed to the garage sale by bringing a picnic lunch to share

Jean MIchel contributed to the garage sale by bringing a picnic lunch to share

The practice window is now in place. The laundry still isn’t finished – it’s missing the sink – but I have no urgent work waiting for me and the weather forecast is looking good. After participating in the local garage sale on Sunday which was held in the grounds of the old school, we pour ourselves a gin tonic (our holiday beverage) and debate on where to go. I’ve been wanting to go back to Gien for a while to complete our porcelain breakfast service, especially since I broke one of the two egg cups.

Gien at dusk taken in a moving car!

Gien at dusk taken in a moving car!

Gien is a two and a half  hour drive east from Blois along the Loire and is part of the Loire à Vélo and Eurovélo 6 cycle routes (the one that goes from Saint Nazaire on the eastern Atlantic seabord to the Black Sea). We find and book a B&B about 10 km out of Gien for the next evening – it seems to have plenty of positive comments on Trip Advisor.

The bike path from Jargeau with the gabarre flat-bottomed boats

The bike path from Jargeau with the gabarre flat-bottomed boats

By the time we get up and get ready – it’s amazing how much we always seem to need for even a short trip – it’s nearly midday. We take the motorway to Orléans then drive along the Loire until we get to Jargeau. We can’t find our Eurovelo 6 maps, which is annoying, but I’ve been checking out the route on my phone app. The 30 K return ride from Jargeau to Germigny via Châteauneuf-sur-Loire looks good according to the description.

Wide-sweeping view of the Loire

Wide-sweeping view of the Loire

The bike path  along the river to Châteauneuf takes us past the inevitable gabarre flat-bottomed boats in Jargeau before offering wide-sweeping views of the Loire from the levee.

Jean Michel halfway across the bridge at Châteauneuf

Jean Michel halfway across the bridge at Châteauneuf

At Châteauneuf, we cross the 276 metre long suspension bridge (initially built in 1838) which unfortunately doesn’t have a bike lane, but there isn’t much traffic so we are able to stop and take photos.

Houses with their unusual chimneys

Houses with their unusual chimneys

On the other side, we turn right and evenutally come to a cluster of quaint houses with very unusual brick chimneys.

One of the less ramshackle houses

One of the less ramshackle houses

Another village follows full of somewhat ramshackle dwellings most of which are very kitch but I am thwarted in my attempt to photograph the best examples. There seem to be people all over the place!

The beautiful mosaic work in the Carolingian oratory in Germigny

The beautiful mosaic work in the Carolingian oratory in Germigny

We finally arrive at Germigny which is rather dull after the other villages along the way. It is not until we go past it in the car later on that I discover that it has a Carolingian oratory. Jean Michel remembers it perfectly from a previous occasion. I am embarrassed to say that I only remember having a cold drink in the café opposite. Jean Michel makes his usual comment about how wonderful it is to take me anywhere. Since I don’t have any recollection of a lot of the places we go to, I derive new pleasure each time we visit again!  Now that I’m blogging I tell myself that at least I’ll have photos to remind me of where I’ve been.

View from the cafe at the end of the bridge in Châteauneuf-sur-Loire

View from the cafe at the end of the bridge in Châteauneuf-sur-Loire

On the way back to Jargeau, we stop at the café at the end of the bridge at Châteauneuf for a Coca Zero – it’s an intermittent fast day so we can’t indulge ourselves any further.

The resident peacock at our B&B

The resident peacock at our B&B

We reach our B&B at about 6.30 pm. The 18th century mansion, renovated and redecorated when the owners bought it twenty-five years ago, is set in a beautiful park. It even has a couple of peacocks. Unfortunately it’s a little early in the season for the male to be spreading his tail feathers. He seems to make a lot of noise though!

The view of the park from our bedroom

The view of the park from our bedroom

The room is spacious and full of light, its windows looking onto the park on one side and wisteria on the other – the perfect setting for our picnic dinner. Afterwards we walk around the park examining the different types of vegetation. Some of the trees must be centuries old. But we see how much upkeep is needed and are glad of our little wood which is so much easier to look after!

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Posted in Cycling, Loire Valley | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments