Today is the anniversary of our first Covid19 lockdown in France. We arrived home from our holiday in Crete at 2 pm, just two hours after the closure of all non-essential venues, with outings restricted to one hour a day for exercise and essential shopping. At the present, in Blois, mask-wearing is compulsory in built-up areas, while restaurants, cafés, bars, hypermarkets, museums and all cultural venues are closed and there is a curfew between 6 pm and 6 am. Vaccination has begun but we are too young and too healthy to qualify.
This morning, I am off to the Town Hall to interpret for a wedding, limited to 30 people, with everyone wearing masks. There are about 15 people present altogether in the big empty “wedding” room with its stunning view of the Loire. In France, marriages must take place at the Town Hall first, even if there is to be a religious ceremony. If either of the spouses does not speak French, an sworn interpreter must be present. The bridegroom today is a professional basketballer from the US and the bride is from Belgium.
I arrive early and park next to the Bishop’s Gardens (the Town Hall used to be the bishop’s palace) and wander through my favourite mauve and white garden, which is beginning to show signs of life with the coming of spring.
I notice a flourishing plant that seems to be sprouting up everywhere and take a photo. I’m always looking for new plants for the garden at home and our holiday rental garden.
A little further along, I see a municipal gardener walking towards his truck. I ask him if he can identify a plant for me on my phone. He immediately says, “That’s stachys lanata – rabbit’s ears (oreille de lapin). It has a white flower and grows about 30 to 50 cm high, but it’s mainly used for its decorative leaves. It doesn’t need much watering.” I thank him and repeat the name of rabbit’s ears. He adds that it is also called bear’s ears (oreille d’ours).
I ask if it works well in clay soil. He assures me it does. He then proposes to give me some but can’t find his shovel and looks around for a substitute. I explain that I have to go and interpret for a wedding so will hide the plant somewhere so I can get it on the way back. He points to some compost bins at the other end of the garden near where my car is parked and says he’ll put some in a bag for me and leave it behind the bins.
After the wedding, which is a very joyful affair despite the Covid restrictions, I see the gardener again and he tells me the bag is waiting for me.
When I open it, I discover that I have enough plants to cover quite a large stretch of border in my garden! In English, oreille de lapin is known as lamb’s-ear or woolly hedgenettle.
There is a saying in France that you have to wait until after the ice saints – 11th, 12th and 13th May (Mamert, Pancrace and Servais) before you plant tomatoes and flowers like Busy Lilies. Well my tomatoes are fine because they are still in the laundry but not the Busy Lizzies or the plumbago in the barrow. Sigh.
Cette année je n’ai pas écouté le dicton qui dit qu’il faut attendre les saints de glace le 11, 12 et 13 mai avant de faire les plantations d’été. Mes impatiences ont souffert ainsi que le plumbago dans la brouette mais pas les tomates qui sont à l’abri. Oh la la!
It’s nearly mid-January and I have only just found the time to write this new year post. Even though we have up until the end of January in France to do so, it’s still better to wish people a happy new year within the first week of the month. But lack of time is the story of my life at the present. Working full-time as a freelance technical and legal translator (I am now certified with the courts as well), looking after a large house and garden, cycling in the warmer months and hiking in the winter seem to take up most of my time.
After a delightful Christmas with all our children – my son from Boston, my daughter from New York and Jean-Michel’s sons from Brest and Limoges – in addition to my brother,wife and three sons, from Sydney, we welcomed in the New Year in front of a blazing fire, with warm thoughts for all our family and friends.
Travel-wise, 2017 was not quite as exciting as 2016 when we spent three months away altogether. However, we had a welcome short break and change of scenery in Angoulême at the beginning of February, followed by a most enjoyable week in Cyprus at the end of March with warm days and blue skies. We particularly liked the northern, Turkish part of the island with its wonderful painted monasteries.
We came home to spring, always the best time of the year in the Loire Valley. In April we had a fun day in a vintage car traffic jam in Blois with our friends Susan and Simon who take visitors on tours of the Loire Valley in their 1953 Citroën Traction Avant. I checked out family photos of my baptism so we could dress the part.
The end of April took us to the Médoc (a four-hour drive south) for another long weekend where we combined cycling with wine-tasting and a breath of sea air. Living in the centre of France means that we are well-placed for this type of excursion.
In May, we finally made the decision to invest in electrically-powered bikes for two reasons – to save our ageing knees and to free us from restrictions related to the lie of the land. Our plan was to go to Romania in June, a country we have avoided up until then due to its very hilly countryside. We were not disappointed. Jean Michel applied his usual thoroughness to choosing the right bikes for our needs and we can now go quite effortlessly up amazingly steep hills. In fact, I’m more worried going down but our disk brakes are reassuring.
So, on 1st June, we left Blois with our bikes on the back of the car for a holiday that took us to Lake Iseo in the north of Italy, Maribor in Slovenia, where we tested our ability to scale new heights on our bikes, Eger in Hungary where we nearly got washed away in a freak flood, then Sighisoara in Romania, home of Dracula and sister city to Blois, which we used as centre to visit the fortified churches of Viscri and Biertan.
Suceava was the next port of call from which we cycled to many very beautiful painted churches, reminding us of our visit to Northern Cyprus. In Marmures, we stayed with a Romanian family where the head of the house spoke French and we learnt a lot about this still very backward part of the country with its beautiful wooden churches and friendly people.
We then started on the road back to France, via Levoca in Hungary, then the absolutely enchanting village of Czesky Krumlov in Czech Republic where our hotel had a garden overlooking the castle, the perfect place for a picnic in the evening twilight after a hard day’s riding. We then stayed in Slavonice before crossing into Germany and discovering Burghausen with its marvellous hillside castle. It was good to be back in a country where I could at least read the signs!
To end our journey, we decided to return to our beloved Danube using the little village of Herbertingen as our base. Taking the train and cycling, we went as far as the source of the Danube at Donaueschingen.
By the 28th June the weather was starting to deteriorate so we changed our initial plan to spend a couple of days in the Black Forest and went to Orta San Giulio in Italy instead where rain and shine alternated enough to let us ride around Lake Orta and up to the sanctuary of Madonna del Sasso, at an altitude of 700 metres! Once again, our power bikes proved their worth. We arrived home via Lyon on 2nd July, having been in eight coutries and covered 5,000 kilometers.
In July Jean Michel went walking in the Jura Mountains for 9 days with his sons while I stayed home and worked, looking forward to my retirement in June 2020 more than ever! I did discover a bike route into Blois that avoids the main road though. We then cycled as much as we could during the weekend and evenings until the weather turned too cold.
September took us for a week to Istanbul which we loved. We rented an apartment just next to Galacta Tower which proved to be the perfect location. It had a quiet little balcony and small garden which provided well-earned rest after a day out in the busy streets of Istanbul. We often set out quite early to visit the sites to avoid the crowds.
On the home front, our automatic watering system is up and running but we don’t quite have a mini Giverny as initially planned, mainly due to our clayey soil, but we are learning as we go.
Renovation of the studio flat I bought last year is making progress at last and should be ready for holiday accommodation this summer. We plan to offer an 18th century decorative experience with all modern conveniences. It is ideally located in the most historical part of Blois known as Puits Chatel and even has a little shared garden.
I’m still keeping up with my daily photo on Loire Daily Photo even though Aussie in France is vitually at a standstill but I hope to be able to post more in the future, especially when I retire!
I think I should begin with an explanation about why I haven’t posted since the begininng of June! It’s very simple – lack of time! I used to post every day when on holidays but realised that Jean Michel had ended up writing the travel diary by himself and our evenings were completely tied up as a result. When we’re at home and I’ve been translating all day, I don’t really feel up to writing blog posts. I do, however, keep up my Loire Daily Photo blog (almost daily). The good news is that, I have had some time this week to write a post for Aussie in France so here we go.
Birthdays and anniversaries are always a good excuse to discover new restaurants, but by October, a lot of places have closed for the season. With the ever-helpful advice of my friend Susan from Days on the Claire, we choose Le Clos aux Roses in the beautiful little village of Chedigny in Touraine. We drove through it recently and discovered it is famous for its roses. A rose festival is held there in May on Mothers’ Day every year. We book a table for lunchtime on Wednesday as it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The weather is spectacular, especially for October, and we arrive in Chedigny around 11.45 am, which is plenty of time to wander around the little village admiring the little cottages and gardens. There are still flowers in front of the church and more roses than I would have thought at this time of the year. It must be truly magical in May and June.
The restaurant is quite empty to start off with but gradually fills up while we are there. With a set lunch menu at 12 euro 30, I’m not surprised it’s popular. We choose the Discovery menu at 40 euro each. It includes an amuse-bouche with our vouvray, a starter, a fish dish, a meat dish and a dessert. We decide on local wines by the class so that we can pair.
Jean Michel has a vol au vent de ris de veau et langoustines, while I have the foie gras. Then we both have the écrevisses followed by duck served with fresh vegetables from the chef’s garden. Jean Michel has a mint and blackcurrant Norwegian omelette while I have a chocolate dessert. We enjoy everything except the desserts which are a little disappointing.
The service is friendly and relaxed, with monsieur waiting on table and madame in the kitchen, helping in the dining room from time to time. Armelle Kraus is an up and coming chef from the Ecole Supérieure de Cuisine Française Grégoire Ferrandi in Paris. Her creations are based “on a deep respect for nature and the magic of tradition”. We will be going back there in May when the roses are out (but not during the festival weekend when it is very chaotic, we are told).
At Chambord, we park and go to get our free passes. From mid-September to mid-October, entrance to the castle is free this year for people living in the area. We tried on Sunday but the queues were so long that we bought an ice-cream instead, walked along the canal and went home! I love the fact that the locals like to visit their castle. It’s the only one in the Loire Valley whose grounds are open free of charge to everyone all year round. We often cycle there in the summer just to have an ice-cream with a view!
However, we have not yet seen the newly-restored 18th century formal French gardens which only opened this year. We start with the rooftop terrace with its famous chimneys so that we can see the gardens below, by far the best view. We walk right around the terrace so we can view the surrounding countryside from every side then complete the visit by wandering around the gardens themselves. However, it is still early days yet and they are not nearly as impressive when you’re at eye level.
I thought we had visited all the rooms in the castle itself, but additional wings have been opened since our last visit. None of the furniture and furnishings originally come from the castle which was a hunting lodge and completely empty most of the year. When François I came to visit, he brought everything with him. I like the “18th century’s apartements” best (that is not a spelling mistake on my part – it’s what the sign says!).
We also take a look at the newly-restored kitchens before we leave but they are not of any particular interest.
The way out is through the very large shop, something I usually avoid, but today I find four tapestry cushion covers for our new sofa which are just the perfect colour and design!
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.
And there you go – another year has just flipped by. Admittedly, we did spend a whole three months travelling – first to Australia and India in the winter, then to Italy, Austria and Germany on a cycling holiday in the summer, especially the Romantic Road, and finally New York and Boston in the autumn. As usual we are starting the year in front of the fire at Closerie Falaiseau but with below zero temperatures outside.
Jean Michel is halfway through installing an automatic watering system so we can create a mini-Giverny. However, everything is taking longer than it should and the cold weather has come too soon. The back garden is full of clay which makes digging trenches deep enough to stop the pipes freezing is a complicated busines. We’re hoping it will be ready to go by spring.
I have just bought a studio flat in the historical quarter of Blois to rent as holiday accommodation to overseas visitors. It’s wonderfully situated and there is even access to a little garden to relax in after an exhausting day visiting the Loire Valley châteaux. Another project to keep us busy!
Our travel plans this year are a week in Cyprus in the spring (any suggestions about accommodation and places to see are very welcome), our usual month’s cycling in June (the destination will depend on the weather) and hopefully a week in Istanbul in the autumn (provided things have quietened down by then and our home exchange still exists).
The world situation is not very inspiring at the present but we believe the best remedy is to remain positive and enjoy life to the fullest. We are lucky enough to live in a beautiful region that is a constant source of discovery by bike or on foot.
On the professional front, as well as being a sworn translator for the Blois Tribunal de Grande Instance, I am now an expect sworn translator for the Orléans Court of Appeal. I’m still freelancing as a legal and technical translator full time, with another two and a half years to go before retirement. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to leave me much time to do much apart from cycling, gardening and travelling which explains why I don’t blog a lot these days.
My second blog, Loire Daily Photo, gets a bit more attention because it only takes about 10 minutes a day to post a photo and a short text in French and English. It also continues to get me out and about on days when I might tend to stay inside too much.
We are continuing our intermittent fasting twice a week and it is very much a part of our normal routine. With our homemade foie gras on the menu every evening from Christmas to New Year, our fast days brought welcome respite! We certainly feel it helps our general state of health.
We have definitely shelved our “little house” project and have received our demolition permit. Now we just have to move every thing out of it that we have been storing since we bought Closerie Falaiseau. But the second barn needs to be fixed up first :). A lot of things will be going to the next garage sale.
In the meantime, I’d like to wish all my readers a very happy and fulfilling 2017. Thank you for following me and sharing through your comments.
I do not understand where all my time goes. When I lived in Paris, I had lots of time for blogging. Now that we live in Blois, I don’t seem to have any spare time at all! I do keep up with Loire Daily Photo though.
I have several posts in the making: Secret Blois, the arrival of our inlay marble table from India, flooding in the Loire, Montreuil Bellay …. but don’t seem to be able to finish them.
We personally did not suffer from the flooding. There was a flash flood in our street but it disappeared within a couple of hours. There is still a lot of water on the low-lying areas around us and the mosquitos have arrived in droves.
Our roses were momentarily lovely but most have succombed to the rain. It seems to rain most days but tomorrow, the sun is supposed to come out and from a maximum of 20°C today it will be 30°C. We are hoping to go cycling. We should also mow the garden as everything is hopelessly overgrown.
We are currently debating about where to go on our next cycling holiday in 9 days time. We had thought of going to Saarland in Germany but it has also been flooded which means the bike paths will be a little worse for wear. At the moment, we think we’ll go to the south of France – I have never been to either Marseilles or Toulon – then to the new bike path in Italy that goes from San Remo to San Lorenzo al Mare. We hadn’t cycled in Italy until last year in Padua because 1) there are a large number of hills and 2) there are not a lot of bike paths but at least there is sun! Stay tuned.
I was so excited at the market last Saturday when I saw this wonderful shopping trolley. In response to my post on navets (turnips), a reader suggested several expressions including arrête de poireauter from poireau meaning leek. And here is a wonderful example: j’aime pas trop poireauter, which means I don’t like waiting around, very appropriate for the type of trolley that most people take to the market where you often have to wait in a queue.
So what is the connection with leeks which, incidentally, is the national emblem of Wales ?
It was in 1866 that planter son poireau meaning “to plant one’s leek” was first recorded. Although poireau means the male member (I’m using a euphemism to avoid attracting unwanted spam), the expression has no erotic connotations. It simply meant “waiting for a long time”, based on the image of the leek sticking up straight from the ground, and the influence of the expression rester planter (stay planted) meaning immobile or unable to move, like our English expression, “he planted himself next to her”.
About ten years later, the expression faire le poireau appeared as an extension to the one above and with exactly the same meaning. The verbal form – poireauter – was soon formed.
Now I don’t want to dispute this explanation given by expressio.fr, but I’d like to offer my own personal interpretation. We planted leeks this year for the first time. I grew them from seedlings and we then replanted them. They do not stand up straight as you can see from the photo. In fact they are very floppy. They do, however, seem to be taking absolutely ages to grow so maybe that is the origin of poireauter. We certainly seem to be hanging around waiting for them!
An expression mentioned by another reader is qu’il s’occupe de ses oignons meaning that he should mind his own business. I dropped in again at expression.fr which gives two explanations. I prefer the second one because it’s a little more elegant.
In the centre of France, one of the signs of a woman’s independence was her right to cultivate a corner of the garden where she grew onions to sell on the market and make some money of her own. Men were often heard to say to women who wanted to stick their noses in their husbands’ business occupe-toi de tes oignons (go look after your onions) or ce n’est pas tes oignons (they’re not your onions). Considering that you only get one onion for each little bulb you plant, I don’t think they could have made much money …
It’s New Year’s Eve and there are just the two of us, in front of our fireplace. We’re not having anything complicated to celebrate the New Year. I once spent all day making a special dish that took forever and I didn’t think it was worth the trouble so we’re mainly having Christmas leftovers (unfortunately, we’ve finished our homemade foie gras). We’re having champagne though.
I ask Jean Michel if he remembers his resolutions for 2015 and he just looks at me. “I have the bits of paper I wrote them on”, I say. So we have a look. Out of Jean Michel’s six resolutions, only one has come to fruition, but it’s the most important: “finding a better balance after retirement”. The last is also taking shape at the moment, namely improving his English. As we’re off to Australia for a month in mid-February, it’s more than important – it’s essential.
I then take a look at my five and burst out laughing. My score is even worse.
The first was to average 10,000 steps a day. I check it out on my iPhone app – 5,500. I try and console myself that for someone who spends a lot of the day in front of a computer, it isn’t too bad.
The second was to make a video for each Friday’s French post. Well, that’s a laugh! I don’t even write a Friday’s French post every week. I’m lucky if I write one a month though I wrote two recently in the same week J.
Number 3 was to sign up for Italian lessons. Yes, well, that didn’t get very far! January didn’t seem the ideal time to start because the class was already well underway and in September we went away for a month’s holiday. I might wait until I retire!
My fourth resolution was to help Jean Michel improve his English but he was far too busy all summer to be learning another language. However, now that he’s started listening to Michel Thomas again, I’m being very supportive.
Number 5 was to stop complaining and look on the positive side of life. I’m not sure about this one so I ask Jean Michel and Black Cat. They seem to think that I am positive on the whole and don’t complain most of the time so I guess that I can see it’s been mostly achieved.
So now I’m wondering what resolutions I can put on the agenda this year and, do you know, I can’t think of any so I thought I might make a quick review of the year instead.
The most important thing is Jean Michel’s adjustment to retirement. I’d love to join him but I still have another 3 years and 4 months to go unless I suddenly strike it rich which doesn’t seem likely.
After all Jean Michel’s hard work, we now have a wonderful kitchen window that looks out onto our little wood and gives us endless pleasure, especially bird watching now that we have outwitted the neighbour’s cat.
I don’t miss my life in Paris even remotely though I do miss my friends. I have been there only four times since we moved at the end of October 2014.
We try to make the most of living (almost) in the country and among some of the most beautiful châteaux in the world. Chambord remains our favourite because you can go there any time for a walk, a bike ride, an ice-cream or a crêpe. We have taken full advantage of all the cycling possibilities offered to us.
I don’t blog a lot any more as you may realise. My readership went from 12,000 views a month in December 2014 up to 18,000 in May 2016 then down to 10,000 in December 2015. I lost a few subscribers in December but I quite understand that my reflections on bird feeding and walking in Blois are not nearly as exciting to most people as living in the Palais Royal! My “star” post is still “The Best Area to Stay in Paris”.
My other blog, Loire Daily Photo, dropped from 1200 in December 2014 to 1,100 in December 2015 after climbing to 1,600 in May. I wonder what was going on in May last year? However, despite the small audience, having a daily photo blog makes me much more aware of my surroundings and more interested in local history.
I don’t feel I have quite found my rhythm yet, but I can feel it coming.
In any case, I’d like to wish all my readers a wonderful 2016 and thank you for stopping by.