Category Archives: Closerie Falaiseau

Happy New Year for 2021

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“The best laid plans of mice and men …” John Burns never said a truer word!

We started the year with lots of travel plans and the first was a trip to Crete in March to break the winter blues. Covid 19 at that time was still a minor issue, although we did wear masks in the airport. After three most enjoyable days at a home exchange in Chania, we moved to Agios Nikolaos, by which time bars, restaurants and cultural venues had closed. Even though we were in an apartment, it wasn’t much fun. After visiting a 3500-year-old olive tree, there wasn’t much left to do and lockdown was about to start in France.


We took the next flight out of Heraklion, getting up at 4 am to do so! We wore masks for the whole trip and arrived back in Blois just two hours after lockdown, did some food shopping and holed up for the next 55 days! Lockdown eased on 11th May and we were no longer restricted to essential shopping and physical activity for one hour within a 1 km radius of our home. We also no longer needed to fill out a form when we did go out. After two weeks, on the 15th June, all restrictions were lifted and we started making holiday plans!

In the meantime, my daughter and her Dutch fiancé, who live in New York, had had to cancel their wedding plans in northern Italy in May while my son and his American girlfriend decided to get married on a ski slope in Vermont in the presence of only two other people! We watched the wedding on Skype but unfortunately there was no sound. We then had a virtual aperitif drinking the same champagne that my son bought on his last trip to France in November when we met his fiancé. We are delighted to welcome her into the family. Since then, the newlyweds have bought a house in Boston while my daughter and her fiancé have tentatively set September 2021 as a wedding date.

Cycling in the Jura

Holiday-wise, Germany seemed the safest as their Covid figures were very low (compared with France, Italy and Spain!) and we knew that we could count on outdoor eating venues and strict observance of hygiene protocols. We chose to avoid hotels and B&Bs and only stay in holiday flats with balconies or gardens, having breakfast and dinner at home. Our top priority was cycling and enjoying Germany’s many beautiful towns and villages. On June 26th, we started our 3-week journey in the Jura mountains in the east of France, discovering an area we didn’t know and which has an impressive number of bike paths.

Lake Constance

Next stop was Austria, from which we were able to visit Gallen with its famous baroque library over the border in Switzerland and cycle along Lake Constance. We followed the good weather as we always do and went back to the beautiful Bavarian mediaeval town of Bamberg, then Nuremberg, before spending four absolutely perfect days on the Forggensee. We had been there before, in our pre-e-bike days. This time we were able to appreciate the absolutely stunning scenery without straining our knees.

The Forggensee

We started heading back to France via the Neckar with some wonderful rides along the Kocher-Jagst Radweg near Heilbronn. Our last stop was the Black Forest. The scenery is beautiful and we had a breath-taking view from our balcony, but the cycling is a disaster! We arrived home on 17th July after driving 3380 K and cycling 773 K!

After we got back, we had a visit from my son who needed a new working US visa for his new job. The story is a bit complicated, but the upshot was that he left Boston wearing a mask (after getting a negative Covid test) and did not take it off until he got in his hire car at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. He then came straight to Blois, only doing a same-day return trip to Paris to go to his Embassy appointment. He needed another test in Blois before returning to Boston. It was lovely to see him for a few days.

Château de Chaumont

Otherwise, we have kept ourselves occupied and feel grateful every day for having a large house and garden that we love. While we could, we cycled as much as possible exploring many new areas and making the most of our annual pass to Château de Chaumont.

Our back garden view when dining outdoors

I have continued to work part-time, mainly as a sworn translator (I only just broke even on my holiday rental studio in Blois, which was supposed to supplement my terrible retirement pension), and my husband Jean Michel has completed various projects including two cold frames, two raised vegetable beds and two staircases for the garage and wood shed. There is still another one to go in the barn. We gardened extensively during the warmer months, growing a lot of plants from seed and increasing our collection of drought-resistant perennials. It made up for being so restricted in our movements. I also blogged every day on, especially during the different lockdown periods. It has helped me to stay connected with the outside world.

We did manage another 5-day cycling holiday in September in the Nièvre, based in La Charité-sur-Loire (near Sancerre). The Covid figures were low at the time and we could still count on outdoor eating at lunchtime. It was a welcome break. When we got home, we bought a garden heater so we could continue to enjoy eating outside throughout October. We went back into lockdown on 30th October for a month, followed by a 2-week easing period when non-essential shops opened again under extreme pressure from the public in the warm-up to Christmas.

Cycling along the Nièvre

What I have missed and continue to miss most are my children and friends. I haven’t seen my daughter since November 2019 when we shopped for her wedding dress. I occasionally go walking with a friend and we briefly met up with other friends in December in a park. During Christmas and New Year, which we naturally spent alone, eating home-made foie gras and drinking vouvray wine, we spent a lot of time reading our travel diaries aloud and looking at the corresponding digital photos. We FaceTimed with all the children and their partners on Christmas Day, which cheered us up no end. They are all doing well despite Covid.

If you’ve been tracking the Covid situation in France, you will know that we are not out of the woods. We have a large and somewhat reticent population to vaccinate and we are not in the immediate target group. We have another two months of cold, stay-at-home weather in front of us, then we’ll be able to go back to our outdoor occupations. By then we might be eligible for vaccination. In the meantime, we are exercising maximum precaution, only going to shop once a week at the local market and supermarket and, occasionally, the plant nursery. We buy everything else over the Internet. I continue to make our bread and yoghurts.

The Loire River near our house

Our hopes for 2021 are to see our children again, including Jean Michel’s two sons who live in France, celebrate my daughter’s wedding wherever it may be, visit my son and daughter and partners in Boston and New York and find a safe venue for our annual cycling holiday.

I would like to wish everyone a happier 2021, full of hope, inner strength and new horizons! Thank you for reading  my very sporadic blog!

Working from Home during Lockdown

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Having worked as a translator full-time at home since 1979, even during my children’s very long French school holidays, I am probably not suffering from the constraints of lockdown as much as other people.

These are my basic rules:


1/ Get dressed immediately when you get up (this became a rule right at the beginning when I had a client turn up unexpectedly at my doorstep and I was still in my nightgear).

2/ Set up a dedicated work space, even if you do not have a lot of room. Avoid working in the bedroom if you possibly can (you’ll sleep better at night!).

3/ Make yourself work for an hour at a time WITHOUT ANY DISTRACTION and then allow 10 to 15 minutes break (I have software called WorkPace that locks my keyboard every hour and gives me exercises to do but you can override it if necessary).

4/ If you’re having trouble getting started, begin with the easiest task. Break tasks into doable segments if necessary.

5/ Take a morning tea/coffee break, a proper lunchbreak and an afternoon tea break and NEVER EVER eat at the computer. If you want a snack, run up and down the steps, skip rope or clean the bath first. You probably won’t feel like it any more. The idea is to dissociate eating from working.

6/ Do at least ½ hour of exercise inside or outside each day. During our miserable winter, I do the “Happy Walk”.

7/ If you are used to a lot of light as I am (I lived in tropical North Queensland for 22 years), use a daylight lamp for 4 hours a day. You would be surprised how effective it is.

8/ Make sure you talk to someone at least once a day if you are living alone. If you are used to having a lot of people around you at work, you should talk to at least three people a day! Texting is not a substitute. Maybe you can call someone during your lunch break. That’s what my daughter does because she hates eating by herself. Use headphones to make it easier. There are lots of home tasks you can do while talking on the phone such as cooking, hanging out the washing, ironing and gardening.

9/ Take the evening off if you can but sometimes it may be better to take time off during the day and work after dinner instead. However, you will need to leave at least an hour between working and sleeping if you want a restful night.

10/ Take off at least one full day a week – it doesn’t have to be Sunday!

Lockdown won’t last forever and we need to preserve our resources to deal with the aftermath!

Do you have any suggestions about working at home?

Happy New Year 2018

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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.

Jean Michel with his sons on the left and my son and daughter on the right

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.

The cathedral in Angoulême

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.

Kykkos Monastery in northern Cyprus

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.

Jean Michel and I dressed for 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.

With our power bikes on the banks of the Loire

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.

Said to be the oldest grape vine in the world – in Maribor, Slovenia

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.

Sighisoara, home of Dracula and sister city of Blois

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.

The wonderful town of Cesky Krumlov in Czech Republic

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!

Sigmaringen on the Danube in Germany, near its source

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.

View of Lake Iseo from the top of the hill

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.

The church of Souvigny on one of our local bike rides

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.

The blue mosque in Istanbul

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.

Our wisteria in spring

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.

View from the garden of our new rental apartment in the historical part of Blois

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.

Typical house in the historical quarter of Blois near the rental apartment

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 Have Not Disappeared

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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.

Our marble-inlay table iinstalled n its final position in the garden with the help of our neigjbour Alain and Mr Previous Owner
Our marble-inlay table iinstalled n its final position in the garden with the help of our neighbour Alain and Mr Previous Owner

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.

Montreuil Bellay from the bridge
Montreuil Bellay from the bridge

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 smewhat soggy though still beautiful Pierre Ronsard roses at their zenith
Our somewhat soggy though still beautiful Pierre Ronsard roses at their zenith

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.

The view from our front steps
The view from our front steps

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.

Happy New Year 2016 – Bonne année à tous !

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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.

Christmas leftovers in front of the fire
Christmas leftovers in front of the fire

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.

Spring in our little wood - one of the bright sides of life
Spring in our little wood – one of the bright sides of life

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.

Bird watching from our wonderful window
Bird watching from our wonderful window

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.

View from the window of thecrêperie during our most recent visit to Chambord on boxing day
View from the window of thecrêperie during our most recent visit to Chambord on boxing day

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.

Our New Year mistletoe
Our New Year mistletoe

In any case, I’d like to wish all my readers a wonderful 2016 and thank you for stopping by.

Outwitting the Cat

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I used to have a German friend and every time she came to my house in Fontenay sous Bois, she would look out the window and say “there’s a blue tit” or “there’s a nuthatch”  which always made me very envious so when we came to live in Closerie Falaiseau in Blois I decided that I would learn to recognise the birds in my garden too. I checked with my friend Susan from Days on the Claise whether we should feed them because you’re not supposed to do so in Australia for survival reasons but she reassured me that we could feed them in winter without any problem as long as we did so regularly.

When it's this cold, garden birds need all the help they can get
When it’s this cold, garden birds need all the help they can get

So we waited until we came to live here permanently last winter. We bought some bird seed and some fat balls as well as a couple of feeders to put up in our rose of Sharon tree in the front yard. We also put a feeder on the window sill outside the downstairs living room. We already had a bird bath. Soon we had lots of blue tits and great tits, mostly in the rose of Sharon tree.

The rose of Sharon tree is on the right. The nesting boxes are under the eaves above the wisteria in the middle of the photo
The rose of Sharon tree is on the right. The nesting boxes are under the eaves above the wisteria in the middle of the photo.

This summer while the new kitchen window was being made, we ate outdoors every day and spent a lot of time watching the tits during mealtime. We were delighted when we saw that they had made a nest in the nesting boxes under the eaves above the wisteria. We soon saw some fledglings poking their little faces out of the holes. I might add that below the wisteria we were surprised to see wheat growing – obviously from the seeds the birds didn’t eat last winter!

The view from the kitchen window in autumn
The view from the kitchen window in autumn

When we came back from our holiday in Eastern Europe in October we started seeing birds from our new kitchen window although it was too early to feed them. One day I saw a large black and white bird with a red bit under its tail on the tree outside. I was so excited to learn that it was a great spotted woodpecker.

You can see the difference between this photo and the last one. Most of the leaves have gone.
You can see the difference between this photo and the last one. Most of the leaves have gone.

The weather started getting colder so Jean Michel put out the fat balls and some mixed bird seed in a new hanging feeder. We also bought some sunflower seeds that we put in a feeder on the sill in front of the kitchen window. The birds soon discovered the feeder and we started to identify new ones.

We now have blue tits, great tits, marsh tits and crested tits, green woodpeckers and great-spotted woodpeckers, red robins, nuthatches, jays, common chaffinches, magpies and blackbirds. They are so quick that you can’t take photos of them but I discovered that it’s easy to film them.

Our new sunflower seeds turned out to be full of debris – little twigs and such – that the birds throw out of the feeder onto the windowsill. We’re not buying birdseed from Gamm Vert any more! We whiled away many delightful moments watching the antics of our little feathered friends.

Java, sitting at the top of our stairs,  pretending she's not there
Java, sitting at the top of our stairs, pretending she’s not there

Then disaster struck. Our neighbours have a white cat called Java that seems to spend more time at our place than theirs. We suspect that some of our paying guests gave her a little nourishment in September. She is a hunter and loves our little wood where she runs after mice and lizards.

When I saw her face peering over the kitchen windowsill one day, it didn’t occur to me that she might be after the birds. Jean Michel found her pulling apart two blue tits on the ground below the window one morning before I went outside thank goodness. I was devastated when he told me what had happened. Now, I know that’s what cats do but we get a huge amount of pleasure watching these little birds and it was terrible to discover we had inadvertently exposed them to danger.

You can see the netting over the bench under the window
You can see the netting over the bench under the window

Jean Michel found an excellent solution – he used some wire fencing to cover the stone bench outside the window that the cat was using to spring on the unsuspecting birds  Now she has nothing to grip on. After two or three days the birds started coming back, first the blue tits and then the little crested tit who is my favourite.

But Java is no Sylvester and is a lot more cunning. Because she’s white, she can blend perfectly into the stone around the window. Without using the bench, she managed to sit on the window sill, apparently, staying perfectly still until an unsuspecting little blue tit came along and we had another death.

We were reduced to only putting out seed while we could monitor the presence of Java so we looked for another solution. Someone suggested putting a bell round her neck but Jean Michel says we’ll traumatise her (not that I really care!). He doesn’t want to put cat repellent out either because it might frighten away the birds as well and we’ll never get rid of the smell.

New wall solution
New wall solution

On Sunday, we went to Truffaut, the big gardening store and had a look at the options. There was nothing at all suitable but Jean Michel came up with another idea and here it is! Within a very short time the birds were flocking to the feeder and staying longer each time. We really don’t see how it’s possible for a cat to jump that high. I hope not anyway.

Our Foie Gras Atelier

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There was a time when we used to eat quite a lot of foie gras. In the winter, we would often rent a gîte for a long weekend somewhere in the country within a couple of hours from Paris and set off with a few slices of foie gras from the traiteur, a côte de boeuf, lamb chops, champagne, a vintage red or two, a couple of dozen of spéciale oysters and a bottle of sancerre. However, after we bought Closerie Falaiseau four years ago and renovated our Renaissance fireplace, we started coming down here instead. Now we only eat foie gras in restaurants occasionally and at Christmas. when we make our own.

Simon and Susan from Days on the Claise, Janet, Françoise and Paul
Simon and Susan from Days on the Claise, Janet, Françoise and Paul

Today, for the second time, we had a “foie gras workshop” with our friends Susan and Simon from Days on the Claise and our neighbours Françoise and Paul. Susan picks up the foie gras (ordered well in advance) from a local farm. Another friend from Amboise joined us this time. Up until now her French mother-in-law has always made the foie gras and she (understandably) didn’t want to compete. But this year, her mother-in-law won’t be present so she thought she’d have a try.

The foie gras in its wooden wine box
The foie gras in its wooden wine box

The foie gras we make these days doesn’t require cooking. After deveining it and adding spices and vouvray, you wrap it in gauze, put it in a wooden wine box on a layer of coarse salt, cover it with salt  and store it in a cool place (10 to 12°C) for 17 hours. You take it out of the salt and gauze, put it in a terrine and keep it in the fridge for at least 10 days. Perfect timing for Christmas. It’s melt-in-the-mouth! If you’d like a full explanation, just click here.


A Little Trip to Paris Two Weeks after the Terrorist Attacks

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We’ve been planning to go to the Independent Wine Growers’ Fair in Paris for some time. During our two-day stay, I’ve lined up three routine medical appointments and organised to see two lots of friends. We decide not to let the terrible attacks on 13th November dissuade us from going. You may wonder why I am seeing doctors in Paris when I live in Blois but it’s hard to change medical pratitioners you’ve been seeing for twenty years or more …

Stade de France
Stade de France

We leave home at 8 am on Thursday on a clear, bright day and arrive in Fontenay sous Bois where we used to live many moons ago with 20 minutes to spare for the first appointment at 11.15 am. From there we go across to the other side of Paris, past the Stade de France, which was the scene of one of the attacks. The sun’s out and it’s hard to imagine that is was the site of such devastation.

Typical apartment buildings in Neuilly sur Seine
Typical apartment buildings in Neuilly sur Seine

In Neuilly, we visit our good friends Maryse and Claude who have invited us for a delicious lunch. We talk about the attacks but then move resolutely onto other subjects. I keep my eye on the clock because our next appointment is at 3.30 pm in the 16th arrondissement where I have a dermatologist who knows all about sunspots and skin cancer. This is important if you are an Australian as so many of us were exposed to the tropical sun as children without receiving adequate protection. I am reassured that I don’t have a sunspot just a solar keratosis. Dr Jeanmougin burns it off with dry ice.

La Défense as we arrive in Neuilly
La Défense as we arrive in Neuilly

We then head for the outlet stores in the north of Paris where I want to buy some Blanc des Vosges sheets. The underground parking lot is closed and we wonder whether the stores are open. Yes, they are, so we park in front of the complex. The security guys ask to look in my handbag but their check is only very cursory. There is practically no one in the huge shopping centre. We find the sheets and a woollen blanket which has become a very rare item (everyone uses duvets these days) but are sad to discover that the Sym boutique where I have bought practically all my trousers for the last 20 years has closed.

Sunset over Paris :) on our way back from Paris Nord
Sunset over Paris 🙂 on our way back from Paris Nord

Next stop is Vincennes where we are having dinner in a Thai restaurant with our friend Anne. I order some delicious little chicken parcels followed by Peking duck (which is probably not very Thai I have to admit). After two forkfuls, my mouth is on fire. It turns out I’ve eaten a tiny chili. Not even in India did I taste food this spicy. The staff rushes over to see what’s happening to me. After downing a bottle of water the pain starts to subside. The rest of the duck is not spicy at all!

Château de Vincennes
Château de Vincennes

We finally reach our hotel on avenue Daumesnil in the 20th arrondissement at nearly 11 pm. I chose it on by asking for a 3-star hotel with a rating of at least 8/10 for less than 100 euros. I didn’t have a very big choice … The man at reception is very friendly. The room is minute, with a double bed, a single bed, a small wardrobe, a bedside table, a mini-bar that doubles as a second bedside table, a table and chair with an electric jug, 3 cups, several sachets of coffee and tea, and a luggage stand. You have to step over the end of the bed to get out on the window side. The bathroom has a shower bath, a toilet and wash basin. All very clean and functional. The bed and pillows are comfortable and there are good quality sheets. The only other negative point (apart from the size) is the metro which we can hear rumbling in the background. Fortunately it stops between 1.15 am and 5.30 am.

Our hotel in Avenue Daumesnil
Our hotel in Avenue Daumesnil

It’s next morning and we’re down at reception by about 9.30 am. The man at the desk greets us in English to my surprise. Jean Michel says he can speak to us in French. It must be the Australian hats. I ask him whether they have lost a lot of custom since 13th November and he tells me that it’s not the foreign tourists who have cancelled, but the French!

Place Félix Eboué
Place Félix Eboué

We put our overnight bags in the car which is parked just across the street and look for a likely place for breakfast. There is a thick fog. We see a brasserie next to a street market on Place Félix  Eboué. It’s very busy but we’re told there are no croissants or even baguette left because of the market so we leave again. The moral of this is that you can’t count on croissants after 9 am …

The brasserie where there are no croissants left
The brasserie where there are no croissants left

Fortunately we find a smaller place down the road run by some Asians who instantly go off to the nearby baker’s to buy us some croissants. They are excellent.

A remembrance flag on a  window in the 20th arrondissement
A remembrance flag on a window in the 20th arrondissement

Back in the car, we turn on the radio and hear that there are 2,000 people attending the commemoration ceremony for the victims of the 13th November and their families. President Hollande has asked people to hang flags out of their windows as a sign of solidarity. We look around but don’t see very many. We personally don’t have a French flag and have no idea where we could buy one so we guess many people are in the same predicament.

The underground car park at Printemps Nation is completely closed off so we find some street parking. Once again, my handbag is checked when we enter the store and Jean Michel is asked to open up his anorak.

The new Ministry of the Interior near Porte de Vincennes
The new Ministry of the Interior near Printemps Nation

We manage to buy most of what we need then head for Nogent-sur-Marne where I am meeting up with a dentist friend for lunch and a check-up. Before I moved to the Palais Royal in Paris ten years ago and was still living in Fontenay-sous-Bois, I had my office in Nogent. I wander around for a bit and discover that many of the shops have changed. It feels a little odd. However, the man at the Italian restaurant remembers me and welcomes me with open arms!

Jean Michel has gone off on his own in the meantime and comes back for his 2.30 pm appointment after which we set off for our last venue, the Independent Wine Growers’ Fair at Porte de Versailles. We park in one of the side streets (we do not want to brave the underground parking lot even if it’s open) and are surprised (and reassured) to see that all the exits are manned and there is a very serious body search at the entrance. This is the only place I’ve been worried about because the hall is enormous and if there is a terrorist attack, there will be little chance of escape.

Jean Michel at the end of the wine fair
Jean Michel at the end of the wine fair

Once we’re inside, we forget about possible terrorists and concentrate on rebuilding our depleted wine stock. Only one wine grower, from Alsace (Adam), tells us that he seems to have fewer customers this year. We buy his pinot auxerrois and riesling then head to the next name on our list – a minervois (L’Amiral) where we spend quite a bit of time discovering their different wines. We buy some full-bodied vacqueras from Le Pont de Rieu, and order 18 bottles of our favourite sancerre (Domaine de la Rossignol) to be delivered before Christmas. We discover a new petit chablis (Domaine du Colombier) because our former supplier has hiked up his prices.

We buy another carton of corbière from Domaine du Grand Arc (Cuvée des 40). Our trolley is now full so we decide to give the quincy a miss but go and talk to another minervois wine-grower (Malys-Anne) whom we missed the last couple of times we came to the fair. We have a long conversation with him and taste all his wines again. We promise to visit him at the next wine fair in Orléans with an empty trolley.

We love our fireplace!
We love our fireplace!

After a very busy two days, we are pleased to be back on the road to Blois. By 9 pm, we are in front of the fire with a relaxing glass of our local cour cheverny. Many people ask me whether I miss Paris. The answer is a resounding “NO”. I have become a very happy “provinciale” !!!

The Bird Bath

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We’re dining al fresco on a very hot evening. A blue tit swoops down from the rose of Sharon onto the bird bath and starts squawking loudly. It flies off.

“It wants some water”, says Jean Michel. “That’s funny”, I say, “I’m sure I put some in when I watered the garden earlier.”

I take a water jug and empty the contents into the bird bath which is about half full.

A couple of minutes later, the blue tit swoops down again, immerses itself completely in the bird bath with a great flutter of wings and flies off again. A robin red-breast who’s been waiting on the sidelines hestates then takes the plunge.

The blue tit really was protesting about the lack of water!

And a very funny thing – the term “bird bath” doesn’t exist in French. You can call it a vasque (pour les oiseaux) but that just means a basin for birds. When we bought the bird bath three years ago, Jean Michel was a bit dubious about its real use. He thought I just wanted it for decorative purposes.

By the way, we like to think the blue tits are the ones we watched one day peeking their beaks out of the birds’ nest up under the eaves to the right of the wisteria.

Instagram Favourites This Week #1

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

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

The first hollyhock in bloom.
The first hollyhock in bloom.

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


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

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


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