Category Archives: Lifestyle

The Secret of Coffee in France

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Why can’t I get a proper cup of coffee in France? This is a question I am often asked by disappointed Australians and Americans who are used to a very wide variety of coffee beverages and are surprised to see that France, with its café culture, does not seem to have the coffee they are looking for.

Autumn leaves in front of Café Nemours on Place Colette, one of the most iconic cafés in Paris

Well, the reason is that it’s a café culture, but not a coffee culture. The French don’t walk down the street sipping from a cup. They either drink their coffee standing at the bar or sit down at a table.

Perhaps a little history of Australian coffee might help. To quote Aussie expat Luke Barclay, from Café de la Baie near the Mont Saint Michel :  “France doesn’t have a highly developed coffee culture like Australia does. Historically coffee is relatively recent in Australia – we are essentially English in culture up until a point and thus tea was the thing. But with post war immigration came coffee styles from around the world and these blends led to the highly specific style that is found in Australia and New Zealand – quite different to that found in North America and yet composed of pieces from European (and Eurasian) coffee. That said there is a complacency with many businesses and their coffee. I know from my Café de la Baie that the majority of French ask simply for a “café” as if there is only one style available and this is despite café au lait existing here as much as espresso. Thus few varieties are proposed by cafés. Further, the advent of automatic machines in France has reduced the quality. Those that make coffee know less and less about the techniques, quality is lost, machines aren’t cared for (or kept clean!). Temperatures, timing, ratio, grind qualities: all sorts of variables and most cafés just push a button and assume its a good brew.”

In France, in a normal café, you can have expresse (or expresso – note the “x”), café long, café au lait, café crème, café noisette and cappuccino (but not always – I remember a café in a small town in Brittany where we stayed several days where only one person could make it and she wasn’t always there). In more sophisticated cafés, especially in Paris, you might be able to get other types, but they are usually brasseries or cafés catering to tourists.

Baristas, as such, do not exist in France, as they are not considered necessary.

In Paris, a typical expresse is very “serré” which means that it has been tamped to death and is usually very bitter. Outside Paris, it is usually not as strong and therefore not as bitter. It is generally served in a small cup or tasse but not a ½ tasse as it is in Italy. It is considered a must after a meal but is also popular at other times during the day as a pick-me-up.

When I first came to France in 1975, all homes had a drip coffee machine and a coffee grinder but nowadays most people have an espresso machine of some sort and buy pods.

A café long is sometimes called an américain or Americano and served in a bigger cup. It is a weaker version of the expresse and made with a double dose of water.

A café noisette is an expresse to which a teaspoon of foamed milk is added. However, in some bars, they just add a drop of cold milk.

A café crème is an Americano to which a spoon of whipped cream has been added. It is often referred to as a grand crème.

A real cappuccino at Kat’s Coffee in Tours

We all know what a cappuccino is – until we get to France! Here it is considered to be an expresso topped with milk froth and sprinkled with cocoa. Now that automatic espresso machines are widespread, that version has definitely become the norm. If you want a creamy foamed milk cappuccino à l’italienne, you first have to check they have a machine with a wand and even then, as you can see in the photo below, there can be surprises. I rarely order cappuccino because I am invariably disappointed, except for a café in the city of Tours called “Kat’s Coffee” which has the real thing. I haven’t found a real cappuccino in Blois yet. If you don’t want it automatically sprinkled with cocoa you have to say so.

A cappuccino at The French Café in Blois

In Normandy in particular where they put cream in everything they can, a cappuccino is made with whipped cream and not foamed milk.

A café au lait is coffee to which warm milk has been added. It is the traditional French breakfast drink. After childhood, French people rarely drink milk without something in it, such as chocolate or coffee. A café au lait is also a way of introducing children to black coffee. As time goes on, you add less milk.

You can usually have most of these in a decaffeinated version, called déca. If you just ask for a déca it will be the expresse version. Otherwise ask for café au lait déca, grand crème déca, etc.

The word “café” by itself in French always means black coffee. You have to qualify it if you want something else. You always add your own sugar which is often in lump form (even in people’s homes) or in a sachet. You rarely see coffee crystals but you sometimes find brown sugar. Sugar substitutes are becoming more readily available.

Kat’s Coffee in Tours

All these drinks can be ordered simply by saying their names and adding “s’il vous plait” e.g. un expresso s’il vous plait”, “un grand crème s’il vous plait”, etc. If you want to check you are getting (almost) real cappuccino, you can ask “est-ce que vous faites vous-même la mousse de lait?” And if you don’t want cocoa on top “je ne veux pas de cacao dessus ».

The French do, however, appreciate different types of coffee beans, and specialists such as Verlet near the Palais Royal, serve a huge variety of beans. The owners travel the world to select suppliers and roast their own coffee. Closer to home, Jean-François, on Blois market, has a large selection of home-roasted coffee beans where we always buy our coffee. Each week, he has a blend-of-the-day to try on the spot. There is often a coffee menu in gastronomical restaurants. These select coffees are usually served black with no sugar so you get the real taste.

Another notable difference between French and Australian coffee is that robusta coffee (produced for the former French colonies) is mainly used in France rather than the less bitter, more flavoursome arabica variety.

Milk can also make a difference. In France, milk is usually long-life (UHT) and I’ve never seen any other kind in a French café. I don’t know whether this is the case in Italy, home of the cappuccino, but I suspect it is.

A word of advice about iced coffee. This is not something that people drink in France.

Coffee at the market in Blois (during Covid, so distancing)

And I can’t end this post without mentioning the wonderful Café (or Thé) Gourmand available in most French brasseries and restaurants. This is a coffee served at the end of a meal with a variety of four or five mini-desserts that change according to the ingredients the chef has at hand. They are a wonderful end to a meal if you can’t decide which dessert to choose! I have written a separate post about them here.

If you have found any good coffee shops or cafés in France that you’d like to recommend, please tell me and I’ll add them to my list. Many of those mentioned do their own roasting and sell beans.

Amboise: Eight O’Clock, 38 Place Michel Debré

Arles: Café Bazar, 8 place Antonelle


Sip Coffee (Aussie-type), 69 bis rue des Trois-Conils

Café Piha (Kiwi-type), 69 rue des Ayres

Alchimiste: 12, rue de la Vieille Tour + 87 Quai Queyries (Darwin)

Contrast: 16 cours du Chapeau-Rouge

Caen: Keys & Co  (Kiwi-owned), 45 avenue 6 juin in Caen


Brûlerie des Alpes, 56 cours Jean Jaurès

Tower Coffee, 6 place du Docteur Léon Martin

Café Myrö, 12 rue Jean Jacques Rousseau

Kai Iwi (Kiwi-owner), 5 rue des Clercs


7VB Café, 9 rue Caissière (2nd)

Café Piata, 14 rue Breteuil (1st)

Café Coogee (Aussie-owned), 100 Boulevard Baille (5th)

Mont Saint Michel: Café de la Baie, Saint Léonard, Vains


Hexagone (Melbourne-style), 121 rue Château (14th)

Coutume, 47 rue Babylone (7th)

Café Obrkof, 41 bd Voltaire (11th)

Café Méricourt, 22 rue Folie Méricourt (11th)

Hollybelly Café (Melbourne-inspired), 5 rue Lucien Sampaix (10th)

KB Cafeshop, 53 avenue Trudaine (9th)

Café Yves Saint-Laurent, Rive Droite, rue du 29 juillet (1st)

Hardware Society Café (Melbourne owners): 10 rue Lamarck (Montmartre just next to Sacré Coeur)

The Good New Coffee Shop (Aussie-owned): 27 bis Rue Mademoiselle (15th)

O’Coffee (Aussie-owned): 23 Rue de Lourmel (15th)

Patrick’s Le Ballon Vert (pub with good coffee): 33 rue de Montreuil (11th)

Café Kitsune, 51 Galerie de Montpensier, Palais Royal (1st)

Toulouse: Café Cerise, 4 quai de la Daurade

Tours:   Kat’s Coffee, 63 rue du Commerce

Versailles: The Stray Bean, 6 rue Royale


A Postcard from the Island

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Every so often, I receive a “postcard” from my friend Alan Stretton whom I have known for more than 40 years. This one took me back to Townsville, where we both grew up, and to my holidays on the Island, which is still my very favourite place today. I would like to share his postcard with you.

When Alan is not living in Canberra he is perfecting the art of slow travel; do less but experience more.

“The island referred to in the postcard is Magnetic Island off the coast from Townsville, Alan tells us. “Ever since I was a child we referred to it as ‘the Island’, to differentiate it from all the other islands in the sea.”

Magnetic Island by Alan Stretton
Magnetic Island by Alan Stretton

“Hello, Alan. How is the pizza?”

“The pizzas are delicious as always, Lucia. I was wondering if I could order the pasta with prawns, anchovies and chilli to take away?”

Silence and a look of puzzlement was not quite the response I was expecting.

“The rest of my family are leaving tomorrow but I am staying an extra day. I don’t want to cook on my last night.”

I can see Lucia’s look of puzzlement changing to one of incredulity.

“You want to take the pasta home and place it in the fridge overnight and then reheat it in the microwave tomorrow night?”

Her look makes me wish that I could just fade into the background of coconut palms and granite boulders. But I stumble on.

“I don’t want to cook on my last night on the Island. You are closed so I will have to go to Picnic Bay and the food there is not very good.”

“We do not normally do take away except for pizzas. But I will do it for you. But it will not taste very good. Are you sure you want it?”

I feel as if I am 14 again, at school, being grilled by the Deputy Head Mistress and all my seemingly innocent answers are clearly not cutting the mustard. And this from the normally charming Lucia who makes customers feel that she and Alberto opened their Caffè dell’Isola just so that they could serve you.

After another uncomfortable silence, a hint of possibility lightens Lucia’s face.

“Can you come here tomorrow just before we close at 3 o’clock?”


“Good. If you come then I will cook dinner for you. It will be closer to the time you eat the pasta and I will use meat rather than seafood so it will reheat better.”

Lucia’s generosity means that honour is restored and we smile broadly again. Relieved, I return to my pasta and a large glass of wine.

The next afternoon I return to Caffè dell’Isola and Lucia cooks macaroni with Italian sausage, zucchini and feta for me to take away. She refuses to accept any payment. Luckily I had thought to take a decent bottle of wine to give Lucia and Alfredo as a farewell gift. They are trying to sell the cafe so may not be here when we next return to the Island. “Follow us on Facebook. We will be somewhere.”

With my dinner in the bag I walk across the road and the 50 or so metres of wet sand left by the low tide until I am standing in calf deep water watching many rays gliding at surprising speed and five or six small black tipped reef shark looking for small fish. When I stand still, they come within two metres.

I am glad to report that life in paradise is as good as they say.

Fighting the Flu

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Very short and sweet, just to say that I am been in the grips of the flu (grippe = flu!) since Saturday afternoon and am desperately hoping I’m going to be better by Saturday when we are leaving for Granada! Fortunately, Jean Michel has only caught a very mild version so has been holding the fort. I finally saw the doctor yesterday (no home visit on offer) but he only told me what I knew – a bad case of flu.

My only view since Saturday afternoon
My only view since Saturday afternoon

Shopping in the Sales in Tours

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It’s the winter sales in France, which start in mid-January. I’m not a keen shopper at the best of times, nor am I a fashionista, so I prefer to wait for the second week of the sales and hope that prices have dropped have dropped a little further and my size hasn’t disappeared. Jean Michel and I always make a day of it, with a lunch break in the middle.

Rain in Tours on our arrival
Rain in Tours on our arrival

This is the first year we haven’t been in Paris for the sales. I need several things because my Parisian wardrobe doesn’t correspond to my new life in the country. We usually start with the outlet stores in the north of Paris because that’s where I buy Sym trousers. This year, we’re heading for the neighbouring city of Tours which has a population of about 135,000, as opposed to 50,000 in Blois.

When we start out, it’s quite sunny, but as we drive along the Loire, rain clouds appear and by the time we have parked, we need our umbrellas. Our first destination is the Sym store in rue des Halles. It’s quite small with very little choice. The sales woman tries to insist that the stretch jeans are fine despite my age and it doesn’t matter if the waist gapes – it’s easy to fix. I’m not convinced. In the end, I buy two pairs of jeans that are not on sale. She looks askance when I hand over my outlet store fidelity card by mistake. I’m amused.

Tram n in the main street of Tours, looking very bleak
Tram n in the main street of Tours, looking very bleak

We continue on our way with little success. I google Aigle and we discover there is a store just next to the car park. We are so used to shopping in outlet stores that we are somewhat surprised by the prices. I find a smart-looking polar/wool cardigan that will be perfect for keeping me warm when I’m translating (there is a big difference between 23°C in our Parisian flat and 19.5°C in our 400 year old house when you’re sitting for long hours at a computer).

Jean Michel also finds a shirt there, by which time we’re ready for a lunch break. The rain is still pouring down so we make our way towards rue Colbert which we noticed on a previous occasion as having lots of restaurants. Quite a few are closed, however, for January, the slowest month for tourism, and we are beginning to despair when we reach the end of the street and I see a place serving mussels called La Pêche aux Moules

The mussel restaurant from the inside
La Pêche aux Moules fom the inside

On the whole, I like to order food in restaurants that I don’t make myself, so moules marinières and French fries seem perfect. The gaily striped tablecloths are inviting and we decide on snails for starters. I can’t remember the last time I ordered them. They are disappointing however and no doubt deep-frozen. The mussels and chips are good though and having fasted the day before, we can indulge ourselves without guilt.

Traditional moules frites
Traditional moules frites

After coffee, we head for a men’s store recommended to us last time as Jean Michel needs two pairs of fine corduroy trousers. On the way we walk into an arcade and to my amazement I see a Mary Kimberly store. This is where I have been buying all my blouses, both summer and winter, for the last 15 years. I had looked on the web but only found one in Orleans.

I’m delighted because I also find a zip-up cardigan for half the price of the one at Aigle and a boiled wool jacket to go with jeans. I only discovered boiled wool last year and I’m hooked. It’s soft and stretchy but keeps its shape and is washable.

In my boiled wool jacket in La Cigale in Nantes
In my boiled wool jacket in La Cigale in Nantes

We traipse round Galeries Lafayette for Jean Michel’s cords, to no avail. I dislike department stores immensely. They never have what I want and they’re always overheated. They don’t even have any decent socks …

We go past the town hall, which has a sign up saying “I prefer to die standing up rather than live on my knees” in honour of Stéphane Charbonnier, alias Charb, French satirical cartoonist and journalist who was one of the victims of the terrorist shootings that took place in the office of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo on 7th January 2015. We notice a lot of Je suis Charlie signs in shop windows as well.

Town hall in Tours with its Charlie Hebdo banner
Town hall in Tours with its Charlie Hebdo banner

Jean Michel eventually finds one pair of cords, but not in the recommended store. By then, it’s time for a cup of tea. As we’re leaving we pass a kitchen store and Jean Michel picks up a very large Le Creuset cast iron pot surprisingly on sale. He’s been looking for one for some time, he tells me.

Tea time
Tea time

We’re still missing one pair of cords, socks for me and an anorak for Jean Michel. I google outlet stores in Tours and find an address in Chambray-les-Tours, on the outskirts of the city. We then go on a wild-goose chase through the pouring rain. I don’t know where they have disappeared, but the outlet stores are nowhere to be found. We see a Décathlon and I pick up some rubber tips for my Nordic walking sticks.

By the time we get home, which is an hour’s drive, we’ve had enough shopping! I put some of Jean Michel’s deep-frozen veal stew in the micro-wave, spread some goose rillettes on Tuc biscuits, slice some wild boar sausage and we are soon in front of the fire with a glass of our favourite gewürtztraminer from Alsace. Who wants socks anyway?

New Year Resolutions for 2015

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Who remembers their new year resolutions ? I certainly don’t so rereading last year’s blog post was very helpful.

Homemade foie gras and vouvray to see the New Year in before the fire
Homemade foie gras and vouvray to see the New Year in before the fire

The first resolution was to have a maximum number of holiday bookings for Closerie Falaiseau during the season. At one stage, it looked as though August would be completely empty but in the end, it filled up, giving us a total of 15 weeks which was very satisfactory. Now that we are living here permanently, we’re not sure about how we’ll manage rental, but we’re pretty certain we’ll be renting out the entire house for the month of September.

In front of the court room in Blois after taking oath
In front of the court room in Blois after taking oath

Second on the list was to diversify into some sort of tourist-related activity in Blois which did not even remotely happen due to lack of time and energy. My translation business unexpectedly picked up and I was appointed court translator in December which may also keep me busier than I expected.

Deichmühle in Friesland

A repeat of our Danube cycling holiday was my third resolution. We spent a month cycling in Germany along the Moselle and the Elbe in particular and found ourselves up in Friesland in the very north of the country chasing the sun and admiring the windmills.

My fourth resolution which was to discover the secret of getting enough sleep simply didn’t happen. I think the situation even got worse. I don’t think there is an answer without medication which I am still resisting.

The Landhaus at night in Bernkastel in Germany
The Landhaus at night in Bernkastel in Germany

Improving my night photography skills was already a carry-over resolution from the year before and no progress was made, especially as my night vision has gone down as a result of my otherwise successful cataract operation.

So what are my resolutions for 2015?

The last two months with Jean Michel in retirement mode have taken so much out of me that I am scaling down my resolutions this year.

Château de Chaumont
Château de Chaumont

When walking up the hill to Château de Chaumont after Christmas with Black Cat and the Flying Dutchman, I discovered that my iPhone counts my steps. How it does so, I do not know but it seems that we should be banking on an average of 10,000 steps a day. Just to give you an idea, it’s 3.30 pm and so far, by just staying in the house, I have clocked up 1000 steps. Yesterday, with two not very long walks, I made it to 10,000. So that is my first resolution to average 10,000 steps a day over a week.

The second is to make a video for each Friday’s French post. Considering that I am only averaging one post a week at the moment and have missed several Fridays along the way, this might be a bit ambitious, but I’m hoping that our holiday in Grenada at the end of January is going to give us both a new lease of life.

First view of the Cinque Terre in Italy
First view of the Cinque Terre in Italy

I learnt recently that there are excellent Italian lessons in Blois so I am going to sign up in February (no point in doing so before going to Spain or I’m going to be speaking Spanitalian) as my third resolution. I’ve been wanting to improve my basic Italian for a long time so this is something I’m really happy about. My ultimate aim when I eventually retire is to live in Italy for a few months.

My fourth resolution is to find a way to help Jean Michel improve his English. A friend has told me about a group she goes to in the south of France where you partner up with the opposite in your language combination and speak each language for ¾ hour. He likes the idea and I have already found one English speaker who’s interested.

Daffodils in spring
Daffodils in spring

For my fifth resolution, I debated about putting night photography back on the agenda but now that we’re living in Blois, I have even less motivation than before. So I’ve decided on something quite different. I am going to stop complaining about things and look on the positive side of life. At the moment I’m looking forward to the daffodils in spring!

So, with that, I would like to wish you an excellent 2015 andI’d love to know some of your resolutions!

One broken and two stolen iphones

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Am I jinxed? Is it because I love my iPhone too much? Is this a subtle message from the Cosmos? Beware, this could talk a long time to tell. You might need a glass of wine.

The Renovated Pigeon House photographed before I dropped the iPhone
The Renovated Pigeon House photographed before I dropped the iPhone


One beautiful twilight evening in May, as we were strolling around our neighbourhood in Blois, I wanted to take a photo of a renovated pigeon house but the gate was spoiling the view so I slipped my black iPhone 4S behind the bars. And it dropped. Just like that. And smashed. On the gravel below.

Jean Michel had to climb the gate because no one was home. Not a point in my favour.

Since it is insured against breakage I phoned the insurance company, SRP. I was informed that during the repairs (which could take a couple of weeks), I could have an iPhone on loan as it was part of my insurance.

The replacement iPhone

The replacement iPhone, provided by Orange, was scheduled to arrive next day by Chronopost. Efficient, huh? Well, it didn’t every reach me. It took several days of phoning various people to be told I had to go to the police station to report it as being stolen. The Chronopost website said it had been delivered and signed for. Reporting the theft was not an easy task as I had to argue with the police officer who said I needed the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) to lodge a complaint.

I didn’t have the IMEI because it wasn’t my Iphone. A more intelligent police officer (that wasn’t hard!) then agreed to register the complaint without the IMEI. I phoned Orange in front of the police officer but I was told it would take two weeks to have the number sent to me by post.

The insurance company

In the meantime, I had to send two documents to the insurance company three times – by email, by uploading them to their website and by snail mail – before they finally registered my request to have the broken glass cover repaired.

But time was running out. The case of the stolen iPhone had not been solved so I couldn’t have a second substitute iPhone while the broken one was being repaired and we were going away on holidays. So I bought a new IPhone, this time a 5 because Jean Michel said he’d take the 4S when it was repaired.

The hot pink iPhone

When I ordered the iPhone 5 over the phone, I hadn’t done my homework properly and got talked into a hot pink 5C whose camera isn’t as good as the 5S but which is considerably cheaper. When it arrived at the Orange shop in Blois (I was not taking any more chances with the post), I went bananas. When I saw it, I knew that I did not want a hot pink iPHone and the only cases I could buy were Micky Mouse and company. A second point against me, maybe even three or four.

I sent it back by Colissimo, paying extra to have it totally insured in case this one disappeared too, then I phoned Orange to order another one once the return had been cleared (this alone required quite a bit of insistence).

The gold iPhone

The next bit is embarrassing and cost me at least ten points. Feeling fragile and jaded by now, I lost it when I ordered the next one and chose a gold 5S. How stupid can you get? If you want to attract an iPhone thief, buy a gold phone. Almost as soon as I got off the phone, I regretted my purchase. It took me an hour to decide to phone back. I was told that there was no problem – the order had not been sent so I could have a black one instead. Relief.

However, I had been told a lie because I received an SMS saying that my gold iPhone order was being processed. No amount of patience or yelling at Orange made any difference. The only way to have a black one was to refuse the gold one when it arrived at the depot, wait for the return to be cleared (2 weeks), order a black one then wait for it to be delivered. We were about to go on our German cycling holiday by then. I was losing more points by the minute.

My Kenzo cover except that the sides of my iPhone are white.
My Kenzo cover except that the sides of my iPhone are white.

In the end, I decided I would take the gold one which, incidentally turned out to be a sort of burnished colour that doesn’t look even remotely gold, and order the chic-looking black Kenzo case with roses on it that I had been coveting for some time.

The smashed iPhone is sent for repairs

When I was in the car (as a passenger) on the way to Germany, I received a phone call from Orange concerning the gold/black iPhone mess. We don’t want you to have a phone you don’t want, said the lady (???). I explained that I had decided to make do with the gold one and was more interested in having SRP looking after the broken one now (I had still not been told where to sent it). She said she’d make sure I received the instructions for having it repaired as soon as possible.

On 21st July, immediately after we got back from our holiday, I sent off the broken iPhone to the address I had received by email. I would just like to add that there is no way of talking to SRP because you consistenly get a message saying to ring back later.

About a week later, I received a no-reply email from SRP telling me to wipe all my data off the iPhone and giving instructions to do so remotely, which I did.

No news of the smashed iPhone

I did not hear back from them during the month of August but since most places shut down completely anyway, I didn’t think that it was worth pursuing. I scheduled the follow-up for 3rd September since I thought the staff would need a couple of days to tell their co-workers about their summer holidays before they would deal with call.

Then, out of the blue, on 2nd September, about 6 pm, I received a phone call from a man who told me that he had bought an iPhone with a broken case via for 150 euro but couldn’t use it because it was blocked. A message gave him my number to ring (this is due to Apple’s tracking system).

The smashed iPhone turns up in someone else’s hands

I was completely taken aback. How could someone else have my iPhone, which was supposed to be being repaired by the insurance company? I explained my story and said I’d ring him back after I’d spoken to the insurance company but that I certainly wouldn’t want to pay him 150 euro for my own phone. He reassured me that he would simply give it back to me.

Next day, after many phone calls, I finally managed to declare that my iPhone had been stolen some time between when I sent it by Colissimo and the man’s phone call. I checked the Colissimo website and saw that the last time it had been seen was at the distribution centre in Val d’Oise which meant that SRP had never received it.

I phoned Colissimo and was told that it would take a maximum of 21 days to complete their inquiry and get back to me. That’s when I discovered that I had omitted to ask for extra insurance and would be reimbursed a total of 4 euros if, indeed, they were responsible for the disappearance of my iPhone. I am no longer covered by SPB for that iPhone because the insurance was transferred to my new iPhone as soon as I activated it.

Back to the police station

So  I decided to go and report the theft to the police immediately. The odious police officer from the time before recognised me and my lot fell to the least intelligent police woman on duty who took a full hour to lodge my complaint because she found the story so complicated. She was not aided by the fact that she held multiple conversations with any colleague who came in sight and there were a lot of them because there was a complete change of staff while I was there.

The police station from the outside - I didn't know how they'd react to a photo inside!
The police station from the outside – I didn’t know how they’d react to a photo inside!

Before I read and signed the complaint despite the multiple spelling errors, I phoned the man with iPhone back but I was only able to leave a voice message.

The new iPhone owner calls back

He rang me back later and I tried to get the story right. He explained that he works in IT and had the cover replaced by a friend but it cost him 110 euro (not that he was asking for any money, he said, that was his own problem and would teach him not to buy over the internet). He said, though, that he could have the broken cover put back on (you’d wonder how that would be possible considering the fact that the front was completely smashed).

I told him I’d ring him again after talking to Jean Michel to work out when we could go and collect it and he said he could organise things directly with JM. He even gave me his name.

The sad demise of the smashed iPhone

But Jean Michel does not want us to pursue the matter. He says he doesn’t want an iPhone that has been messed around with. Which I can understand. So I think I’ll just have to write it off as a complete loss. But I still love my iPhone 5S!

P.S. Just discovered that 220 euros have been deducted from my account for the stolen replacement iPhone. Now I have to look after that as well!

La Rentrée

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After the August exodus comes La Rentrée, that untranslatable nationwide “back-to”: back-to-school, back-to-work, back-to-wearing-shoes-every-day, back-to-setting-the-alarm, back-to-the-metro, and all the other disagreeable things about everyday life.

1st September in the Palais Royal - a few stragglers who are not part of La Rentrée
1st September in the Palais Royal – a few stragglers who are not part of La Rentrée

For those who have stayed in Paris it means queuing at the market, leaving the car in the garage and being packed like sardines in the metro.

For families with children it means the added expense of buying school supplies and paying for extracurricular activities. There may be no uniforms except in select private schools but kids still shoot up 5 cm during the holidays and their feet are always growing.

I remember the first time Jean Michel experienced his own rentrée des classes (back-to-school) when his 16-year old twin sons come to live with us full-time. Mine were 21 and 24 by then so were looking after themselves.

Tension kept mounting as he saw how much time, energy and money were involved. I told him to be patient until the October break after which everything would go back to a normal pace. And it did!

We are having our last rentrée in Paris. No more children to worry about – my son Leonardo is living and working in Berlin maybe on his way to San Francisco, my daughter Black Cat is in New York, having finally got her dream job, and the twins are 25. The future doctor is married and has applied to be an intern in psychiatry in Brest on the western tip of Brittany, and the greenie, having completed a degree in geography, is living in a community near Nantes on the eastern tip of Brittany.

Jean Michel has only 17 more working days until retirement although the move is scheduled for the end of October. After a very slow month workwise, I have just received a rush job for tomorrow (of course) so I shall stop this post right here and wish you une bonne rentrée!

The August Exodus

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We’re back in Paris. I feel like a côte de boeuf so I go to the butcher’s on rue Montorgueil. Usually there are three open, today there is only one. In fact, only about one shop in five in Paris is open.  There are even restaurants that are closed.

Shut-up shop in rue Colonel Driant
Shut-up shop in rue Colonel Driant

Now it’s Sunday and we’re at the market near Sainte Eustache. There are only about one-third of the usual stalls and even those have limited produce.

Sunday market half-deserted
Sunday market half-deserted

Most of my clients have shut up shop as well which means I have some free time to see the odd friend who is still in Paris in August!

Free parking space in front of our apartment building
Free parking space in front of our apartment building

There are spare parking spaces in our street, which is most unusual. Usually, they are bumper-to-bumper. No wonder parking is free.

So where is everybody?

With everything else close, I notice this old butcher's stall. It seems to be empty now. You can see the meat safe at the back.
With everything else close, I notice this old butcher’s stall. It seems to be empty now. You can see the meat safe at the back.

The families with beach or country houses are on the coast or in the countryside. If the mother doesn’t work, the father often commutes at weekends.  It’s peak time for French holiday makers on the Atlantic and Mediterranean and the airports are over-stretched. Some companies close for the whole of August while others shut down for the week surrounding the 15th August which is a public holiday in France.

Tour Saint Jacques seen from Ile de la Cité
Tour Saint Jacques seen from Ile de la Cité

There is a saying that the weather deteriorates after the 15th August weekend, but this year, it got in early! Looks like the end of August might be finer and warmer.

Paris Plage from Quai de la Mégisserie
Paris Plage from Quai de la Mégisserie

It’s Sunday afternoon and Jean Michel suggests we go to Paris Plage because we’ve left our bikes in Blois. It’s about 20°C and overcast. We hope it won’t rain.

The panels and broken fence on Pont des Arts
The panels and broken fence on Pont des Arts

I want to see the love lock situation on Pont des Arts. Currently, nearly 10,000 people have signed the No Love Locks lobby’s petition to have them banned but I can’t see the solution, much as I hate them now, though I initially thought they were fun.

Bouqinistes on Quai de la Mégisserie just before Pont des Arts
Bouqinistes on Quai de la Mégisserie just before Pont des Arts

It’s easy to find the footbridge – just follow the crowd! The bridge, which used to be one of my favourite places in Paris, is looking sad and ugly, with graffiti-covered panels to replace the sections that have broken off completely and other sections which are moving in that direction.

The Louvre at the Beach
The Louvre at the Beach

We go down onto the Voies sur Berge below and see a new initiative – the Louvre at the Beach with reproductions of paintings in the Louvre relating to bathing.

Fermob's red Eiffel Tower
Fermob’s red Eiffel Tower

Further along we come to a red Eiffel Tower. When we get up closer, we see that it is made of bistro chairs! The tower, created by Fermob, which has been making chairs since the end of the 19th century, celebrates the Dame de Fer’s 125th anniversary. The 324 folding chairs symbolise the Eiffel Tower’s 324 metres erected for the Universal Exhibition of 1889. It’s a wonder there are no love locks on it yet …

Up close, you can see some of the 324 bistro chairs!
Up close, you can see some of the 324 bistro chairs!

On the whole, there is not much action, but more sand than in previous years. We only see one sculpture.

Sand sculpture at Paris Plage
Sand sculpture at Paris Plage

Right down the end, where there is no more sand, we find a couple of vacant deck chairs so take a selfie before going home via Notre Dame on the other side of the Seine.

Selfie in Paris Plage deck chairs
Selfie in Paris Plage deck chairs

Maybe next Sunday we’ll visit the other Paris Plage venue near La Villette. We overheard someone saying it was much livelier – though that wouldn’t be hard!

The Emergency Department in a Paris Hospital

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I hate wasting time, probably because I never have enough. To me, the emergency department of a hospital is the epitome of wasted time, to be avoided at all costs. So far, I’ve managed to do so.

Stage 2 emergency room taken from my bed
Stage 2 emergency room taken from my bed

I wake up one morning in Blois with slight pain in my middle back. Hmm, that’s a new one. It disappears when I get up. Back in Paris next morning, the pain is more severe, like a bar across my back. I feel a tension in my chest as well. Once again, it goes away quite quickly. It continues for the next 3 days, appearing earlier and earlier in the night and forcing me up well before my usual wake-up time.

I call the doctor but learn she’s on holidays. Of course. It’s August and the great exodus has already taken place. I’m not keen on seeing a locum now that I’ve learnt that 6th year medical students can do the job. I want someone with more experience. I decide to wait and see.

Next day, when I wake up the back pain has disappeared but my chest feels as though it might explode. I call my doctor again and learn there is no locum so I phone SOS Médecins, the French emergency service. I explain my problem and am immediately put through to a doctor. He says he’ll send someone within the hour.

By the time the doctor arrives, the pain has almost disappeared. She examines me and says she doesn’t think it’s a heart problem but more likely to be digestive. However, to rule out the cardiac factor, she takes an electrocardiogram.

“Ah”, she says, “I have a problem. You have an unusual electric signal in your heart that means I can’t be sure of what the electrocardigram is telling me.” She calls the SOS Médecins service and asks if they have a cardiologist available. They don’t, of course. It’s August. “You’ll have to go to the urgences,” she says. “You really do need to check it’s not a heart problem.”

Without hesitation, she sends me to Saint-Antoine Hospital in the 12th arrondissement, which at least is on my metro line. I get ready, try to contact Jean Michel and discover he’s left his mobile phone at home. I leave a message on his work phone. Showing great foresight, I take my Kindle and charger.

The emergency department seems deserted. I hand over my prescription and my Carte Vitale (the French medicare card) and am told to sit down, that I shouldn’t have to wait too long.

Within minutes, I am called in. A friendly male nurse introduces himself and asks me to lie on a gurney (lit à roulettes) while he does an electrocardiogram.  I’m feeling quite zen and relieved not to have already spent an hour in the waiting area.

He checks my previous electrocardiogram and says, “There’s something I don’t like. We’re taking you into the emergency ward. Stay put.”

I’m wheeled into a long room next door and parked in a bay next to a nursing station. Several people come and introduce themselves and perform their different tasks: electrocardiogram, drip, chest X-ray, auscultation, including a very timid 6th year student who takes so long to listen to my back with her stethoscope that I get cramps in my feet.

The nurse looking after the drip is having problems with the vein in my hand and it’s very painful. Also, my watch is in the way, so they take it off along with all my other jewellery which they put in a sealed bag with my cash and credit cards to be retrieved later from the front desk. None of this is very encouraging.

My phone rings during the chest X-ray so I can’t answer it. It turns out to be Jean Michel who has now gone off to a business lunch. What if they decide I need to be operated on immediately? I start feeling very sorry for myself.

Eventually, a very jolly doctor, who seems to be in charge of the ward, comes over to see me. She explains that there probably isn’t a heart problem but they need to check it out. She prods me more effectively than the student and I wince (well, it’s probably more like a repressed scream) when she digs into my ribs.

After a couple more prods, she says that she thinks I’ve strained my intercostal muscles. I try to think what could have caused it and can only imagine gardening. After falling off my bike in Germany and crashing into the bushes, I have been saving my knee so maybe I have been stooping over too much.

I ask how long this is going to take. She explains there is an enzyme test that is performed again after six hours which they may have to do. Six hours! But in the meantime, they are going to take me to the stage 2 emergency room, she tells me. I ask for something to relieve my headache and she gives me paracetamol, despite the fact that I tell her it has absolutely no effect on me. I need something with aspirine or codeine. Sigh.

There are about six or eight beds in the next room, all in a row and separated by folding screens. I’m in the one closest to the door and can see relatives coming to visit the patients. I try phoning Jean Michel again but it’s only 2.30 pm and he’s still at lunch. I’m starting to feel hungry myself but can’t have anything to eat.

About fifteen minutes later, he rings to commisserate but can’t come to the hospital because he is doing his technical roster this week and can’t leave the area in which we live. I’m still hoping I won’t have to have the 6-hour enzyme test.

By now, my Kindle is charging on the nursing station but the cord is long enough so I can still read it. I’ve already downloaded a new book. There is no pillow on the emergency bed so despite the pain from the vein in my hand, I manage to fold my blouse and three-quarter pants that had been stuffed uncaringly into a plastic bag and hung on the end of the bed, and place them inside the bag to form a makeshift pillow under the sheet. It’s not very comfortable but it’s better than nothing.

I dose and read, read and dose. I have a FaceBook conversation with a friend but the painful vein makes it difficult to type with my left hand and I’m afraid of dropping the phone with my right hand. She offers to come and see me but I am still hopeful of leaving shortly.

An old man further along the row is arguing with the nurses because he wants to go home (don’t we all?) but he fell and has a brain haemorrhage so they understandably don’t want to let him go. They finally say they’ll phone his son in Germany to see what he has to say. That has the required effect and he calms down.

I need to use the bathroom and don’t want a bedpan so they unsnap all the electrocardiogram leads and put my drip onto a portable stand. I’m dressed in one of those non-woven bedshirts so the nurse makes me a toga with a sheet and I shuffle down the room and into the corridor, wheeling my drip stand with the hand that has the painful vein.

I come back to bed and discover it’s been reorganised and my makeshift pillow removed so I start all over again. My headache is worse than ever so I ask for stronger medication. It’s too soon after the useless paracetamol, I’m told. I lie in my bed feeling very lonely and have a little weep before going back to my Kindle.

At about 6 pm, a nurse comes to check on me and I tell her I’ve had enough and am ready to go. I’ll sign myself out if necessary! She is very understanding and says that the worst is over. Only a bit more and they’ll do the second enzyme test. I ask for a timeframe. Eight o’clock at the latest and you’ll be out of here, she says.

TWO MORE HOURS. I insist on the headache medication again so someone eventually comes along with another drip. This time it works.

At 7 pm, the blood test is carried out and after 20 minutes, since the results are positive, they take out the drip and unsnap my leads. I can get dressed. I take a while to remove all the adhesive snaps from my body (I discover more in the shower that night) and put my wrinkled clothes back on.

The doctor comes along and says I’m clear (but really should have an ultrasound of my heart – you gotta be kidding!), gives me an envelope with my X-rays and cardiograms and a prescription for codeine … There is no doubt in her mind that the problem is due to intercostal strain.

I pick up my jewellery, ring Jean Michel to tell him on my way home, and walk outside. I’m FREE after almost 8 hours! I see a bakery next to the metro station and buy a croissant au beurre. The best I’ve ever tasted!

Last Three Months in Paris

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We are well and truly back from our cycling holiday in Germany. It’s amazing how far away it already seems. Our next holiday, a six-day home exchange in Lisbon, is scheduled for September.

Closerie Falaiseau in Blois last time we were there at the end of our holiday
Closerie Falaiseau in Blois last time we were there at the end of our holiday

Now we have to get ready for our move to Blois at the end of October, which means we only have three months left. It’s a bit daunting even though I’m ready to leave Paris (though I might occasionally miss the view from our balcony). Closerie Falaiseau will be our own home, as opposed to our apartment in the Palais Royal which is part of Jean Michel’s job.

As we have guests in our gîte up until 6th October, we’ll be going down for a couple of weeks after that to get everything ready for the movers.

The current downstairs bedroom will become our combined study which means redispatching the furniture, putting some of it in the little house while waiting for re-use either in the future gîte or an investment I’m hoping to make in Tours.

The upstairs living room with its secondhand sofa
The upstairs living room with its secondhand sofa

The furniture in the other rooms will also have to be moved around to take the content of our apartment in Paris. Some, such as the upstairs sofa and chairs we bought at Troc de l’Ile, will be resold.

I’ve been planning what will go where and I think I have everything sorted out. Despite the fact that it is a big house, the rooms are very large and we don’t have much storage space so I don’t want to take anything we’re not sure we’ll use again.

The view from our balcony which I might miss ...
The view from our balcony which I might miss …

It’s a pity that I will still be working as a freelance translator for the next 5 years – I could have got rid of the entire content of my office! But I’m having a change of furniture and am resolved to only take what I really need.

Many people have asked me if I’ll miss Paris. I don’t think so. What I will miss is seeing my friends who live here and those from further away who will come to Paris but not to Blois. But we’re not that far away (less than 1 ½ hours by train) so we can schedule regular visits.

The overgrown vegetable patch when we got back from Germany
The overgrown vegetable patch when we got back from Germany

What I’m looking forward to is the garden and the nearby forest, less traffic and more friendly people in shops and restaurants.

I’d say that the only real drawback of Closerie Falaiseau is that it’s on the edge of town and there are no shops within walking or even cycling distance. I’ll have to plan more carefully. Since I make my own bread, it doesn’t matter that we don’t have a bakery close by. Even living in the middle of Paris, we practically never go and buy fresh croissants …

Catching up with Australian friends in Paris - Carolyn from Holidays to Europe in the Palais Royal Gardens
Catching up with Australian friends in Paris – Carolyn from Holidays to Europe in the Palais Royal Gardens

As I’ve always worked from home, I’m used to spending the day by myself, but it will be different for Jean Michel who will need to plan activities that involve other people.

We’ve already make several friends in and around Blois, especially through the Loire Connexion, so I’m not worried about our social life as a couple.

A drink with fellow bloggers and friends in Paris
A drink with fellow bloggers and friends in Paris

We both love the house and garden and would presently much rather be there than in Paris, so I think that’s a good start, don’t you?

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