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Home of the Tarte Tatin

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The Tarte Tatin or upside-down apple cake is a very popular dessert in France, usually served warm with fresh cream. It is one of my favourites.

We are driving from Blois to Gien, where we are taking back a secondhand dishwasher which, sadly, does not work. We are usually more successful with At least the sellers are going to give us our money back but this is our second two-hour trip!

As we go through the town of Lamotte-Beuvron, I look up from my knitting (we are going to see my little grandson next month) and see a typical brick and stone building. It’s a hotel called Tatin. “Like the tart”, I say. “Yes”, says Jean-Michel, “I think that is where it comes from”. So I check out my phone. It does, indeed.

Tradition has it that two sisters, Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin, who ran a hotel in Lamotte-Beuvron at the turn of the 19th century just opposite the train station, invented the eponymous tart when Stéphanie, run off her feet by the hunting season that had just started, was making an apple tart and forgot to line the pastry mould and only put the apples in. When she realized her error halfway through cooking, she simply added the pastry on top of the apples and finished baking it.

Another version says she dropped a regular apple tart when taking it out the oven so served it upside down.

Even this doesn’t seem to be true. The tarte Tatin is a Sologne special from way back, popularized by the Tatin sisters in their hotel restaurant.

It was later served at Maxim’s in Paris where it is still a speciality today. The story goes that the chef from the iconic restaurant took a job as a gardener at the hotel Tatin so he could spy on what was going on in kitchen and “steal” the recipe.

So what is the secret? You are really supposed to use a copper tart case but I doubt if anyone really does. You grease the bottom of the pan with a generous amount of butter followed by a layer of granulated or powdered sugar.

Then you add firm apple wedges sprinkled with sugar. A thin layer of shortcrust pastry is then placed on top of the apples. Cook in a hot oven. Turn out and serve hot.

We decide to stop and take a photo on the way back as it will be 5 pm and time for tea and cakes by then.

After taking the photo, we drive into the town centre which I recognize from our previous visit. We had stopped for coffee at the local PMU café where they sell lotto tickets and you can bet on the horses. I never buy lotto tickets but I was feeling lucky so I bought a 2 euro one. I didn’t know how to play so I had to watch a video!!! And I won 4 euros so am able to pick up my winnings. The lady seems surprised that I don’t buy another ticket. But I reckon you should quit while you’re ahead 😊.

We find a pâtisserie and ask if there is tarte Tatin. There is only one for six people which costs 22 euros so we buy some other individual cakes instead and eat them in the little square opposite the unusual-looking town hall.

At least the second dishwasher trip wasn’t entirely wasted …. Now I know where the Tarte Tatin comes from.

Costa del Sol – Tarifa, Casares and Benalmádena

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We leave Cadix in the rain with no regrets, heading for Tarifa. It’s still raining when we get there but it clears up sufficiently after our coffee to walk around the village. Unfortunately there isn’t much to see.

As we drive up the Mediterranean Coast from the industrial port of Algeciras, we keep seeing the Rock of Gibraltar and the weather keeps improving.

The Rock of Gibraltar

We leave the motorway to climb up to the white hilltop village of Cesares. We take the very steep descent on foot to the village centre. We are obviously off-season as there are no restaurants open and only one bar that is serving food – El Flamenco Rosa. There are five tapas so we take one of each and a glass of wine. We find a pasteleria to complete our meal.

Typical street in Cesares

El Flamenco Rosa

We return to the motorway and an hour later take the turnoff to Benalmádena. We are surprised by the plunging descent to the coast road. When we arrive at our hotel we are given glasses of local sparkling wine which we drink on our very pleasant second floor balcony. Tomorrow we take the plane home from Malaga.

Hotel Puerto Marina

The beach at Benalmádena
The marina at Benalmádena


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The coastline at Cadiz

After leaving the monastery at Jerez de la Frontera, we head for Cadiz where we discover it’s carnival time! Many people are in home made costumes grouped around comedians and very talented singers. What a pity we can’t understand.

Paseo at sunset

Next morning, the town seems much calmer and we are able to visit the sights with only light spitting. Inside the old fort there is an exhibition on munitions explosion in 1947 that took hundreds of lives and left thousands injured.

Inside the fort
Cadiz cathedral

Jerez de la Frontera

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Inner courtyard of the Alcazar at Jerez de la Frontera

We leave Marbella and the high-rise coastline of Costa del Sol without regret and are very pleasantly surprised by Jerez de la Frontera, especially the Alcazar, which is balmy and peaceful.

The peaceful gardens of the Alcazar
Mosque at the Alcazar
View of the Palacio de Villavicencio

After our visit we choose a nearby restaurant- Bar Juanita – which at 1.30 pm is practically empty. It starts to rain so we go inside. By 2 pm, it is crowded! We choose various tapas and raciones and feel very much like locals.

Lunch at Bar Juanita

On the way out of the town, we stop to take a photo of the tiled train station.

Train station at Jerez de la Frontera

Next, the Carthusian monastery which is closed for renovation. The entrance is a replica of the front of the monastery.

Front gate of Carthusian Monastery
Carthusian Monastery


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Marbella is like the Saint Tropez of Spain – not that I’ve ever been to Saint Tropez. Not quite my style. But we want to stay a couple of days on the Costa del Sol which we have never seen before going to Cadix and Marbella has an old town which sounds better than endless high rise apartments with balconies overlooking the sea. The historic centre turns out to be rather kitch but we like the little park with its ceramic benches and fountain.

Inside the Cordoba Cathedral Mosque

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The courtyard in the middle of the cathedral-mosque

The Cordoba cathedral mosque or mezquita-catedral de Cordoba is quite extraordinary. The architecture and decoration are sumptuous. It has changed religions several times over the centuries and is an incredible mix of Moorish and European architecture. The great mosque was built in 785 on the site of a Visigoth basilica. It was then expanded many times up to the late 10th century until it was able to accommodate 40 000 people. It was turned into a cathedral in 1236. The structure remained much the same until the 16th century when a Renaissance nave and transept were inserted into the middle. I’ve tried to illustrate these changes in the following photos.

Happy New Year 2019

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This is my absolute last chance to write my New Year post and wish you all a wonderful 2019, as tomorrow is the first day of February. I have an exciting year ahead – I am going to retire on 30th June (although I shall keep up my certified translations for a few more years). Retirement will, I hope, give me more time to blog.

The view from our rental in Senglea

Travel continued to play a big role in our lives this year, with our first trip away in February, to the island of Malta, where we stayed in a flat called Marine View in Senglea with a most stunning view both day and night. There were many interesting places to visit and the weather was wonderful, but Cyprus, where we went last year, remains my favourite Mediterranean island.

Château de Chambord in the snow

A snowfall on our return provided the occasion for my most stunning photo yet of Château de Chambord which remains high on the list of our cycling destinations in summer and a great place to walk in the winter.

The bridge between La Rochelle and Ile de Ré

In April we went to La Rochelle for a long week-end and had a truly unforgettable experience at Christopher Coutanceau’s 2-star Michelin restaurant followed by lots of cycling on nearby Ile-de-Ré. It’s a very busy and lively town and it’s a great place to shop in comfort (especially for a non-shopper like myself). There’s lots of activity at night along the waterfront which made a bit of a change from the Loire in winter.

The main square of Krakov

We spent the whole of June in Germany and Poland, on our power-assisted bikes clocking up 800 kilometers for 16 days’ cycling. As ever, Germany was a pure delight. It is just so geared to cyclists with all its bike paths and rest-stops and I adore the colourful half-timbered houses in all the little towns and villages!


Poland, however, was another story. Although the major cities such as Poznan, Gdansk, Warsaw, Krakow and Wraclow have an amazing network of bike paths, as soon as you get out of the built-up area, you have to take either the main road or go on mountain-bike trails for 20-year-olds in top form. One unforgettable ride through a very sandy forest had me preferring the bitumen and traffic! There are practically no pretty villages which was a great disappointment. The only exception was Gdansk which we really loved. We had an apartment outside the town and were able to cycle happily up and down the coast through the seaside vilalges as well as into the city with its beautiful baroque façades.

Miltenberg on the Main

After two weeks in Poland, we were relieved to get back to Germany and follow the Main River! Poland, despite its drawbacks, is a country on the rise economically and that was obvious everywhere we went. It was difficult to have much contact with the locals though, as they were not very welcoming on the whole.

Stunning azulejos in Porto

Our week’s holiday in autumn this year took us to Porto with Ryan Air (never again!) from the nearby city of Tours. We enjoyed the first three days in Porto, by which time we had exhausted its possibilities, including a rather hair-raising bike ride along the coast. For the next three days, we took day trains (about one-hour each way) to the very interesting historical towns of Guimaraes, Aveiro and Braga. Poland may be on the way up, but Portugal is definitely going in the opposite direction. It’s very sad to see.

A favourite view of Blois when cycling along the Loire

On the home front, we continued to cycle throughout July, August and September nearly every day, often in the evenings for a picnic on weekdays thanks to the long twilight and the amazing weather. We are now up to 5000 kms since we bought our power bikes in May 2017.

Winter walk along the Loire on a rare sunny day

The winter, so far, has been cold and rainy. I’ve been forcing myself to go for an hour’s walk every two days but it’s not very attractive. We have a yearly pass to Château de Chenonceau though which makes a welcome change.

Jean Michel kept on with the renovations at the studio flat in Blois most of the year and it is now ready for holiday accommodation on I amused myself with some of the decorative features but my brilliant ideas always turned out to be more time-consuming than expected. As it is in a very old building, Jean Michel had to face up to a lot of challenges as well.

Château de Chenonceau from the walking path on the other side

This coming year, especially once I have retired, we went to do more home exchanges as well. And in case anyone is wondering – we still follow the 5:2 diet twice a week and are in very good health! I miss my blog and hope that retirement really will bring me the time and energy I need to write more often! In the meantime, I would like to wish everyone a very happy and fulfilling 2019 and maybe see you over at!

Friday’s French – châtaigne, chestnut, marron, brun, brown

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It’s roast chestnut season. If you come from Australia, you probably think there is only one kind – the edible sort you read about in English novels. Not so! In French, there are two different words: marron and châtaigne and the distinction is rather complicated.

Des marrons dans une poêle à châtaignes
Des marrons dans une poêle à châtaignes

There are basically two sorts: an edible sweet chestnut that is easiest to spot if it is still in its husk, which is spiny and needle-sharp. Its scientific name is Castanea sativa. It’s very distant relation, the toxic, inedible chestnut, also called the horse chestnut, has a husk that is much smoother, with only a few warts. Horse chestnuts are the ones commonly found in forests and backyards. Its scientific name is Aesculus hippocastanum.

So you would imagine it would be easy in French. Let’s start with the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum). The tree is called a marronier d’Inde or marronier commun. It actually comes from the Balkans and has nothing to do with India. The fruit is also called a marron.

That’s the easy bit. Now we have the tree called châtaignier whose edible fruit is called une châtaigne. But people talk about eating marrons chauds and marrons glacés. Why? It’s because there are two kinds and the larger (and (tastier) cultivated châtaigne is called a marron!

The cultivated marron only contains one fruit in each husk whereas the wild ones have two or more, with an annoying skin called a pellicle between them. The ones in the photo as the wild ones. We had to discard half of them because they were too hard to eat. Next time we’ll make sure we buy marrons!

Marron is also the usual word for the colour brown.

Marron has, of course, given the colour maroon in English, which is not brown at all, but a dark brownish red colour, what the French call bordeaux. It you have ever seen a 20-year old bordeaux wine, you’ll understand where the colour comes from!

What about brun? I can hear you saying. Yes, you’re right, it also means brown. You say des cheveux bruns (brown hair), des yeux bruns (brown eyes), une peau brune (a swarthy skin), le tabac brun (dark tobacco), un ours brun (a brown bear) and bière brune (brown ale).

But brown shoes are chaussures marrons and a brown shirt is une chemise marron. Marron can also be used for eyes and hair. Some people argue that les yeux marrons and les yeux bruns are the same thing but others disagree. The same applies to les cheveux marrons and les cheveux bruns.

I’ve even heard les yeux noisette used to mean brown eyes, even though une noisette is a hazel nut. The problem with hazel eyes is that they are a mixture of green, brown and amber and the mix can vary according to the person, so two people can have hazel eyes that are very different.

What other examples can you think of? How do we say a brown dog in French? What about a brown horse and a brown coat? Or a brown car?

Friday’s French – Minute papillon

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As we were driving through Paris recently in the rain, we saw a café called “Minute Papillon” which made me wonder about the origin of the expression which is roughly equivalent to our English saying “Hold your horses!”.


Some sources suggest it is simply a metaphor about butterflies which flit from flower to flower, which would also explain the verb papillonner which means to chop and change or flit from one thing to another.

Other sources also believe the expression came into use in the early 20th century but with a much more amusing origin. At the time, there was a café in Paris that was very popular with journalists. There was a waiter called Papillon who used to answer “Minute, j’arrive” when too many people were calling on his services at the same time.

So when customers wanted to tell him he could take his time, they would say, “Minute Papillon!” It seems the journalists spread the story.

Minute papillon has a second meaning which is an extension of the first i.e. I don’t agree, meaning that the other person has to stop talking so that they can place their argument.

Papillon by itself has several interesting meanings. It can apply to someone who is fickle. It also means a sticker and, by extension, a parking ticket on the windscreen (although I have never seen them in the form of a sticker).

Papillon is also used to designate a butterfly nut and butterfly stroke in swimming.

A noeud papillon is our bow tie. I much prefer the French expression.

However, you can’t have papillons in your tummy when you’re nervous the way you do in English. You have “le trac” instead.

And, by the way, there is no separate word for moth in French – it’s a papillon de nuit!

Do you have any other expression that revolve around butterflies and papillons?


Friday’s French – navet

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“What’s a navet?” someone asked on Facebook this week. “It’s a film that’s a flop”, I answered. But a navet is actually a vegetable – a turnip in fact. So how did we get from turnip to a dud film? Good old came to the rescue.

I know these lovey-dovey carrots aren't turnips but I don't have any turnip photos and I love this one!
I know these lovey-dovey carrots aren’t turnips but I don’t have any turnip photos and I love this one!

Certain sources say you have to go back to the 13th century when the word was already used figuratively to indicate something that wasn’t worth much, perhaps because turnips are cheap and plentiful.

The meaning was never completely lost. “Des naveaulx”, a variant of the word “navet” in the 16th century, meant “not likely” or “nothing doing” and it was not until the mid 19th century that a bad painting was first called a “navet”. The expression was later extended to plays and films.

The French writer and language historian Duneton gives another explanation that isn’t incompatible with the previous one, at least with regard to its 19th century meaning.

In the Belvedere gardens in Rome, there was a statue of Apollo, that was for a long time considered to be a symbol of perfection.

But at the end of the 18th century, a group of young French artists disagreed and nicknamed it “le navet épluché” (the peeled turnip) due to its paleness and the long, smooth form of the limbs which don’t seem to have any muscles.

When the statue was transferred to Paris by Napoleon in 1798 (it has since been returned to Rome), its nickname followed it. In the mid 19th century the term was applied paintings and drawings that didn’t pass muster.

When the cinema came into vogue, the term “navet” was quite naturally used for films that were slapdash, of little interest or didn’t come up to the audience’s expectations.

Fruit and vegetables are used in a lot of expressions in French. I’ve already talked about prunes and aubergines.

Do you know any metaphorical uses of vegetables in French?

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