A Travellerspoint blog

Mainly travelling

Now a little home of our own for a while.............

sunny 10 °C

I was almost tempted not to post anything today as I wasn't sure what I could say. What did we do with the day? Well, mainly we drove from the Loire Valley to Southern Brittany to our next base point. It's hard to get people excited about a four and a half hour drive and the stops along the away but it was a good day and we're now ensconsed in our own little house for a few days.

It's been a brisk sunny day today which is nice. It's what we'd call "Ballarat" weather - crisp, sunny and still - lovely. The fact that there's no rain and no Mistral blowing is good for us. Apparently the fact that there's no snow is good too!!

We had another cheerful and plentiful breakfast at the Moulin des Charmes prepared by the lovely Marina. As well as cereal, yoghurt, fruit, croissants and bread, she'd baked a gorgeous dish which was a kind of raspberry bread and butter pudding. Apparently it's a Canadian recipe which she'd discovered while they lived there and it was absolutely scrumptious. We were sorely tempted by the idea of eggs as well - freshly laid - but resisted and got on the road about 9.30.

The trip was trouble free. Sally (the aforementioned GPS) got us safely onto the motorway and we managed the tolls without any dramas for one. We retraced some of our steps up from Bordeaux before striking West toward Brittany. Tired of arriving somewhere - anywhere - hungry and cranky (one and the same thing for yours truly) we bought some sandwiches along the way and these proved to be most successful. We'd arranged to be here about 2 o'clock and were about twenty minutes past that which isn't a bad estimate.

Deborah - our landlady - was working in the garden when we arrived and tackling the hedge which looks as though it needs a whole army of gardeners to get into shape. She showed us around the house and helped us to settle in. So, what can I tell you about our latest abode? It's a two bedroom stone cottage about 8 minutes walk from the nearest tiny village. It has it's own garden and a place that we can park the car off the street - can't tell you how good that feels. It's a very upstairs downstairs place with one step down to the bedroom from the ground floor and then two down at the back of the house to the kitchen - can see that being a hoot in the middle of the night. The doorway into the kitchen is quite low and Hugh's brained himself twice already!! There's a lovely sitting room on the ground floor as well - tiled with a welcoming rug and comfortable chairs - perfect for a read! There's also a little nook under the stairs with a desk which is where I am now.

Upstairs is another lounge room with a television and DVD and the bathroom which includes a really welcome washing machine - time to get things sorted out. There's a second bedroom up there as well but we won't be using it - unless we have a fight!!! Little sitting areas outside in the front and back of the house and we have everything that we need. What we don't have at the moment is much heat as the heating was off until mid afternoon due to a lack of fuel and we suspect it will take a while to heat up. Never mind - there's always whisky and wine!!!

Since arriving, we've done a bit of settling in and bought some supplies - whisky and wine for example - and arranged to have dinner in Ty Forn in the village. It's a creperie come bar and is "the local" - love having a local!!! We're investigating other places to eat and are very conscious that it's Easter weekend and things may be closed. Just in case, we'll load up on supplies and cook for ourselves - well at least have soup, eggs, cheese, pate and whisky and wine!!!

For a day with not much to say that's the update. Kind of perverse pleasure in seeing that Carlton lost - sorry Keri!!!Tomorrow we may go into St Malo to have a look around. It's a couple of hours drive but Hugh's keen and he's the driver so it's up to him.

Posted by dawnandhugh 10:33 Archived in France Tagged driving Comments (1)

The Valley of the Kings

Living it up in the Loire

sunny 10 °C

It was a much much better day when only one thing went wrong - we got a parking ticket - and that is fixable! In fact our lovely landlady Marina has offered to take care of it for us and that is problem solved.

We're very conscious of the fact that there is a lot to see in the Loire and we really only had one day to do it - plus the bit we had yesteday when I wasn't having my nails done. We also wanted to give due attention to the what we saw rather than doing the whistle stop tour. As a result, we ended up only seeing one chateau properly and looking at a couple of others from the outside. Which one? There was no competition for me, it had to be Chenonceau!

IMG_0756.jpg

There may be more attractive chateaux, or there are others with Da Vinci design and history, but since I started reading Jean Plaidy's books about the French royal family when I was a teenager, I've always been a fan of Diane de Poitiers and I've been fascinated - in a vaguely repelled way - by Catherine de Medici so to go to the chateau that symbolised their relationship was a no brainer for me. I have to say that it didn't let us down. For those that don't know, Diane was the mistress of Henri II of France - and Catherine was his queen. The fascinating thing is that Diane was some 19 years older that Henri but was a great beauty and he fell in love with her when he was 18 and continued to love her until his death 25 years later. One of the gifts he gave her was Chenonceau and she added to it. When Henri died and Catherine gained ascendancy, she took the chateau from Diane and added to it. Ironically, in the room believed to have been Diane's bedroom there is portrait of Catherine! Hm, how to cool your ardour!!

Love that ceiling

Love that ceiling

It's a delicate building, surprisingly small really as these things go and it spans the River Cher in graceful arches which were gorgeous to photograph. As a by the by, I loved the story from the Second World War. The River was the demarcation line between occuppied and unoccuppied France and the Resistance were able to use the gallery of the chateau's Southern door to help people escape into the unoccuppied territory.

The sunny - if cold (didn't really get into double figures today) - day brought out a few visitors and at times it was daunting - especially when everyone seemed to want to go into the same room at one. There were a couple of small tour groups but I shudder to think what it would be like in peak season. There is no doubt that, while we're suffering from cool weather, we're definitely getting the benefit of the crowds - or lack thereof. The rooms were beautifully pannelled and decorated and, while I decided not to get the audio guide, the visitors' handbook provided lots of information on the history of each room and the art works included. We wandered upstairs and down into the kitchens which were fascinating and seemed almost ready to use as they were. They included some wonderful copper pans and pieces that I'd love in my kitchen.

After viewing the house and gardens, we decided that lunch was in order and went to the up market restaurant at the chateau called L'Orangerie. I think that this is one of the reasons that we only see one chateau as we relaxed over a couple of courses and coffee and left in a very happy frame of mind.

Our lovely waiter at L'Orangerie, Chenonceau

Our lovely waiter at L'Orangerie, Chenonceau

A little excursion into Amboise finished up the day. We weren't brave about parking and picked a spot near the river. Unfortunately, I failed to notice that we needed a ticket - d'oh - so the council kindly gave us a somewhat more expensive one. 17 Euro later - this will be a lesson to me. Because we'd parked where we did, we had a longish walk up to the Chateau and decided not to go in but we did get some great photos outside and of the lovely half timbered buildings in the town. We were trying to find Da Vinci's house but it all got too much and we meandered our way home about 5.

Chateaux everywhere

Chateaux everywhere

Tonight we're going to a Michelin starred restaurant in Blois that our hosts have recommended. We're happy to back their advice as last night we went to a local Auberge that they'd suggested in the next village. Superb! And our first time with our waiting staff not speaking any English - apparently we can be understood!!!

PS - guess what we found in the car just under Hugh's seat today???? Yep - that bloody toll ticket!!!

Posted by dawnandhugh 11:33 Archived in France Tagged buildings food chateaux Comments (1)

Was it the curse of the full moon???

Things really do come in threes..............

sunny 8 °C

First of all, we're now happiy ensconsed in the Loire Valley in a small town called Moulineuf which is 6km out of lovely Blois. We're in a converted mill in a ground floor room where we can park our car right outside the door - bliss!!

Having said all that and thanked our blessings etc, today has still been a really messy one and has felt a bit jinxed. Thankfully, if bad luck does come in threes, we've had the three things and we can smile and move on.

The day's events commenced with me falling as I got out of the shower at the chateau this morning. It's not something I normally do and it should be explained that the shower had a step down of some 6 inches to the floor - certainly more of a step than I'm used to. Yesterday I managed to judge it perfectly but today I assumed the floor was somewhat closer to my foot than it was and misstepped. It was one of those falls in slow motion. I tried to balance myself by hanging on to the door but kept going down. Luckily I a) didn't crack my head on the huge bath b) didn't crack anything on the tiled floors c) didn't shake any plaster loose. I did hurt my pride first and foremost and had to be assisted from the floor by Hugh and I also broke three nails which probably upset me as much as anything could have as it meant I now had to tackle the idea of a manicure in a strange country.

Problem number two happened when we'd packed the car ready to leave the chateau and Hugh turned the engine on and up came a message saying "Fill up your engine oil"! It's taken us two weeks to get the display to speak English to us and that's the thanks we get!!! Off to the service station and a helpful gentlemen assisted Hugh with the right stuff after establishing that there really wasn't much in there. Off we went on the road to Blois.

We were going along swimmingly and had got onto the motorway and collected our first toll ticket of the day when we decided to make a toilet stop at a conveniently located servo (by the by have to say that French roads are well set up for the traveller). We both availed ourselves of the facilities and were ready to go but when Hugh started the engine, up came the same bloody message about oil. Okay - another 2 litres of the stuff went in and we still got the message. This thing is mainlining it! Common sense said that we hadn't had any oil spills, that the engine was functioning properly and nothing was belching so we couldn't work it out. We decided to hit the road and see what happened.

That's when problem number three occurred. About 5 minutes from the servo when we're pootling along the motorway at 130km, Hugh realises that between emptying ourselves and filling the car, we've (ok he's) lost the toll ticket that we needed to exit!!!! Oh no! I knew things were going too well!!! We sweated our way along for another 30km or so until we came to the toll gates. Along the way, I was madly coaching Hugh with the French he needed to explain to the voice in the machine that we had an issue. Close to the gates, we saw our guardian angel smiling in the form of an arm appearing from the tollbooth - yes! they were manned booths. We stammered the phrases - Bonjour Madam! Desole - je suis moi billet trouvet - and she responded with appropriate concern. We payed the full fare for the road - some 32Euro - but frankly I'd have paid twice that just to avoid the fuss and get out of there.

So, how did the day end? We we've now got a system for looking after toll tickets and we managed the next one so much better. We stopped in Blois and the oil message didn't come up when we restarted the car. I got my nails fixed by the lovely Lucille in Blois - they're not Elizabeth's standards but unless I win Euro Millions this week I can't afford to fly her over for a manicure. We had a wonderful steak frites and red wine for lunch and found some English language books for Hugh who now thinks he should have bought a Kindle before we came over.

Off for dinner and tomorrow the chateaux of the area.

Posted by dawnandhugh 11:09 Archived in France Tagged disasters Comments (2)

Thoughts.......

Random ramblings

overcast 14 °C

Openings

Slightly mixed feelings today after a somewhat frustrating day. We're in Jarnac (near Cognac) and staying in a chateau. That in itself is lovely. The building is wonderfully restored all rooms are decorated with heritage treasures. The house and its surrounding park are located on the edge of the town so easy walking distance to the Charentes River and to the Courvoisier distillery. Our hostess/landlady is warm and friendly and also helpful. We should be happy and enthusiasm should be bursting out of the page. And yet, it's not! Why is this?

Home - for the a couple of nights

Home - for the a couple of nights

Along with the privilege of staying in a beautiful house such as this comes restrictions. Not least is the fact that we can't eat or drink in the rooms. I understand why but not being able to sit back with a pre dinner drink or make a coffee is slightly frustrating. Especially so because our visit has conincided with Sunday and Monday and half the district seems to be asleep or not open for visitors on these days. When we arrived yesterday after a four hour plus drive from Carcassonne, we went for a walk thinking we'd find a cafe for coffee and, perhaps, a small snack as we hadn't eaten since a light breakfast. Nothing - repeat nothing - was open!!!! The town resembled the set of Attack of the Body Snatchers - cars all around but no life. We controlled our hunger and thirst and had a good walk and then drove off in search of dinner. Apparently most places were closed but there were a few restaurants open in Cognac and we enjoyed a good dinner there.

Jarnac

Jarnac

quackers

quackers

Never mind we said, that was Sunday, today is Monday - life will be better today. After a lovely petit dejeuner, we drove off to take a good look at Cognac and the area. We got into town and found a car park without trouble and in retrospect, that should have been the warning we needed. As we walked into the centre of the town we realised that all of the shops were closed - and again, I mean all of them!!! Heading down to Hennessey Cognac, we enquired about a tour, only to discover that we'd just missed the morning one and the next one was at 2.30pm! And yes, the shops would be opening after lunch - about 2pm, maybe, if they felt like it.

Don't get me wrong, Cognac is a lovely place but it would have been nicer if we hadn't had to fight for a coffee or if we hadn't seen exactly what we wanted in two shops and not been able to access them. Why didn't we go back later, I hear you ask??? Well we did - but they were two of the shops that weren't opening at all.

Trying to keep the streets clean - unsuccessfully!

Trying to keep the streets clean - unsuccessfully!

Chateau on the Charentes at Cognac

Chateau on the Charentes at Cognac

Jarnac itself was even quieter than Cognac and most of the shops, cafes and restaurants don't open on a Monday at all. The moral of the story, gentle readers, is to be conscious that when you go to towns that are a) off the tourist trail or b) off season, you may not find the facilities you are looking for. We were concerned about dinner tonight but have booked back at last night's establishment - the food and service were excellent and we know we can rely on it!

Motorways

Yesterday we took the motorway most of the way from Carcassonne and I'm pleased to say that we appear to have got over our paranoia of tolls. It does help that:
a) I can now recognise the word for tollbooth (peage) so am forewarned
b) We've discovered how to fold the mirrors in so we can get closer to the machines
c) We know which lanes to go through
d) We have a collection of small notes and coins ready for the payment

Tomorrow we're driving up to the Loire Valley and will be going via the motorways so hopefully there will be happy tales continuing.

Dinner - La Barbacane

On Saturday night we had our best meal by far since we arrived in France. Don't get me wrong, there have been no duds but we'd built up a couple of occasions in our minds and been slightly underwhelmed - L'Epuisette for example. On impulse, on Saturday, we booked into La Barnacane at the Hotel de la Cite in Carcassonne. It's the only Michelin starred restaurant in town and it didn't let its reputation down. We had the 8 course tasting menu with matching local wines and it was superb! The range of treats from perfectly cooked vegetables with truffles, sea bass, foie gras, filet of boeuf, was extraordinary as was the service and ambience. We didn't start eating until near 9 and it was nearly midnight by the time we staggered the short distance back to our hotel but it was absolutely sensational!!!

Posted by dawnandhugh 11:23 Archived in France Tagged food Comments (2)

Au revoir Provence and allo Carcassonne!

Parting was sweet sorrow

rain 10 °C

We're on the move at the moment! Well clearly not literally as I'm absolutely useless at typing in the car - or in a train for that matter!! Right now, I'm in our hotel room in Carcassone. It's a less that preposessing day with grey skies and drizzle abounding - I think that's going to be the theme of the next few days especially as we start moving North.

Yesterday was a huge day for us as we drove here from Provence. The drive itself was nothing - ony about 4 hours which is a lunch date at home - but we managed to tackle the motorways without dramas and got through two lots of tolling without being tooted at or having a screaming match in the car! Yay! It does help now that we know which lanes to go in - well it would wouldn't it? Not a lot to say about the trip itself. We detoured into Montpelier thinking that we'd have a look. Well we did - have a look - but only from the car. It's a shame as it looks like a gorgeous place with some fascinating buildings but we couldn't find a convenient carpark so we made our way back out of town again with only a couple of photos to rememember it by.
Too busy to stop

Too busy to stop

Montpelier

Montpelier


Found Carcassone without trouble - but not without Sally! Have I introduced you to Sally? I think not. She is the other woman in our lives or the third person in our marriage. I think she's the greatest threat I've faced in our marriage as she navigates about as well as I do. Well not quite says Hugh reassuringly - I don't think I've ever sent us some of the streets that she has but she does have the advantage of not talking very much - unless we take a wrong term. Sally is the voice of our in car GPS and she has been a tower of strength along the way - except for those odd backways and country lanes. We think some of them have been odd - some of them have been cart tracks but at least we've seen a different side of France from the motorways. Still she got us here without trouble - on the motorway no less. Getting to La Cite` or the walled town was easier than we thought - we simply drove to the main entrance (drawbridge) and turned left to follow the signs. There are virtually no cars within the walls during the way and there are 1000s of car spots on the hill surrounding the ramparts. We were directed to one for Hotel guests - having the advantage of staying within the walls - and parked on the side of a precipice looking down on the common tourist parks. After a short - cold - wait, a small van arrived with a comedian driving it to bring us to the hotel. It was an interesting ride which combined Alain Prost with the Getaway but we got here to the hotel - slightly shaken but definitely entertained.

Hugh ready for lunch

Hugh ready for lunch

Our room was ready for us - we've been upgraded again - must be that Australian charm or the fact that we booked ages ago - and have a garden suite away from the main hotel. Although it's a Best Western hotel, it is, of course, an old building and built around a paved courtyard. We didn't stay long in the room and headed out for a look. The place was full of tourists - and yes we're tourists too - with lots of tour groups of foreigners and school students. It's an amazing place - one of the Cathar strongholds of the medieval period and it's been protected so the atmosphere is wonderful. There are, inevitablly, a lot of cheap souveneir shops but you don't have to buy any of the tat any more than you do anywhere else.

Dinner last night was in the hotel bistro. It was okay but not great. Had Soupe Ognione followed by our first cassoulet. Rule number one: Soupe Ognione is filling and had chunks of tasty rye bread in it. Rule number two: cassoulet is rib sticking food made for the heart of winter - or pretty much the conditions we're having now. Rule number three: ordering both of them in one meal and expecting to do anything but waddle out afterwards is pretty crazy. As I said, the food was okay but not great and the atmosphere was so so. We'll try somewhere else tonight.

Cassoulet

Cassoulet

Today started slower than most days have with the alarm set for a scandalous 0700! I don't know why we set alarms - I suppose we don't want to waste days and we often end up resting later in the day. We actually thought about moving about 0800 but while we were dressing we realised that the Malaysian GP qualifying was on so we ordered petit dejeuner in our room and relaxed while Hugh watched the racing. Getting out we discovered that yesterday's grey skies had intensified and turned to a steady drizzle which showed no sign of clearing (nb: it's now 1426 and still hasn't lifted) so we just rugged up and went out - Hugh smug about the fact that he'd taken photos yesterday and me cursing my lack of forethought!!! We weren't going to let something like the weather stop us of course and we poked around the narrow alleyways and around the town taking photos - and drying the lens with regularity. A hot chocolate in a cafe in the square warmed us up before a visit to the Chateau and a walk around the ramparts of the cite. Got about half way round before we were directed down - and discovered we'd need to go back to the Chateau to do the rest. By this time, the weather had settled in again and we thought better of clambering up and down 12th century stairs in this weather. Back the cafe where a stop for hot chocolate turned into lunch - crepes with fromage, gambon et oeuf (pour moi) and et champignon (pour Hugh). A bit more of a walk and some serious retail therapy for yours truly - how many pairs of gloves do I need???? - and we're back at the hotel warming up and ready for a siesta before dinner.

my purchases

my purchases

Posted by dawnandhugh 06:39 Archived in France Tagged buildings meals Comments (1)

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