Les poissons en France

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A week to remember

Paris was amazing! We were staying in a little studio apartment (two thirds the size of our lounge) in the 7th arrondissement and so we were within walking distance of Les Invalides, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Musee D'Orsay etc, etc. We eventually managed to find it after asking in a couple of shops because all of the older houses are built with shops on the ground floor with a little door in the middle going to a small courtyard and access to the apartments.
The apartment was very handily sited for restaurants, food shops and patisseries so we didn't have far to go on the first evening to have a meal on Sue's birthday. We had tried to plan our time so as to make full use of the week, and we had found a company who give guided walks with english commentary. They run different walks morning and afternoon, everyday, and you just have to turn up at whichever Metro station and pay your money. The only problem was that I'd not taken the details of which Metro station! So, Sunday morning we walked around looking first for a Tourist office, and then for an Internet Cafe. The Tourist Office were no help, and these days there aren't internet Cafes, there's now just cafes which allow you to use your laptop by wireless telephony (WiFi).

HOWEVER, at Sue's suggestion, the problem was solved by going in to a Hotel and paying to use their internet facility. So, we were able to go on these walks; Sunday afternoon to see the Art Nouveau buildings of Paris, Monday morning the Isle de la Cite and Notre Dame, Monday afternoon for the Medieval Latin Quarter, Wednesday afternoon for Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur, and Thursday morning for the Left Bank. We certainly pounded the pavements!

As well as all this walking we did other 'touristy' things like looking in the posh department stores in Boulevard Haussman, visiting the Musee d'Orsay for the impressionist paintings (see photo below), the Musee Rodin for his sculptures, and looking at modern artists' work at an art fair on the banks of the Seine near Bastille.
One of the 'tourist' activities we didn't do was the Eiffel tower. Even at 10 pm there were still queues ( mainly Japanese) waiting to go up. So instead we went up the Montparnasse Tower instead. This is a tall office block with an elevator that takes you up to the 56th floor in 38 seconds. There is a 360 degree viewing floor at least on the same level as the Eiffel if not higher. We got there about 9 pm and then walked up the last 3 levels to the top ( where the helicopters land) and watched Paris gradually light up. All of the major 'sights' are lit and the Eiffel tower has a small display of flashing lights every hour.

Whilst we were in Paris it was the first round of voting for the next French President. We stumbled upon the headquarters of one of the main candidates by chance on the Sunday when we were looking for an internet cafe. Then, when we went back to our flat that afternoon we found out that the HQ of another of the main contenders was about one block from us. We had a little nose and then about 9 pm, when the preliminary results were coming out, we went and joined the rally. We even got asked for our opinion by a journalist, although when we explained who we were he quickly lost interest!

The other highlight to the week was a meal we had with a parisian couple in their own home. We had found out details of this on a website called 'Meeting the French' and the idea of having a meal in someone's home and having the chance to talk to them really appealed to us. We arrived at their appartment on the Tuesday evening and they were incredibly welcoming. They showed us round their home, offered us an apero and nibbles, provided a 4 course meal, and treated us just as if we were their friends. A truly memorable evening, including the adventure of finding, half way back to our flat, that the trains had shut down for the night ( but it was after midnight!). We set off walking as we knew that we had just to keep the river Seine on our right. The only problem was that Sue needed the toilet, and any suitable looking area of grass and bushes tended to have someone sleeping there. Fortunately, Sue finally managed to flag down a taxi, which was just as well as we realised that it would have taken us at least 2 hours to walk home. But even as we walked the last part of the journey up the road where our flat was, there were still people sat at tables outside of restauants at 1 am. Ah, the parisian life.

Friday, April 20, 2007

One step closer

We collected our plans and the forms for our application for the Permis de Construire from the architect on Wednesday. I then took them down to the 'Mairie' first thing Thursday morning. So now we wait and keep our fingers crossed, hopefully for no more than a couple of months. In the meantime all of our neighbours are giving us the names of the workmen that they consider to be good. Needless to say, nobody's list is the same! And even then they all have the problem of waiting until the men turn up.

We are still receiving new wildlife summer visitors. Our French teacher had told us last Friday that the Nightingales had returned, and last night it was our turn. I was woken up at about 2.30 am to the sound of a bird in full song. It could only have been the Nightingale, because it doesn't get light at the moment till about 6.30am. I'm told he'll only sing till July!!!

In the morning we're off on holiday to Paris for a week. We going to be tourists, but we are trying to avoid the usual suspects. We'll try the 56th floor of the Montparnasse Tower instead of the Eiffel Tower and there's another viewing point fron La Gande Arche, So we'll report on sights of interest when we get back.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

It's all in the Soil

Having top dressed all of the prepared beds in the vegetable garden, I set to yesterday and went over all of them with the rotorvator. This of course turned up more stones but, after stone-picking and raking, the beds looked good with a nice tilth on the top.

So the first crop has been planted. A dozen lettuces we bought at the market on Saturday have gone in to the first bed, and we will watch with interest to see if we are actually just feeding the wildlife!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Nothing much happened around here lately....

We have been quietly working in the garden and around the house and barn and Sue foolishly said that nothing exciting had happened for the blog lately!

Today started off mistly but gradually cleared and warmed up so that this afternoon it became quite hot. Sue had been scrubbling in the shrubs, growing weeds and last year's dead leaves as she was determined to reach the end of the line of trees along the top of our back field. She has done a brilliant job, and we've recovered a strip of land about 2 metres wide.
I thought that Sue deserved a cool drink for her efforts and just as I was taking it out to her, my way out to the back field was blocked by a metre long snake! Some of you might know that Sue is very frightened of snakes, so I called to her to ask her if she wanted to see the snake. Despite the psychological fear of snakes ( we won't go down the route of Freudian explanations), Sue is interested in Nature and so came to see our snake trying to warm himself up in the sun. Our neighbours assure us that these coloured snakes are not venomous ( it's the black ones you've got to look out for!) but it is still not easy to feel relaxed about a reasonable sized snake lying on the lawn. I eventually decided that I ought to encourage him to move off, so, with a very long piece of wood, I tried to move him on. I got the stick underneath the snake about one third of the way down his length when he decided enough is enough and he disappeared into a hole in our stone wall in a flash.

We are now approaching areas of piled up stones or wood or any old vegetation with some circumspection.

I'm pleased to report that I've dug one third of the beds in the vegetable garden and I've dug one length of bed for the cordon Apples. We even went on Saturday to our local town for the Saturday market and bought some lettuces to go in one of the beds. We are going to Paris next week for Sue's 60th birthday and so we didn't buy more vegetable plants; we'll get them when we return. It will be interesting to see if we get any problems from the local wildlife (boars, deer, hares?)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Oh s**t!

We keep find that one job leads to another. We have a pile of wood which I've cut up and which needs storing for 12 to 18 months so that it can dry out. We've decided to store it in the barn, but of course this means that I've got to clear out space in the barn! So I started to move stones and shovel up whatever it is on the floor.
To my surprise I found a concrete floor under about 2 or 3 inches of 30 odd years worth of dried cow manure and straw. It's amazing how different the barn looks once it starts to look clean.

So now I can move the wood into the barn, and cut some more in an attempt to continue the tidying up.

These last few days of hot, sunny weather have brought on the irises at the foot of the pigeonnier.

We are also watching with interest as the Wisteria, which is on wires between the Pigeonnier and the wall of the terrasse, is gradually growing it's flowers and the sun starts to bring on the colour. There are so many things which we are discovering.

Monday, April 09, 2007

All my own work

Sue's wall is finished and filled with soil and compost, ready for plants. The only snag she encountered on the way was a bad back with all of the bending down! Hope we can overcome this small problem before she starts on repointing the whole house!!

Meanwhile I've been starting to add the hardcore into the 'cherry alley', which is quite usefull as we seem to have a lot of rubble to shift and lose. And that's before we start on the house.

Friday, April 06, 2007


It was a glorious sunny day today and, as I was walking up the lane to go behind the ruin, I noticed these two white flowers in the entrance to the next field. Amazingly, I had mown there (as you can see) only 3 days ago! So, I rushed off to see if there were any in our wildflower meadow. And yes, I found one group of about 6 flowers, (but only one group).
We have left the far end of our back field as a wldflower meadow because it joins on to another part of field which actually belongs to someone else. This whole field has been used for grazing and for hay for goodness knows how many years. As you can see we've shaped it and mown a path through it so that it can be seen as part of the garden, not an extra bit that's just been left. Having found this new flower, Star of Bethlehem, I took other photos of the interesting plants which are growing in the meadow. At the limit of the meadow and on into the piece of field which is not ours, there is a profusion of Muscari or wild grape hyacinths. Finally we have Cowslips which are actually blooming in abundance in all of the hedgerows.

We are really quite excited when we find new specimens in our meadow. I don't know if I will still think like that when I am cutting the 'hay' in the summer!

Having taken the photos, I took one from the top end of our 'back garden'. It gives a view of the developing veg patch and also shows how the land rises up the hill from the river valley bottom.

Good Neighbours

Our little hamlet appears to be quite a close knit community, at least during the summer when all of the properties are occupied. We get the impression that there will be a lot of taking of 'aperos' (aperatifs) together! Whilst in the past in England we have been a bit sniffy about being 'popping in and out' neighbours, we are approaching french neighbourliness with a different attitude, plus our neighbours are so nice!

So yesterday I spent a little time using the digger to run a trench from JJ's house to their barn so he can have electricity in it.

It was fortunate that we didn't have to go too far down as we hit some fairly major rocks on the way. You are never sure if you're finding natural stone or the remains of an old building, but the excercise was completed without any problems.

Meanwhile, Sue had started pointing up her wall with the local mix of white sand, red sand and lime. The front of our house has been quite heavily 'buttered' (ie the motrar applied so that, whilst you see the stones, the motrar is flush with them), but we have come to prefer the mortar being not so heavily applied. With everything we do or will do, it's all a learning experience.

As a 'thank you' we had a meal with JJ and Nadine in the evening. This in itself was an experience as it was a simple meal you cooked for youself on a 'Raclette'. This is really a form of grill which allows you to melt cheese at the table. The idea is to prepare on your plate some potato, cold meats, gherkins or whatever, them pour over your small portion of melted cheese. And you continue doing this until replete. Nadine says that you use this only in the winter because it will be too hot in the summer sitting round the 'grill' giving out a lot of heat. Presumably you will be sitting round the BBQ instead.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Wall arises

Sue has finally made it to the end of the wall! One of the big problems was in finding the right shape and size stones, which is a bit ironic as we have stones everywhere in the garden, in the barn, in the ruin, in the hedges; in fact we can find stones everywhere, but finding the right stones....! We ended up cutting some of the stones with a disc cutter to get some sense of uniformity.

We are very pleased with the wall, or at least we will be when it is finished. All we have to do is point up the joints between the stones with mortar to match the house, then fill behind the wall with soil so that we can then start planting. Simple isn't it?