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Posts Tagged ‘Loire’

It’s funny that we live here, pass through so many lovely looking places, and rarely have the time to stop and admire them. So, I thought that when & if I do, and seeing as I usually have the camera with me to record them, I’d do an occasional series to tell you all about them.

So, yesterday, in a rare fit of something approaching recklessness, I mounted the bike rack on the car and placed two bikes on it, announcing that we were off for a ride. Somewhere. Anywhere really. I’d loaded quite a few geocaches onto my GPS (thanks again Sue & Dave), and we set off with the intention of finding one or two, and combining the searches with a spot of cycling.

The roads here are superb for both cycling and driving, and we were enjoying the freedom of the forest road from Vernoil through to Bourgueil – one of our favourites. The sun was shining, the aircon was on, and all was well with the world. It’s rare that we get a chance like this. We have this chance as Sheila’s spending a few days in the UK with friends. A treat for us not to have to be on site all the time. Guests here at the moment are mostly out doing the same – enjoying the autumn sunshine, and roads free of holiday traffic, so there’s nothing to do for them.

Bourgueil is a stunning little town, famous for the quality of its red wines. And, as it was Tuesday, and therefore market day, we were diverted along the backstreets. We’ve never seen this part of Bourgueil before, and what a delight. We couldn’t stop. Well, we could have, but I was eager to show Syb how the GPS and geocaching worked. Plus, I wanted to re-visit the caves at Benais, to show her the old cart there. See my post on geocaching, a few weeks back.

Onwards, after visiting the caves, and marvelling at the industry involved in carving these things out of the rock in order to store wine, (or other stuff), and on to Saumur. Or so I thought. Travelling along the levée from Port Boulet to Villebernier, a sign caught my eye in Chouzé for ‘le port’. So, we followed it. Down to la Loire, and a sign for the cycle path. What a find. Mostly right along the riverbank, with tantalising glimpses of clear blue water, sandy beaches and fishermen enjoying their sport, this path is a gem!

Parking just after a tumbledown house in the process of being renovated (we think), we took off the bikes, locked the car and set off back from whence we came. Architecture fascinates me, and bread ovens too. So, to see this tumbledown house with a wreck of a bread oven built onto one of the gables was a treat.

Ancient bread oven.

Ancient bread oven.

It’s a shame that so many of these are left to fall into disrepair though, and brings out a quality in me that I’m ashamed of. I’m extremely jealous of other people’s bread ovens. And their woodpiles, if we’re being honest. I covet my neighbour’s bread oven. I also lust over his woodpile. It’s huge! No man could possibly burn ALL that wood, beautiful grey oak and smatterings of chestnut and ash. It’s a sin that my own woodpile is so pathetic by comparison.

Each winter though, our own woodpile grows according to how cold it is, how cold it’s forecast to be, and how much wood we can actually afford! Last winter, our own woodpile was almost as impressive as that of my neighbour. But we burnt all ours, while his just grew and grew! Sickening. In summer, I have little wood here, and what little there is is used in our bread oven to provide fouée and pizzas for guests. In summer, as in winter, my neighbour’s woodpile is impressive. It’s just so unfair.

Anyway, the cycle trail opens up after the woodland into lovely vistas of la Loire, with houses to the left overlooking the most serene landscape. Like this one –

The view downstream at Chouzé sur Loire

The view downstream at Chouzé sur Loire

And this one –

A traditional Loire 'barge' or 'gabare'.

A traditional Loire 'barge' or 'gabare'.

The boat’s a ‘gabare’, used in times past for the transport of goods up and down the river. In this area, most usually the transportation of salt from the marshes at the rivermouth near St. Nazaire. There are few left now, but those that are, are renovated to the most fantastic standard. They’re used as pleasure boats, transporting not salt, but tourists along this most beautiful riverscape.

Houses lining the river have a fantastic view, but are also in danger from the floods which can be very severe each winter. It’s so easy to forget, on such a warm, sunny autumn day that in just a few months time, this part of the Loire may well swell by a few metres, and the houses and gardens along the riverbank will fall prey to flooding once more.

We picked out a few that we wouldn’t mind being the owners of though…

Stairway to heaven?

Stairway to heaven?

Room with a view!

Room with a view!

This house has the most fantastic space overlooking the river, and a lovely old wisteria in the garden climbing up, over and through the pergola.

If it looks old, it probably is.

If it looks old, it probably is.

This particular house has this as it’s view…

Stunning view!

Stunning view!

For those in need of sustenance, there’s a great looking little café here. I dunno if it was closed for the day, or for the season, but I was gutted not to be able to pass an hour on the decking out front with an ice cold beer!

Never far from a café!

Never far from a café!

After exploring the riverfront, we decided just to have a meander up one of the narrow alleys leading away from the river, up the hill and into the town. As it was around 3pm, there wasn’t much life, but this is normal. Across the road was a lovely old house – a mini-chateau, if you will. These are literally around every corner here, and it’s something that never fails to raise a smile.

Chateau? Or family town house?

Chateau? Or family town house?

It all got a little surreal at this point. You’d expect maybe a piece of classical music, Débussy perhaps, to be the background noise whilst cycling past this magnificent dwelling, slack jawed. Not so – ‘Kung-Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas was blasting out from one of the open windows, heartily accompanied by madame! Bizzare!

The town offers some lovely architecture, and a very pretty church. it’s a shame to spoil all the surprises for you, so just go & visit for yourself!

Anyway, back across the road and down to the river we go (I feel a bit of Springsteen coming on….). Working our way back to the car, ogling houses here & there, walnuts crushing under the tyres. We decided that we really do need to collect natures bounty very, very soon. Lots of sloes (sloe gin), blackberries, elderberries and more to be had in the hedgerows.

The road led us past where the car was parked, and we were enjoying the day so much we hardly noticed the poor Mégane sat there in the heat…

Just past the car, we again stared open mouthed at the most lovely sight right on the riverbank. Someone, we presumed the houseowner from just opposite, had created a garden. A lawned garden, with tubs of flowers just everywhere. The large oak tree in the middle of this ‘garden’ proclaimed that the gardener, a Mr. Pierre Devilliers had been awarded many certificates by the town of Chouzé for his efforts.

A fitting tribute to a lovely old man

A fitting tribute to a lovely old man

There was a bench to sit on, overlooking the water, and a boat tied up at the waters edge. We watched huge carp feeding in the clear shallows, undisturbed by my scrambling down the riverbank to get a couple of shots. I put two euros in the watering can hanging from a hook on the tree, designed specifically for donations, and shuddered as the coins clanked, disturbing the peace for miles, and miles around!

they were THIS big, honest!

They were THIS big, honest!

The only way to travel around here.

The only way to travel around here.

We were so entranced with this little slice of heaven, that we failed to notce the garden, and the house on the other side of the road until we walked back to where our bikes lay by the roadside. What greeted us there was just superb. The lawn was a carpet of cyclamen, huddling together in the shade of the trees. Beyond was a traditional ‘longère’, a longhouse. again with a beautiful bread oven perched on the very end. This time in perfect order, no doubt still used for special occasions and family gatherings. I just couldn’t help but snap away at this sublime scene.

Cyclamen carpet.

Cyclamen carpet.

A labour of love

A labour of love

Catalpa tree. (Indian Bean) We have two of these in our garden!

Catalpa tree. (Indian Bean) We have two of these in our garden!

Just beautiful

Just beautiful

I managed to get this close to take the pictures because Monsieur Devilliers beckoned to us to enter, the sound of my shutter on overdrive obviously having disturbed his afternoon glass of wine with friends. For which I apologised. Not a problem he assured us, waving us in with the pride of a man who knows he’s created something very, very special. He offered to take a picture of the two of us among the flowers, but which I’ll refrain from posting as it’s quite scary. Two grown adults, grinning like loons in shorts and tee-shirts.

Here’s one of his house instead.

The very pretty house down the lane...

The very pretty house down the lane...

So. If you’re ever stuck for a bike ride along the Loire. Think about meandering along the river in and around Chouzé sur Loire. There’s literally something around every corner. It’s just typical of our area of the Loire and we still feel very, very lucky to have it on our doorstep.

la Loire

la Loire

Until the next time, au revoir!

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2009

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It’s a curious thing. Working here, as we do, we get to tell people where to go for days out alot. We get to tell them that Saumur’s a really, really pretty town. It’s bright, friendly, beautiful to look at (especially the chateau) and close-by. It’s ‘our’ town. But, after four years of living here, I’ve come to realise that I hardly know it at all, and all I can say to guests is that it’s old, has a fantastic market on Saturdays, great wine fair in September, and the chateau is just stunning. Of course, there’s lots more that we know, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel like it. You know?

So, when I found myself for once, with a bit of free time on a Friday morning in August, I suggested to a friend staying here with us that we could go on a tour of Saumur, given by the Office de Tourisme, and in English too. Dave readily agreed, and wives were duly informed that we were off into town for a while, and we’d be back later.

Dave’s from Newcastle, and he’s hard. You see, this particular morning it was a bit breezy, and overcast. So, even though the forecast predicted high temperatures and sunshine as had been the norm, I’d worn combats, tee-shirt and a fleece. Dave was in shorts and a tee-shirt. I had a spare fleece, but he shrugged the idea off with a “Whay man, ah’m from Neecastle…”

So off we went to meet other inquisitive Brits (among them some of our camping guests) by the town hall to await our guide. Our guide was a young man named François. Dressed in jeans, a black polo shirt and flip-flops, he was obviously from the French equivalent of Neecastle. I pondered removing the fleece, but after taking our dosh, François beckoned us over to the riverside to gaze back at the magnificent building, or buildings that make up the town hall.

Hotel de Ville, Saumur

Hotel de Ville, Saumur

So, we stepped across the road to admire this fantastic building, in three very distinct parts as François described its violent history, and its inextricable links with la Loire, at our backs. The oldest part of the building isn’t actually what you’d think. Instead of the very ornate (and old) looking middle portion, it’s the bit to the left, with the turrets that’s the oldest by far, dating back to the 13th century. The bit in the middle is Renaissance in style – from the 17th/18th century, while the very posh public entrance to the right was added in the 1950’s.

The bit on the left, pockmarked by cannon fire, artillery and small arms from two world wars as well as the Vendée wars of the late middle ages, is actually a part of the old city wall. Saumur was once a walled city, just like the more famous Cité of Carcassonne in the far south west of France. There are parts of the town where the old wall is very much in evidence, and we were to discover these a little later on in the tour.

François explained to us how the origins of the town were born from the river. Monks, escaping persecution on the coastal areas, by marauders from other lands took refuge here after sailing upstream from St. Nazaire. Here they settled, peacably and grew a village that grew a town. In time, the chateau was built by Louis d’Anjou around the mid-13th century, consolidating Saumur’s position as an enviable fortress town.

The old, narrow passageways are still here, tucked away as they are away from the tourists gaze. Stop in the main shopping streets though, leading up to the Place St. Pierre, and you’ll catch glimpses of the narrow, cobbled alleys, with open drains either side, and the buildings rising to the sky, seemingly on a mission to kiss at the rooftops…

Medieval street

Medieval street

It’s surprising, when you’re shown where to look, just how many links back to the towns past there are. Once seen, I realised how many times I’ve simply walked past, not realising they were there. The thought actually saddened me.

The wall reappears here and there, overgrown in parts, crumbling away to dust in others. But it’s there.

The Wall. But not by Pink Floyd!

The Wall. But not by Pink Floyd!

Here and there.

The holes remind us that there were beams placed there once upon a time, supporting homes, businesses and fortifications.

Another brick in the wall...

Another brick in the wall...

And here and there. Too many times there are reminders of how important the wall once was, and how it’s no longer needed. François carried us through the town, and on to Place St. Pierre, underneath the gaze of the chateau (which we’d not have the time to explore on this tour), and told us all about the medieval heart of Saumur. All the buildings here are built from stone, but with ornate wooden decoration to the façades, in true medieval style. Gothic sculpted features, like the ones shown below, of Adam & Eve, abound.

Adam & Eve

Adam & Eve

If only people would look up from time to time. This place is our towns marketplace on saturdays, and every time I visit the market, wandering from stall to stall, I look at these carved figures, and think of the people that created them. And the sheer age of the town fascinates me.

François explained to us all that the church of St. Pierre was undergoing renovations, but the investigations had found problems with the walls that meant that the church had to be closed to the public, as a matter of safety. I’ve been in the church before, and it’s magnificent.

Leading us away from the town centre, François pointed out here and there traces of The Wall, or a door dating from the 17th century…

A 17th century door!

A 17th century door!

For me though, and Dave too, the best was yet to come. As we moved south, well away from the Place St. Pierre we stopped by the Tour Graintière. I’ve seen this thing hundreds of times, wondering what it was, but never getting close enough, being in the car, picking up Hannah from collège. All we expected was the explanation. This was a tower, built behind what was the gendarmerie, in the 15th century. It served as a prison for a long while. The inmates were usually those convicted of avoiding taxes imposed on the trading of salt, an important part of local economy in the 15th and 16th centuries. Life here was tough, as we were about to find out. François had the keys to the castle!

Grain tower, or prison?

Grain tower, or prison?

It stands quite tall, and is obviously well built – built to last. It’s had little or no renovation work carried out on it, and it’s stood the test of time remarkably well. There’s an ancient stairway, built of stone that changes to wood, and leads from one level to the next.

An amazing staircase!

An amazing staircase!

The doors remain in their original state, hanging from the same ancient hinges, creaking open as we gathered in the gloom to see what prison life in 15th century Saumur was like.

A 15th century prison door.

A 15th century prison door.

We were shown glimpses of how the prisoners must have spent their time in the cells here. Grafitti was the order of the day, with names, dates and pictures carved into the stone.

Effral woz 'ere?

Effral woz 'ere?

A reminder of home, perhaps?

A reminder of home, perhaps?

As we reached almost the top of the tower, there was an amazing vaulted ceiling, and then more steps to the very top, and a view across my adopted hometown, towards the chateau, towards Bagneux and the aerodrome, over the town in all directions. It was stunning.

Supreme craftsmanship.

Supreme craftsmanship.

The view towards the chateau.

The view towards the chateau.

This was a definite highlight for Dave and myself, never expecting to have the opportunity to see inside this magnificent tower, and our fellow guidees were equally as thrilled. It’s a sad fact that the Tour Grainetière is seldom used as François explained that the cost of having someone on hand to allow the public access to it at all times was just too high. The cost of heating the place in winter precluded holding functions here too, which is a shame. It’d make a great place for an art exhibition, perhaps? Still, we all felt extremely lucky that we’d been allowed access to one of Saumurs oldest buildings.

The tour was almost over, and we wound our way back to the hotel de ville, our starting point for the tour, as it was the starting point for Saumur as a town, many thousands of years before. On our way back, we were shown the house where Coco Chanel lived for a while in her youth. She lived above the shop where we’ve often bought gifts for our two nephews, and we never knew!

Very old houses were pointed out left and right, and ancient turrets here and there, with plaques attached to walls explaining why these houses are interesting. It was a fascinating insight to our town, and it made me realise once more how lucky we are to have it so close by.

This is a very condensed version of what we learned, and what we saw. The tour of Saumur in English takes place each Friday morning at 10am in July and August. It’s organised by the Cité de Saumur, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I spoke briefly with François after we’d finished our tour and was interested to learn that he’s available for tours via. the Cité outside of these dates, should there be sufficient interest. So, if any of our guests would like to retrace my steps through time, then let me know and I’ll give François a call.

Until the next time, au revoir!

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2009

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A Grand Day Out!

I’ve been a member of the Photoclub Vernantes for a few months now. I may have mentioned elsewhere that François the Indefatigable is club president? At one of the meetings held a couple of months ago in the depths of winter, we put our names down for a ‘randonée sur bateau’. Basically, a boat trip on the Loire, t’other side of Angers. We don’t get out much, and this opportunity came up to go pre-mad rush here at le Chant d’Oiseau, along with a lovely group of people. So, we said yes! Well, Sunday morning came and found Syb & I in the carpark out front of the Mairie in Vernantes along with a few other bleary-eyed fellow Photoclub members, waiting for the ‘off’ at 08:30. It’s strange being in the village that early on a Sunday as there seems to be more life then than at any other time! The stall selling fresh Vendée oysters was doing a roaring trade in front of the church, people were to’ing and fro’ing to the boulangeries, and folks were standing chatting idly in the street. Buzzing!

Anyway, Syb & I elected not to share a car as planned by François, due to our possible need to travel back fairly sharpish in the event that we were needed back home as Sheila’s still not feeling 100%. So, we decided to follow François instead. Off we set on a beautifully clear morning, sunny and bright with the promise of a gorgeous day in front of us. The first stop was the Musée des Métiers at St. Laurent de la Plaine. Everyone piled out of cars and began assembling in front of the museum where we were greeted by our guide as he explained a little about this place. I can safely say that even though the whole visit was in French, (even though we numbered 5 anglais among us) this is a fantastic visit! We snapped away merrily as photo opportunities revealed themselves around every corner. We had a few ‘old-timers’ with us who happily explained some of the exhibits to us; how they worked, why they were so good and what they were used for. You know you’re getting on a bit when you actually remember seeing some of the exhibits around when you were a kid yourself!

The museum is located right in the centre of the village, next door to a boulangerie (handy if you forget your picnic baguette) and is housed in what used to be an old presbytery; the church being right next door and undergoing renovations as we type. Read a little of the history of the museum here. Fascinating stuff, and a real testament to the commune and its founders in keeping this rich history alive.

To say that we hugely enjoyed our visit is an understatement. It really did bring to life what this area was all about in the not too distant past, and we will revisit soon. It’s a ‘touchy-feely’ place, many of the exhibits are just dotted around the place, not kept beyond reach like so many we’ve been used to back in the UK.

We were told that there’d be a picnic on the banks of the Loire, weather allowing, and as we stepped out of the museum into the light, we were warmed by the sun and smiled as we thought of the picnic to come! This is where it all got a bit bizarre! Following François again in the lead Mégane, we wound our way back towards La Loire. In fact we could see it on our left as we toured villages, turning right here, left there and finally ending up on the levée. François turned right, heading down between  a couple of lovely old tuffeau-built houses. He jumped out of the car, letting his driver carry on, while he directed the mayhem of signing us all in the same direction. we ended up in a bit of a cul-de-sac behind the houses bordering La Loire. The parking was haphazard to say the least (one car managing to reverse into the one behind as we jostled for position!). All good-natured though, and the damage was inspected by our resident garagiste and pronounced ‘pas trop grave’, with a laugh. Having psyched ourselves up for a picnic au bord de la Loire, Syb & I were somewhat mystified to be waved up the driveway of the house we’d parked behind, along with (it has to be said) more than a few bewildered Photoclub members! The owners of the house, an elderly couple were greeted at their door by Jean-Louis and proceeded to bring tables and chairs from their kitchen! It was as if we’d just abandoned our cars in someone’s back garden, climbed out and proceeded to picnic en masse on their lawns. Oh, hang on, that IS what happened….

Rando sur bateau.

Rando sur bateau.

It turned out that Jean-Louis and the owner of the house were old workmates, and while unplanned, it wasn’t a problem at all and we were all welcomed like old friends too. The owner of the house even brought out bottles of his eau de vie for us to try! Everyone started to share their picnic foods along the tables, wine was uncorked and plastic cups handed out. We laughed, chatted, drank and conversed about a variety of things. This went on for a couple of hours (as they do) and finally we had to take leave of our hosts and make ready for part two ~ our trip on the river.

Bon appetit!

Bon appetit!

Bon appetit!

Bon appetit!

The boat trip départ wasn’t too far away, so we weren’t that late…we met up with our captain and guide, Jean-Patrick at Montjean-sur-Loire and climbed aboard! The weather was warm, but even if it wasn’t, la Ligériade has comfortable seating under cover, with walkways all along the side for those wanting a fresh-air view as you glide over the waters.

Le Capitan!

Le Capitan!

Jean-Patrick is funny. He obviously has a great affinity with the river, having grown up alongside it and working on it as well as in it all his life. He’s a raconteur, nature lover, historian and comedian all rolled into one. Although our French has come along enormously, it was still a test of our understanding, but we managed to catch alot of what he was saying. Jean-Patrick expertly steered the boat past houses on either side that were pretty, pointed out places of interest, showed us the terns dive-bombing the river in search of food the whole time, and gave us much to occupy those of us with cameras at the ready!

Loire fishing boat.

Loire fishing boat.

The Loire is very much a working river. There are stretches where it’s fished for the local delicacies of perch and sandre (pike-perch). Retaurants abound in the small towns and villages with menus of fresh, locally caught fish in butter sauces. Boats such as the one above provide a living up and down this stretch of the Loire. The fishermen rent stretches of the river to fish in. Jean-Patrick has been the ‘owner’ for many years of such a stretch not far from the village of La Possonière. He’s been a little bit of a ‘visionary’ in that he’s seen the way the traditional livelihoods are being eroded, and took the step to move into the tourism industry, just as many farmers in the UK (and elsewhere) have done in various ways, with varying degrees of success. Jean-Patrick’s is a success story, due in no small measure to his unbounding enthusiasm, and passion for his subject.

Pecheurs.

Pecheurs.

These two men were enjoying the peace and quiet of a Sunday afternoon on the Loire in their boat. Until jean-Patrick steered us a repectable distance away for a photo shoot! You can imagine what they must have been saying about 25 photographers looking down their lenses at them? Still, they were good-natured enough to wave ‘au revoir’ as we motored off upstream to leave them to their rod and line.

Tranquility

Tranquility

This house right by the river has been flooded many times. It may look so calm and peaceful, idyllic even, but in times of rising water along the length of La Loire it must be so stressful for the owners on the ‘wrong’ side of the levée! We’ve seen the results in local news items on the news and in the papers, of what the floods can do. Indeed, after the boat ride, we meandered back home via a pretty little village with a church carved partially from the rock. Right there, by the church walls was a depth gauge showing where the various floods had reached. Some of the houses bore signs of the water damage from the last big flood here, in 2006. Cracks were evident in the masonry, and there seems to be many of the homes freshly re-rendered paid for probably by the insurance agencies. The Loire is essentially still a ‘wild’ river in the sense that it’s pretty much left to its own devices, uncontrolled by man. There’s a levée, man-made, that runs along much of the northern shoreline, but it’s often impossible to continue it fully, and where the gaps occur, there are tales of flooding disasters.

So, while it’s a Grand Day Out on the river for the tourists like us, for many of the locals, the river remains a constant threat to their homes and their livelihoods.

A sobering sight after a trip on the boat!

A sobering sight after a trip on the boat!

This is the depth marker on the wall of the church in Béhuard, south west of Angers. The bottom marker is from 2006, the top one from 1919, while just below it is the depth marking the floods of 1982. I remember seeing a similar gauge on the sheer cliff walls by the side of a road which carved through the Hérault valley, in the Languedoc. The river was at least 20m below us, while the gauge marked a point 11ft above the road! Incredible that so much water can fall from the skies isn’t it?

Of course, such an event as a day out can be really tiring for the little ones…

A tiring time on the boat...

A tiring time on the boat...

Walking around pretty villages can be tiring, even for the not-so-little ones. Syb passed a quiet few minutes asleep on the river, while François and I took pictures of her! No doubt she’ll not hear the last of this for some time to come! Bless!

There’s more to tell, so I think I’ll recount the rest of the trip along with a few more images in another ‘blog! Suffice to say, we enjoyed our Grand Day Out enormously! Hopefully we’ll be able to make a few more trips out with the Photoclub over the course of the year.

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2009

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Firstly, my sincerest apologies. It’s been far too long since I posted any updates. I know family & friends have been waiting with bated breath so I expect most of them are either dead by now or gotten bored and sauntered off to the bar.

Where to begin? It’s been so long, so much has happened and we’ve become so accustomed to life here now that it seems like I’m actually starting afresh with the Blog. From an entirely new perspective as it were. The last time we spoke, it was coming up to our second Christmas away from the UK, with all the heartaches that follow. Well, it didn’t go too badly as a matter of fact. Mainly due to the fantastic support of good mates who teamed up to come over for New Year and the brave souls who ventured south to the Loire as paying guests. Christmas & New Year came & went without too much ado and the New Year started off very promising, with guests calling in on their way south at a regular pace. Caravaner’s are a curious breed. Not strange, as there’s a part of the Nomad in most of us, just curious. They up sticks and leave loved ones behind at times like Christmas & New Year in search of fun, sea (sometimes), adventure (usually) and better weather….

Anyway, moving swiftly on….oh, ok. You want to know about the weather? Well this winter was one of the wettest here in France for a very long time. Rivers burst, lakes were overflowing and the fosses (roadside ditches) that hadn’t seen water in 15 years were actually flowing. With a current! In fact, if I still had my Action Man, he’d have been strapped into a canoe and force fed down said fosses being beaten with a stick to make him go faster.

Anyway, winter came & went and now the sun’s generally shining. March & April are cracking months here. The past few years we’ve either been here visiting Le Chant d’Oiseau or living here have given us brilliant weather in February, March & April, while May has brought wind and showers. Still, it’s twenty-to June now and the weather’s on the up. The pool’s been used already. We had some sturdy kids from the UK over camping at Easter and they begged me to get it ready for them. It was 20 degrees in there though which isn’t bad!

We’ve made some good friends over the period of time that we’ve been apart dear reader. We’re really fortunate to have John & Mary North as neighbours and we’ve become really good pals. They’re from Bratferd you see. That’s why they have the audacity to drive a blue van instead of French Standard Issue White…John & Mary also introduced us to Bernard and Mauricette Percevault who we’d like to think are good friends of ours. I’ll tell you all about Bernard, the duck and the bike in the fosse the next time we speak. Until then…

Au Revoir.

TBC.

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2007.

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When you move to a different district, or town, or maybe even a different county it’s often difficult to maintain the contact with family & friends that you’d otherwise have. It’s harder by far when you’ve moved to a different country altogether. They say it’s the age of cheap travel nowadays courtesy of Messrs. Ryanair, BMiBaby et al but to be honest, it’s still an expensive ‘do’ when you factor in the hiring of cars, fuel, nights out, shopping for the family ‘neccesities’ back home…We went back to Blighty the weekend before last to help celebrate a good friend’s 50th birthday. We met up with loads of pals there and enjoyed a night of drunken debauchery (or so I’m told…) before driving back down to Yorkshire to see my parents and sisters, and their new husbands. We also surprised another set of old pals by upsetting the game of cards they’d been happily arguing over before we arrived on their doorstep. A very pleasant evening ensued before we departed in the early morning for Stansted and the delights of the unfathomable level of security recently implemented there. Even Ryanair are complaining about it. It’s only this one airport in the UK that’s paranoid to this level. Anyway, not even that could dampen the warm, fluffy feeling of seeing loved ones again, only the thought of when we’d next be in a position to see them all could do that.

You see, my two sisters both got wed this year. They’ve both been engaged to the same pair of lovely lads for quite some time, and we’d been urging them to tie the knot for ages before they announced the dates. They chose last year to announce the dates. The very year we said ‘au revoir Angleterre’, the year we took our big plunge into the unknown. Both in the same year, one at the beginning of our busy period, and the other as the end of it! Inconsiderate pair, eh? Anyway, they’re both happily wed now, and we do keep in touch. We’re very close in our family, and always have been. The Internet is a marvellous tool for keeping in touch, and my younger of the two sisters devotes quite a bit of time to it instead of being a receptionist within a very busy General Practice. She then prints off my missives to circulate around the rellies! We’ve also started writing letters, yes, proper letters with joined up writing and stamps and everything. We’re now probably in danger of being soundly beaten when we do get back to the UK, as we’re making people write back too. Properly. Honestly, I’d spend hours sat at my PC communicating electronically with a mate who lived over the road! Seriously! We met them at the birthday bash last weekend too, and they said the same. How ridiculous is that?

Anyway, in this modern-day age of Internet, txtspk, and skype (‘Google’ it…), I received a text from the older of my two sisters, asking me to call her tonight. Nothing was wrong, but could I give her a ring? So, after the usual Wednesday rush of dropping Niall off at footy practice, then rushing back to pick up Syb & Hannah in order to drop them off 6 miles in the opposite direction for Classe de Danse, I gave my sis a call. I couldn’t spare her the time to chat for ever, as it’s Wednesday, and I had to remind Liam to put the quiche & pizzas in the oven (Wednesday night is quiche & pizza night) before rushing off to pick up Niall from footy practice and drop him back here before rushing off again to pick up Syb & Hannah from Classe de Danse. You’re still with me, right? Then we had no diesel, so we had to go to the garage because there won’t be time at 7:15 in the morning when I’m taking Hannah to Collège in Saumur for 8am, before doubling back to drop Niall off at École in Longué for 8:30. We have to do this otherwise Niall wouldn’t get to school as the bus picks him up while we’d be almost at Saumur….Anyway, I’m going to be an uncle. I’m very, very happy about that.

Until next time,

Au Revoir.

TBC.

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006.

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So sorry that we haven’t posted an update in such a long time, we’ve been busy you see? Syb & I finally moved into our new bedroom on the 14th May. It was a Sunday. The kids, (well Hannah & Niall) had been in theirs for a few weeks previous. We’d been determined to have just one last ‘push’, a combined effort on two fronts prior to the defence of the campsite and gites from the massed hordes of holidaymakers waiting just across the channel….sorry, that’s ‘The Longest Day’…wrong movie! Anyway, we got the kids’ rooms decorated and bedroom furniture erected and they were in there, revelling in their new surroundings, while Syb & I were feeling the pressure to move out of Goldfinch (our ‘baby gite, remember?), and into our new room before our next lot of guests arrived. After several long days spent plastering, sanding, painting, re-plastering, varnishing etc. at 11:30pm after just having finished making the bed, Syb & I sat with legs dangling from our dormer window drinking large G&T’s. Actually, when I said ‘making the bed’, I really did mean ‘making the bed’. One of those flat-pack things from Sesame. Great bed, comfy as hell! We’d passed the component parts and the mattress through the open dormer windows and built it up, made it with our fresh, new bedding and in we were. A triumph of mind over matter!

So, there we were with some semblance of normality as a family. For the first time in almost a year, we were all of us under the same roof. Er, except for Liam! Liam was largely out of the equation as he’d accepted a job with a well-known camping holiday provider on the west coast of France, and was living over at Les Sables d’Olonne. That gave us a bit of ‘grace’ as we knew that he wasn’t due back at Le Chant until the first week in September! We had loads of time to get his room finished!

Anyway, we were by this time fairly busy with guests, both in the gites and on the campsite. Things were indeed looking up.

Actually, we’d been reasonably busy for quite some time. We’d had a steady stream of guests stay with us all through winter, some who returned a few weeks or months later on their way back from the south just to see how we’d got on. All were surprised by the amount we’d managed to get done in the short time we’d been custodians of Le Chant. I say ‘custodians’ because with a house this old, that’s all you ever can be. No-one will ever own Le Chant truly, it’s something to be looked after, cherished and added to without detracting from its natural beauty in the lifetime that you share with it. It’s a home, sure. It’s a fantastic place to live, and we’re very proud of it, but I feel that we’re only ‘looking after it’. Anyway, I digress. Some of the guests we’ve had have been the most marvellous characters, full of stories of where they’d been, what they’d seen. It does actually make us quite envious sometimes of the way some folk can just ‘up & go’. Then again, we chat to them long enough and they in turn tell us of their envy that we live in such a beautiful place. So, it’s all swings & roundabouts really. Remind me to tell you next time of some of the delightful people we’ve had through the gates at Le Chant d’Oiseau, it has been a priviledge to meet them all.

Until then, au revoir.

TBC.

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