Thursday, 29 January 2009

January Jottings

Like most people I am sure, it is hard to believe that January is almost over. As mentioned in an earlier post, I began the new year hoping to do some de-cluttering and begin some 'deep cleaning' apparently we do not spring clean anymore. So as it is not Spring yet deep cleaning sounds more to the point.

I have to say that I have not got very far and did not particularly expect to, but I have been very ruthless in getting rid of stuff. I began by sorting videos and DVDs. We had nearly 200 free DVDs (from our newspaper) and I managed to whittle it down to 170. The rest I knew we would never watch. From those that are left there are a number of very good costume drama series, classics and wildlife plus some good old films. Some of the good series we opted to send away for at a small cost rather than take a trip to the local store with a coupon every day.

Added to that dozens of bought DVDs, either by us or for gifts. We have begun to copy the videos that I want to keep onto disc, taking up less space and preparing for the fazing out of video recorders. Alan tells me that never in my lifetime will I watch them all. Whether I do or I don't it is nice to be able to choose something that fits the mood. My favourites I will already have seen at least once.

With that finished I began on our store room. Now if there was ever an opportunity to be ruthless this was the place. I cannot tell you how many bags went to the charity/thrift shop. We have decided to sell our stamp collection which I began as a small child and Alan took over when we married. This frees up one whole shelf. The albums have not been touched in years. We are fortunate to have a Pastor friend who deals in stamps so we know we can trust him with valuing our collection.

I have also decided to call it a day for knitting. I am having some upper back pain and knitting is not helping. Clearing out all my wool and patterns and needles has freed up 2 large drawers. This has all found a home in our school. I am hoping that in doing this I will be inspired to finish all the embroidery that I have started.

I have also recently given away everything pertaining to my watercolour painting, silk painting and calligraphy, keeping only the craft items I use for making greetings cards. That in itself takes up one whole wall of my art room.

We had a surplus of language books and tapes, Russian, German, French and Spanish and are keeping only the current ones in use. Alan is the linguist, not me.

Above the many shelves that line the walls of this store room, we have all the cupboards from a previous kitchen. Wonderful to have but how easy it is to fill them up ' just in case'. Why do we need so much picnic stuff now there are only two of us for instance?

It feels very satisfying to have some space and to know that what is left is what we use. I completed the job last night by shampooing the carpet in there and afterwards enjoyed watching the second half of one of my Christmas presents - a DVD of my favourite book as a teenager - Anne of Green Gables. Must get Anne of Avonlea now as I loved it so much.

In the midst of this mammoth task life has gone on as usual and last Sunday I cooked dinner for 15 as I was playing host to those that could make it from our house church.

The weather since New Year has been pretty awful with lots of rain, frost and ice but occasionally interspersed with a little sun. Severe weather has been forecast for this coming week with snow and winds from the Arctic. Maybe I will get to start on some 'deep cleaning'!

Around La Barre - France Pt. 4

I mentioned earlier that La Barre was a tiny Hamlet of just 5 dwellings set 3 kilometers from the main road, so as much as we could visit many interesting places, we loved staying around the locality. I think it was the quietest and most peaceful area we had ever spent time in, particularly in siesta time.

Here you see the only road through the Hamlet
Our friend's farmhouse was to the left and a little behind
where this photo was taken from

We could cycle for a whole afternoon on roads like this and never see a car. Once or twice we saw a tractor or delivery vehicle.

We were able to walk for miles directly from the farm and enjoy routes like this with nothing more than dragon flies and birds for company. We walked across fields just full of wild Thyme and other fragrant herbs. It would not suit me as an everyday lifestyle but wonderful for a holiday.

Over the bridge (in the centre of the photo) and we are almost back at the farm

We stayed in the farmhouse for most of our visit but the gite was vacant for our last 3 days so we opted to stay there and give our friends some space as one of their sons had come to visit. I would not dream of invading their privacy by showing the inside of the farmhouse but here are a few pictures of the gite that was converted from part of the barn.
I am glad to know from all the comments that you have enjoyed this little peep into some of the heart of rural France.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Out and About from La Barre - France Pt.3

Now for a little 'out and about' again in rural France. There are very few photos as I was not a blogger at the time of these visits (2002) and I was getting used to my new digital camera, taking many of my pictures with my old 'instant'.

Here we are visiting the Chateau Touffou with it's two 12th century Keeps and it's four Round Towers linked in the 16th century by the Renaissance building. The gardens are a mixture of French and English.

The English style garden

Here we are visiting Chauvigny, the walled upper part of the town set on the hillside. Full of history. Theseignory and consequently barony of Chauvigny belonged to the bishops of Poitiers from the 11th century - a chauvinois family provided Poitiers with 3 bishops at this date - up until the French Revolution of 1789. During the hundred years war the French King, John II, stayed in Chauvigny on the eve of his ill-fated battle of Poitiers-Maupertius against Edward II, the Black Prince, in 1356.
Captured and laid in ashes by the English in 1369, Chauvigny was liberated by Duguesclin but was re-taken by the Duke of Clarence in 1412. Recaptured by the French 15 years later, the Scottish mercenaries of Charles VII were entrusted with the protection of the half-ruined baronnial chateau. Hostilities resumed with the advent of the French wars of religion, when the baronial chateau - became a Hueguenot stronghold - was siezed firstly by the king, then by Coligny, who had it burnt in 1569. World War II also created ruins here as it was shelled by the retreating German armies in 1944.
I wonder how many photographs of this ancient town would be in my possession if I went back today. Sorry I can only show you 1 here. We found an amazing English style tea shop in the lower town selling just about every kind of tea one could think of with every tea having it's own individual drawer. That would certainly be on my list as a blogger!

And here, the centre of Poitiers, a town with 2000 years of history and the best Morroccan restaurant where we had the most delicious chicken with chickpeas and couscous. What else in a genuine Morroccan eating place.

And here the Chateau Royal in Blois, visited during a stop-over on our way home. During more than 4 centuries, a succession of Kings and Queens of France made their royal residence one of the great masterpieces of French architecture. Lois XII rebuilt this chateau, blending the late Gothic style with Italian art

Note the famous staircase tower built by Francois 1st. I cannot imagine having to use an outside staircase when moving between floors. One of the Rothschilds mansions in England has these staircases but they were sensible enough to glass them in!
Do stay tuned for one more post on this trip but it will be locally at La Barre, where we were staying this time.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Angles sur L'Anglin France Pt.2

We are visiting one of the most beautiful medieval villages in France. Angles sur L'Anglin gets it's name from the Angles, the Saxon tribe that invaded England in the 5th century.

It is about an hour's drive from where we are staying and by sheer coincidence an artist friend of ours is running a 2 week painting holiday here, so we made it our first port of call on this trip. Phil was also my art teacher for a while so I begin with a photo of one of my paintings, not done in situ., but from a photograph at home.

Here we are visiting Phil and his wife Pam at the chateau where the art course is taking place. The guests who are Phil's students from England, spend the morning painting the scenery around the village. They then have a few hours off in the afternoon to swim or relax before back to painting in a studio before dinner, which usually takes place outdoors, at one of the market place restaurants. Pam & Phil used their R & R time to show us around so do come with us, you won't be disappointed. The temperature is in the mid 80's f.
If you double click you will see Alan in the centre of the photo with Pam.

Ruins of Chateau Guichard which dominates the village

Stay tuned for Part 3

Monday, 12 January 2009

Into Rural France - Pt 1

Do come and join me on this journey into the heart of rural France over the next few posts. Having left home at 6.30 am we took the shuttle train under the channel (see last post) arriving in Calais at 11.0 am and drove through France arriving at our destination at 7.45 pm. The temperature was in the mid 80's and we were so glad to be driving our newly acquired car which had air conditioning, a first for us. It is July 2002 and the journey has been good apart from 2 wrong turnings while negotiating our way around Paris and then missing the by-pass around Poitiers and driving through the town centre in the rush hour.

We are staying with English friends who now live in France some 45 kilometers South East of Pottiers. Tony and Ruth bought a small farm and dilapidated farm house and have spent 10 years converting it to the lovely place we see here today. Initially Tony moved to France with one of his sons doing the work himself while Ruth, who is a doctor,stayed in the UK to earn the money with which to do it. At the time the only way up to the top floor of the house was via. and outside step ladder. Once the house was in order they then worked on turning part of their barn into a Gite for rental. This small Hamlet of just five dwellings is about 5 kilometers from the main road.

We will be out touring the area but for today I will take you around the grounds.

The Farmhouse

The Barn and Gite

Scenes from the back of the house and garden. Gardening is a hobby of Ruth's and I found it interesting to see how she managed to tame large areas of farmland into some beautiful rural gardens, especially in an alien climate.

Looking back towards the house from one of the fields

Milk sheep just sheared. If one does not use the land in France then high taxes have to be paid on it. I am not a milk lover so I visited the local supermarket (13 miles away) to buy my skimmed milk

Walking down to the lake that Tony had made in order to stock with fish for the fishermen that came to stay at the gite.

If you double click you will see that man who even manages to get into French pictures on the far bank.

An evening sunset
I think one of the main memories of this garden was lying listening to the enormous frogs that croaked all night

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

A Trip Under the Sea bed

Before I take you under the sea bed, let me show you how different our garden pond looks at the moment. Solid ice. We have had below freezing temperatures since the New Year. Snow then a slight thaw, then a freeze over and then snow on ice which makes for very slippery pavements. I managed my first walk in 4 days today. It was easier to walk in the park as snow and ice on grass is not slippery but crunchy. Snow is brilliant to walk on but ice not so.

The waterfall is freezing as the water runs down

However the Bergenia is a nice contrast
I was wondering where to take you at the beginning of this new year. No, I am not going travelling but digging into the archives. I thought a sojourn into the middle of rural France might be nice.
It will take a few posts but before commencing with that I will show you how we choose to cross the channel. We use the drive on shuttle. Foot passengers have to use Eurostar but this is a quick way if taking the car.

These particular photos are none too clear as they were taken in 1996 when the tunnel first opened and before I had a digital camera, but I did not take any on subsequent trips so these are the best I have.

We have had coffee in the terminal building, checked in before passing through customs and security etc., and here we are waiting in the queue for the next train. Much, much busier these days.

We drive down the ramp and onto the train. These trains are so long that they have different entry points. As you can see, the train goes straight into the tunnel and the beauty of having all the customs, security and imigration taken care of before the flight, we drive straight off the train and onto the motorway on arrival.

This is our first journey on Le Shuttle and as there were no buses boarding we were able to drive into the spacious carriages used by buses. The train in general has an upper and lower deck and are half the height of what you see here.

You can stay in the car or get out, but as there is nowhere to go most people just stay in their car. The journey takes 40 minutes, 25 of those under the sea bed.

Alan points out that this is on the return journey because he is wearing a different shirt. The people in the car behind were Americans and as we had recently returned from time in the States we had much to talk about. The shutters you see behind this car come down between every six cars throughout the whole of the train, they are fire doors. One can walk through the double swing fire doors to use the toilets.

The only other way to take the car to France is on a ferry and some are seen here in the Port of Calais.
Stay tuned for the trip which took place in 2002.