On Bricole avec les Bradleys

With the departure of the Cholseys we need to turn the house around for the arrival of Marian, Katharine and David.  Their stay at 104 is a more or less annual event and we look forward to welcoming them and we know that they enjoy their down time in St Vaast.  As in recent years we receive them and spend a night together, then Nick and I head for Paris where we can bed down in the apartment that belongs to our friends and good neighbours, the Tuttles.    We love their little basement flat which is hidden in a gated and wardened complex of apartments on the edge of Pigalle.  We have planned an itinerary which will take us north and south on train journeys to towns we do not know.

Meanwhile the Bradleys settle into their usual rooms and, I expect, look forward to some R and R since they are all working people.  During their sojourn in St Vaast they will take time out to make their own journey of discovery and drive themselves to Versailles where, after their visit, they will spend a night in a hotel nearby.  Towards the end of their holiday Nick and I return to St Vaast to spend a couple more days in their company.

On the day of our return we are treated to dinner at Au Moyne de Saire, the favoured restaurant of the Perrymans but which we have always placed second to dinner at Les Fuchsias.  But the Bradleys ate at Les Fuchsias to celebrate David’s birthday the evening before and from their account of their meal Nick and I get the impression that fings ain’t wot they used to be at this famous hotel restaurant which is so favoured by visiting yachties.  Its name travels before its reputation.  Many of our English friends have heard of it.   We will have to check it out when we return in October.  As it is we have a thoroughly good meal at Reville.

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On Monday, their last day we are going to have Anne and Francois over for a salad supper.  Katharine will be able to practice her excellent French and Marian and Anne swap notes on crafty interests that they have in common.  During the afternoon we decide to have an outing and visit the snail farm at Fermanville.  Called Le P’tit Gris des Moulins it consists of a very basic compound within which the common Garden Snail is contained and reared.  Apart from providing the snails with a bran mixture to add to their normal diet the ‘elevage’ is one of the most basic I have seen.  However, before the big reveal in the small compound, we make a circuit of the woodland and glades.  Painted boards carrying paintings and text expound the life history of the humble snail, its predators.  There are verses, facts and myth.    We end our visit in the small shop where assorted snaily preserves and condiments are sold.  Time is pressing so I forgo the pleasure of buying a pot of something to wow or horrify a future hapless visitor until another time.

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And so it is Tuesday and time to wrap it up.  Our computers have received the Bradley health cure, a spring clean of the innards and all manner of tweakings and downloadings have taken place.  Nick has probably learnt a new trick or two.  We have had some good eating together and a catch up on each other’s lives and I think we all hope it will not be another year before we find an opportunity to convene.

Entre Deux Fleuves

We arrived at Gare de Lyon in very good time for our booking on the TGV train bound for Lyon Perrache.  We have booked ourselves (with help in the choosing thereof by Claire) into a small hotel for an overnighter on the Presqu’ile which passes between the Rivers Saone and Rhone.  Our seats are on the upper deck which gives us a great view over the countryside as it speeds past.  It has a maximum speed of ~350mph.

Arriving at Lyon it was a short walk to Hotel Vaubecour for which you gain entrance via a door off the street into a vestibule, through some double doors where you take the lift to the first floor.    Before showing us to our room the hotel proprietor spent a good 10 minutes marking routes and recommendations on a map and how helpful was that!  We at lunch at an excellent café-restau round the corner.  We walked north and crossed a bridge to find ourselves in the heart of the old town.  At the tourist centre we bought City Passes which would cover all our transport needs, including a guided river cruise and entrance to all the museums.

Without delay we took the funicular up the hill to visit the Basilica and then on to the Gallo-Roman museum which is stuff full of goodies including mosaics, statuary, glass, ceramics, artefacts, coins……….  You enter the museum at the upper level and spiral down through the collections to emerge at ground level into the amphitheatre.

We hoped to take in the Musee des Tissus/Musee des Arts Decoratifs  but we arrived at the end of the afternoon with the ticket office closed.  So we repaired to the hotel to get ready for dinner, at the famous Chez Georges Brasserie, recommended by Ty.  It feels like a restaurant laid out on a railway concourse,  rows and rows of tables cheek by jowl and it was filled with the world and his wife and intermittently the lights dimmed as birthday cakes were delivered to celebratory tables and much applause.  We are glad to be part of a tradition that has endured since 1836.  We wondered if there might be any chance of our making their duo centennial anniversary!

Although our hotel fitted the bill in many respects we would have loved a bit of air-conditioning.  The night was very warm and we slept poorly.  But it was only one night.  The following day we acquainted ourselves yet further with Lyon.  We stumbled upon the market and such fabulous produce, the vivid colours, and it does put our St Vaast market a bit in the shade.  But that’s the sunny south for you.  I bought a bargain batch of 8 fat garlic bulbs for 2 Euros.

At 10 a.m. we were waiting at the river cruise ticket office,  ready to book ourselves on the 11 o’clock when it opened.   The trip was excellent, taking in the old Lyon river frontages and hinterland motoring north and then we turned and cruised south towards the confluence which we had not anticipated seeing.  Much of the development there is situated on reclaimed land and the modern buildings though diverse, sit comfortably next to each  -the orange and the green!   There was definitely a joined-up feel to the concept and execution of that whole complex.

We ate lunch at Cafe Gadagne then visited the museum, taking a trip through Lyon history, glancing also at the temporary exhibitions on the Rose and world Marionnettes. We then took the Lyon metro out to Monplaisir-Lumiere and spent a good couple of hours at the Musée de l’Institut Lumière.   I knew nothing of the famous Lumière brothers Auguste and Louis and what remarkable men they were.  We owe them film, and the concept of commissioning film-makers to go abroad to make shorts, filming from a moving rickshaw for example as native children ran behind, laughing and careering from side to side in a tumble.  Early documentaries.  And we owe them colour photography – Autochrome preceded Kodachrome and the other processes that would follow.  The Institute is the former family home, with some lovely original wallpapers.  A gracious airy room with numerous windows and family portraits on the ground floor the family is called The Winter Garden.

So that was a hit, very much the best till last,  and feeling thoroughly cultured out we headed back to Bellecour for a stroll down rue Victor Hugo before we rounded up our bags, bought a sandwich and caught the train – very impressed with TGV, great views from the upper floor.

Parisian Pursuits

Between our planned city visits we spend a day of decourverte in Paris.  Allowing drizzle to ease off we left the flat at about 11 o’clock and rode the metro to Denfert Rochereau only to be confronted by a queue for the Catacombs which we had been hoping to visit.  Whilst we might have tarried a while when a rather surly doorman told us we could expect to queue for 3 hours we abandoned the idea.  We ate delicious boudin noir and mash at a nearby restaurant and ten took the metro to Trocadero where we had planned to visit Musee de Quai Branly principally for the vertical gardens which Marian had described to us.

But on the way we spotted Palais de Tokyo and, my, did we enjoy the art installations therein.   It is a building dedicated to modern and contemporary art and we loved it.  Especially the Henrique Oliveira ‘tree’ and the Venice Lagoon experience.

Time for a quick selfie with the Eiffel Tower then on to Branly and that building contains a fabulous collection of Oceanic, Asiatic, African and American primitive art.  The interior decor uses a terra cotta coloured leather as it’s principal raw material which is so earthy and atmospheric.  But the display cabinets are densely positioned and contain lots of objects and the route around is not easy to trace.  You have the unsettling feeling you might hae missed a chunk.Blog-ParisEiffelSelfie  This Museum will require a second bite as I loved the plethora of shelly artefacts and when we emerged at 1900h we were tired.  Feet beginning to blister – note to self I must buy a reeaallly comfortable pair of shoes.

Despite tempting ideas for terrace bars and riverside strolls flagged up by Claire we repaired to rue Victor Massy for a quick freshen then supper at Deux Cocottes.  (Thank you for all your Parisian serving suggestions Claire, oh for more hours…….energy  too 😉

 

A Li’l’ Trip to Lille

Leaving Normandy for a spell in Paris we managed to get timings haywire and so had rather a wait at Valognes to board a train for the three hour run into Gare St Lazare.  Settling into the tranquility of the Tuttle apartment we find all is in apple pie order.  Thank you Claire and Ty.  I had felt a real surge of pleasure as we stepped off the train – we are in Paris, one of the most desirable destinations in the world.  And we have friends who live here!  We go out for an early supper then go back to cards or our books and to plan our itineraries.  Excited.

The following morning we board a train from le Gare du Nord for a day trip to Lille.  Despite our friend Georgy’s reservations, amounting more or less to ‘what would there be there to interest us’ visiting Lille is part of a mission to see more of France and at least to see some of the principal towns and cities. 

Well, we made for Vieux Lille, enjoying old buildings along the way including the wonderful old Bourse.  I shopped here and there finding a great shop to buy the indelible white marker pens I need for my fancy slate plant markers.   We walked past mouth-watering Patisserie vitrines and wine shops.  Some nice clothes shops too.  I found La Case de Cousin Paul which sells light garlands which you can have made up in colours of your choice.  A great idea for the balustrade at The Old Workshop.  I bought gifts in bookshops to tuck away and best of all a coup de Coeur chapeau melon rouge, proposed by Nick and I will have to find the conviction to wear!

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After lunch and a look in the Cathedral we walked across to la Citadelle, a Vauban construction and walked round the ramparts.  You need to see some aerial shots to appreciate the magnificence of the design and construction.  As we walked the ramparts we spotted herons perched on the apices of the stellar-shaped walls.  At least two, motionless for so long we wondered if they CCTVs perhaps?  They stood at the apical corners of the stellar-shaped walls, staring down into the moat that we thought they were decoys shielding cameras! Then just when you thought they must indeed be artificial, a slight turn of the head convinced otherwise.

There are a small free zoo and lots of kiddy roundabouts in the adjacent grounds.  The innards of La Citadelle are home to the national Rapid Response corps attached to NATO.  We walked back into Lille, stopping at a very English salon de the for a pot of tea and it was too late to reach a suitable museum before closing.  However we did find that the inner courtyard of the Old Bourse was open and hosting a small flea market where I bought a french translation of Sarah Waters first novel Caresser le Velours with a rather beguiling cover, which is really why I bought it, and to lend!  CaresserLeVelourscoverimageFrightfully good lesbian author who has been Booker nominated.   So we sat and drank wine and nibbled shared apero and read our novels in the main square, and then we found a rather good restaurant with a colourful cast.  We were greeted by the dandy owner, he of a high pitched chuckle and a generously rounded shadow; a curious diminutive maître d, with a crayon or two missing from his pencil box and who might have been otherwise employed in a circus; an attractive butch blonde sommelier; and two pretty young things as waitresses.  We ate well, I loved the rognons de veau Sauce Robert and even though he orders it whenever he sees it Nick on a menu Nick could not resist the 7 hour-cooked gigot.  As we were on a set menu, cheese was de rigueur and cafe gourmand could not be shunned.  We had 20 minutes to ask for the bill and get our train, necessitating a brisk walk.  A great day and we walked our socks off, which was just as well given our calorie intake.

The JACS Experience

When I get back to the house after my walk there is no time for the luxury of a hot bath and feet up with a good book.  Oh no…. the Cholseys’ ferry will be docking at Cherbourg around 8 o’clock and there is a welcome to prepare.  All the beds are made and it will be a question of putting some kind of spread on the table for them to graze.  When they burst through the front door there are hugs and greetings and then they spill out of the back door and I hear the unmistakeable sound of the little red and yellow plastic car being ridden around the terrace.  The little vehicle is iconic, they have all been playing with it since the earliest St Vaast days………… 10 years ago………… when Sam was 4!  These days they squeeze into the driver’s seat and the older children push the younger ones around.  The little red car is intermittently whizzed around the terrace for the duration of their visit and sometimes we have to call a halt when we struggle to hold a conversation against a background of noisy trundle.

We have 10 days ahead of us.  In this time we will spend time at the beach, joined by the Tuttle children for water play and cricket.  The Tuttle children also join our lot chez eux; they have a great afternoon playing Mölkky, a Finnish throwing game which is a bit like skittles, and delving in Claire’s dressing up box.  The Tuttles entertain us to an evening BBQ where I get to have a go at dressing up too!  They love the game of Sardines and play this at both 104 and 125.

Barney takes the children climbing at La Glacerie.  We all chip in with inventive cookery; Joel and I make a squid curry for which the children come back for seconds and thirds (!) and Lukie makes a fab Beef Wellington.  Joel makes scotch eggs which are so yummy and he spends time with Nick preparing smoked mackerel for our famous pate.  One evening we have a Degustation of Fruits de Mer and the children gamefully try things they have not eaten before.  I have delved in the freezer and found a box of ready-prepared escargots which I grill and serve.  Amelie tries one and chews it thoughtfully.  She is rather inscrutable at the end of it, I am not sure if she liked it or not, but I think she is pleased to have tried.

All too soon their holiday is at an end.  They have been with us just over a week and it has whizzed by.

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An Arduous Experience; a Trial of Endurance

It was fine and sunny when Anne, Tatane and I set off from St Vaast to drive across the Cotentin to set up a coastal walk.  We dropped Tatane’s car at Anse des Moulinets which is due south of Jobourg.  Anne then drove north to drop Tatane and me at Goury (a port famous for the number of sea rescues carried out here) on Cap de La Hague.

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Our walking route would then take us due south to Nez de Jobourg before we would turn east to walk what I deduced to be the final third of our course.

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As we set off the sun was shining and the temperature was rising.  We made our way along lanes to La Roche after which we left habitation and started to climb along the cliff path.  The close map contours which run along the coast foretell the nature of the walk ahead.  With the heat rising I am now overheated and will remain so until the journey’s end which will be four and a half hours ahead.  The path rises and falls often and its surface is potentially unsteadying.  Thank goodness I have my walking pole.  Out in the sun I feel the heat on my face and luckily Tatane suggests that I wrap my scarf over my head and round my neck, to be held in place by my cap.  There is some relief when we get to Baie d’Ecalgrain but shortly after we reach a point where the path climbs unrelentingly to Nez de Voidries where there is a restaurant on the cliff top.  That long haul is a slog and I have to take frequent breaks.

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Once on the headland, looking back you can see Baie d’Ecalgrain and this headland is separated by Anse de Senival from Nez de Jobourg – a listed bird sanctuary.  Surrounded by reefs, this long, rocky and barren promontory is the most impressive of those to be found along the cape of La Hague.  The terrain and aspect here are rugged and exposed.

We sit amongst the populace who have converged here, they, for the most part, having been served by the only road that brings vehicles to this headland.  The former Semaphore has been converted into a restaurant, Auberge des Grottes.  We sit and I drink some coffee from my flask and nibble a biscuit.  I am just too hot to eat although I later think that I should have done, to provide a few calories.

Moving on from the two Nez the footpath zigzags and constantly rises and falls, often steeply.  It is unforgiving and my overheated body has to rest at very short intervals.  Tatane is amazingly supportive, she keeps a steady pace and to my amazement when we come to a particularly steep bit of the path, she runs up it!  It is evident she is more resistant to the heat and she puts this down to years spent in Africa.

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Arriving at Anse des Moulinets I rest by the gated slipway, at the foot of the flight of steps that will bring me to the parked car. Blog-JourneysEnd2

This eastward route has seemed to take forever and without relief and when I study the map later I see that the red path we followed is very wiggly and rather more so than the southern route to the two Nez.  More than once I have vowed never again……….. and what I mean is I will never willingly undertake such an exacting walk in blazing sunshine.  Sitting in the car I eat my sandwiches and it is not long into our homeward drive that my body calms down and I begin to feel less like a very old lady.

My F Words

F is for France, Friends, Food and Fun because that is Filling these early August days.    On Friday evening Fefe and Francois invite us to a light supper of Lobster salad.  The following day finds us enjoying a lunch with the Daniells and their friends on a very small boat moored in the marina.  Then on Sunday I meet up with Claire and Emma at 05.45 hr to walk the sand flats in St Vaast on a grande maree.  We find no stray Pecten maximus on this little foray but do pick up some interesting holed shells which can go towards the stash we are accumulating for stringing tree decorations.  On Monday evening Ty and Claire come across to eat a Squid curry with us and play a hand of Spite and Malice.

As weather permits I have been busying myself in the garden and Nick has been replacing the gravels in the potager area with a consignment of nice white chips.  He has raked over and laid some black plastic fabric down to suppress the weeds and we must try and stay on top of keeping it clear.

On Thursday we are invited to a soiree at Le Vast.  Alain and Martine’s house is, to intents and purposes, finished and after they have endured a long building slog I can well imagine how relieved they must feel and pleased with the result too.  Earlier in the day I spent some time at Le Dranguet with Anne and Tatane.  During this afternoon interval I volunteered to join Tatane on a coastal walk that she would be doing on Friday.  We worked out that I could fit this in before the Cholseys were due to arrive in St Vaast.  Little did I know what feat of endurance I was laying myself open to……