Sunday, 24 June 2007

Depressed

Ah, well. Back a week and thoroughly fed up.

Full week's work last week (groan) although the bank manager will be happy since I'll be getting paid once again. But very tiring. I have been drinking the excellent tea I brought back from France, and on the way to the client's I bought apricot jam and unsalted butter on Monday, and have been buying fresh bread each day to have my jam rolls, but of course it isn't the same.

First weekend back to normal. It is J's birthday next week and she has been hankering after some walking shoes (she didn't really have the right gear on holiday, so she said) so we popped to Blacks yesterday and got her a really smart pair of Merrell shoes. Most expensive in the shop.

Next, our iron fell apart last week. Still heats beautifully, unfortunately fell apert! So off to John Lewis in Southampton to buy a replacement. Again, we opted for the most expensive in the shop.

Whilst over in Southampton we popped over to Hedge End to get the grogeries in (in theory this would leave Sunday entirely free). So, without having done anything, really, yesterday ended up costing me about £400.

The amount of things we did we were basically out of the house all day, which wasn't a bad thing since the weather was terrible all day (been very sunshine and showers all week). And, as I say, doing everything in one day left today free.

Only thing is, the weather has been even worse today! Imagine "sunshine and showers" without the sunshine, and you'll have an idea. The one thing I have managed to do is to hang up my new lovely brass thermometer/barometer/hygrometer, which still looks great. I've tuned the tidal clock into Redbridge, which is about the closest tidal point to here. Of course it won't really be useful until we live by the sea....

Saw "Coast" on tv last night, they had the Isle of Man. Looked like a lovely place to visit. Maybe  one time when Alice is staying up at Grandma's...

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Homeward

Sumptuous meal at the Grand Hotel last night - lobster followed by beef followed by "decouverte chocolat". Even the childrens' menu was split into courses so A. felt she was having a "proper" French meal. The restaurant appeared quite busy to start with (the best restaurants have, I think, a relaxed air about them, which I think hotel restaurants have difficulty matching) but quietened down (or did wine consumption come into it?)

Totally knackered by the time we headed back to the suite, basically just opened the window wide to go to sleep to the crashing of the waves on the shore.

Awake again at 6am, the waves still crashing and the sun streaming in - a beautiful morning. Took the opportunity to have a soak in the bath, by which time J. Was awake and we went for a bracing morning walk along the beach.

Upon our return A. was still crashed out, and had to be roused with the promise of a buffet breakfast. I think of all meals out, buffet breakfasts are her favourite because there is so much to choose from (most definitely true in this four-star hotel) and because A. Generally ends up making around four visits!

Fortunately the hotel lies only a five minute drive from the ferry, which meant that after breakfast it was relatively straightforward to get onto the ferry. As I write this entry, A. is amusing herself in the kids' play area (where she has been literally since we came up from the car) and J. Has just returned having exhausted the tiny boutiques on board. For me, there were a couple of nice white Lacoste shirts for work, but even though £40 apiece is very cheap for these things, they're nevertheless more than double the M&S price! Becoming a skinflint in my old age!

Might settle for buying a little chocolate and a fridge magnet from A. to our of our neighbours (who is always generous to A.).

Au revoir la France, jusqu'a la prochaine!

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Luxury

We woke Thursday to the patter of rain on the Velux windows. Through breakfast the sky remained grey and we abandoned our ideas of a local tour, and decided instead to head all the way across to Brest (some 2 hours away), both to see the city and to visit an oceanarium there.

The city itself was quite disappointing, very modern, although I suppose this was largely due to the war. Oceanopolis was better, but was marred by an argument with J.

Having come this far west, I wanted now to see the Atlantic, so we headed over to Le Conquet and Saint Mathieu. Despite driving through rain at Brest, the weather cleared as we got to the coast and we walked along the cliffs in brilliant sunshine. Must dig a photo out.

Late return back to the cottage, with the weather very changeable all the way.

Friday morning very much the same - very grey. I wanted quite a short day simply because this was our last day, so we'd need to start tidying and packing. Off then to the local town of Paimpol. We'd been here a couple of times previously but this was our first walk around the tiny streets. A lovely place (I got a traditional brass thermometer/barometer/hygrometer to rival the hi-tec gizmo that broadcasts onto the web) - somewhere I'd definitely go back to.

Having decided to do a quick local tour in the afternoon, the weather obligingly cleared up and we ended up at the coast north of Plougrescant, the Pointe du Chateau. Deep blue sea, white surf and pink granite rocks - I hope the photographs do us justice. Absolutely wonderful.

After a great day, A. ended up disgracing herself by going off on her bike somewhere - I had to go looking for her in the car. Even after all the publicity about Madeleine McCann, it falls on deaf ears. Bed without supper.

This morning was, of course, an early start to get packed. We've bought so much this last fortnight that it was a struggle indeed. Still, once packed we headed eastward....to do more shopping (and not a bad lunch) in Saint-Brieuc. Onward to Saint-Malo, poor weather all the way, to enjoy a final night of luxury at the Grand Hotel des Thermes (J. Has already raved about her visit to the thalasso centre, and A. has gone one better and has been for a dip in the sea.) We're hearing English tv here for the first time and about rain and floods! However changeable our weather has been in Bretagne it has clearly been better than home.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

What a difference...

...a day makes!

Two excellent days, but both very different to each other. After a lazy morning yesterday, we got the bikes out and rode, en famille, along the nearby coastline. Probably around 10km in all, with plenty of stops for photographs along the way. Terrain ranged from proper roads, to mud tracks, to the beach!

Complete with IGN map, we struck out south east until we hit the "coast" (actually looked like a salt marsh) and followed the path (the GR34 walking route) until we actually hit a beach at Laneros. Very sunny, hot and clear, we could easily see the Ile de Brehat and the Point de l'Arcouest, yesterday's visit. Many photographs, although the water itself looked almost stagnant and certainly not coastal as we'd expected.

Onward anti-clockwise around the coast, making our way back toward L'Armor. Past the Sillon Noir, and outcrop of black sand/pebbles which appears to be permanent. The
road at this point became a path (of course, meant for walkers) but was just about navigable on the bikes. However as we progressed, the pathway became sandy beach and
further riding proved impossible. Hot and flustered, we eventually arrived at the Sillon de Talbert.

This is a sand/pebble promontary which extends something like 5km into the sea, apparently a permanent fixture, and very well known hereabouts. And so of course, when presented with a challenge...

Sad to say it was very hot, and A. gave up to play in the sand close to halfway along, J. and I continued but we ourselves gave up probably three-quarters of the way to the end. Well, it was getting late...

Actually I found it very difficult to judge the distance along the sand. When we finally approached the car park at the start of the Sillon, I started counting the steps when I thought it looked 100 yards away...and ended up counting to 300! This
was our experience in general - the end didn't look too far away but didn't seem to get closer. Anyway, a challenge postponed for a couple of years.

Still sweltering (and for myself, having caught the sun), and quite fatigued, we endured the final five-minute cycle back to the cottage.

Out again a half-hour later, this time en voiture, to enjoy a meal on the quayside at Paimpol. The restaurant/meal really was magnificent (La Cotriade) - as agreed by all three of us. Highly recommended.

All in all, a very agreable day.

Contrast this with today, which started out grey as we journeyed westward to Perros-Guirec once again. Now, every day here is starting out grey, so I wasn't too concerned. However, today it just got greyer, and as we arrived there (just in time for lunch) it had started raining. Indeed, as we hastened into the nearest creperie, the rain looked somewhat torrential.

After lunch we embarked on our cruise out to Les Sept Iles, in a vedette packed out with a couple of French SAGA parties. Undeterred by the driving rain, all three of us found the islands very enjoyable. They appear to be a designated nature reserve, and many species of birds were in evidence. Most popular appeared to be penguins and puffins (both very cute!). Many photos, but a shame the day was so grey. Having paid for the "extended" tour, we even got to disembark at the Ile aux Moines. Nice to stretch our legs, even the rain stopped for a while.

Back onto the boat, we endured one more shower before the weather started to clear. Indeed, by the time we arrived back in port the weather was considerably better.

Onward to find a Salon de The in nearby Lannion, where we found not only what we were looking for, but much more besides. £150 of Descamps bedding and a trip to the local Jeff de Bruges later....

So as I write this I am utterly knackered, but at least there is blue sky outside.

Tomorrow's agenda is undecided. We might stay local (ish) and explore some more coves, the rockscape at Plougrescant and the nearby town of Treguier in a bit more detail.

But then tomorrow's another day... 

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Baghdad Burning

For the holiday I am currently reading a book "Baghdad Burning", which is the transcript of a young Iraqui blogger, Riverbend (riverbend.blogspot.com)

A. has picked up that I'm reading this book, and wants to know what it is about.

Answers on a postcard, what the hell do I tell her?

Memories

The thing I will take most away from this cottage is the cellar.

When I was a child, my grandparents lived in a big, old Victorian house, complete with stables and servants quarters. Of course, its cellars were enormous and a great place in which to have adventures.

In the 1990's, "progress" demanded that this beautiful old house be knocked down to make was for a modern apartment building.

But as I descend the cellar steps in this cottage, the smell I pick up along the way transports me those thiry years back to days gone by.

The gite so far

Let's see, where are we?

Well, Sunday was quite grey and we decided to combine a little exploring with the necessary task of getting some petrol - I know from experience that petrol stations in the French countryside can be few and far between, so didn't want to take any chances.

Mrs TomTom said that the nearest petrol station was in Paimpol, so there we headed. In addition to petrol, we found a lovely town with a beautiful marina (bordered by wonderful-looking fish restaurants - wish we'd found them the night before!)

Onward, though, to the Point de l'Arcouest, which is where the boats sail for the Ile de Brehat (www.vedettesdebrehat.com). A cruise around the island sounded quite a good idea, so we went to find out more. Stopped at the Point for lunch - the first Moules Frites of the week. Over then in the other direction to the town of Treguier, a beautiful old place reminiscent of Dinan. Beautiful cathedral. By then we were tired and the sky was grey, so we headed back to the cottage In fact we had a good old storm Sunday night, the weather being so grim I had to find out how to put the heating on in the cottage.

By Monday morning the weather had broken, and although it was still grey the storm had blown itself out. On the grounds that we might not get any better weather (the forecast for the entire week is not good) we decided to actually visit the Ile de Brehat. Wonderful tour around the island - beautiful rock formations and plenty of photograph material. And I feel so "alive" in the bracing, salty sea air. After sailing around the island, we landed and strolled to the Bourg in time for lunch. And, gradually, the weather cleared too. So much so that we spent a while in the afternoon playing on the beach, and the crossing back to the continent was blistering.

Out appetite for sailing having been thoroughly whetted, I drove on to the port of Perros-Guirec, where they operate trips out the the seabird sanctuary out at Les Sept Iles, and have booked a criuse for tomorrow.
The boat actually sails from the jetty at Tregastel, and there we found a beautiful sandy beach and a lovely bar in which to have a relaxing drink. There was also a hotel there, the Grand, which looked absolutely beautiful (and which was attached to a thalassotherapy centre). A future destination? Could be.

Homeward via Lannion, where we drove through the centre but didn't stop - looks to be another place worth a visit.

Today we are going to spend quietly, with a walk along the coastal path this afternoon, and perhaps a meal over in Paimpol this evening. Not as bright as yesterday but by no means bad weather.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Second Half

We are installed in the gite, and this is god's own country. Having unpacked the cases (carting them up not one, but two, flights of stairs in the process), we headed off to explore and ultimately found a rock/sand beach stretching as far as the eye could see. The weather brightened up nicely on our way up here so we had blue skies and bright sunshine too. Wonderful.

The small of the salt made me feel like fish for supper, so I offered to take the family out for supper. The only restaurant we found didn't exactly promise fish, but was Moroccan, a cuisine which we all like. As it was, the food was good but the service was slow. And this isn't just some ignorant Englishman speaking - I'm well acquainted with French restaurants and am all in favour of allowing food to digest between courses, but trust me, this place was s...l...o...w.

So anyway we came home just before 11pm, and it is just about dark now. Wonderful.

Can't wait to explore the beach some more, and hopefully unpack the kite tomorrow.

Muggy

Very muggy today, misty outside. A storm is brewing and is forecast for tomorrow, when we will be right at the seaside to witness it.

Nice meal in Rennes last night, a very-French pizza. Was feeling quite chilled until A. decided to knock a glass onto the floor. Sometimes I think she was better as a two-year-old.

Still, my induction into crash-course French met a new level, when I discovered that I would need to call for a taxi. Passed with flying colours. I don't know how good my French actually is, but I'm certainly able to make myself understood!

So, today J. is allowed to shop in Rennes until 1pm, after which time we must leave for the Cotes d'Armor, to take the keys off the owners at 4pm. When we went into Rennes last night the shops were just closing, so whilst there was an air of frustration at the time, I suspect all she was doing was building a hit-list for today.

Must close now. Everyone else seems finally sorting themselves out, I don't want it to be me who deprives them of 10-minutes vital shopping time.

P.S. - Had Lipton's "Soft Cashmere" tea this morning - absolutely delicious!

Friday, 8 June 2007

Halftime

Well, the first half of our holiday is over - we left Centerparcs today and have checked into a hotel in Rennes for the evening.

Tomorrow we head further westward into Brittany for a week. Since I wrote Tuesday, things have pretty much gone as planned. Tuesday we packed Alice off to Kids Club and Jacqueline and I ended up having a lovely, relaxing drink in the golf clubhouse at Centerparcs.

Wednesday was busy, as expected. We caught the train into Paris Montparnasse, on a beautiful sunny day, and the first thing we did was to ascend La Tour Montparnasse. If ever you want a good view of Paris, and can't decide between La Tour Eiffel and La Tour Montparnasse, my advice is to take the latter, just from the hassle-free viewpoint. We were at the top of the tower in two minutes, rather than the hour of queuing to go up Eiffel. And the views were just as wonderful...

We dropped Jacqueline off at les grands magasins, then Alice and I headed off (on foot) past the Louvre (the pyramid was not quite the Egyptian monolith she was expecting, but a 10-minute pause by the fountains cooled us off a little), across the Pont des Arts (my favourite Paris bridge). Then along La Rive gauche, to our destination - the bateau mouche at Notre Dame. In fairness, this was probably an anti-climax, it was far too hot to sit in a greenhouse, even if it was travelling along the river.

The trip climaxed when a woman was taken ill at a quai by the grand palais, the police arrived in spectacular fashion in their motor-dinghy, and fifteen minutes later we still hadn't budged an inch. So, Alice and I decided to "abandon ship" at this point, instead opting for an altogether more underground journey across to rendezvous with Jacqueline at the Opera.

Surprisingly, she had only two smallish bags, but had discovered, on the ground floor of Lafayette Maison, a wonderful Italian ice cream stand. An amaretto and lemon cornet later...

Back to Montparnasse, and the good old SNCF decided to remind me what I was missing, our scheduled 65-minute journey instead taking 95 minutes, arriving back into Verneuil at around 9:20pm. Still, we forgive such tardiness because we're on holiday...

Thursday, again, a quiet morning. Alice wandered off to play in the playground, then headed back at lunchtime so we could go to the pool together. The outdoor pool was open for the first time since the Friday night when we arrived (technical problem), and we made the most of it. This year, the slides which once held fear are now something to be enjoyed as much as possible. The afternoon, we visited Evreux, which was quite charming. Again, we were unable to resist visiting Decathlon, where I ended up having a long chat with a guy (in French!) about a bike I liked the look of. Jacqueline sought out some new walking shoes (she'd been tempted in Dreux but there was insufficient time on that occasion). Plus, I picked up a really lightweight rain jacket. So, how to buy a bike from a French shop and get it back to England.....

This morning, time for one last trip to the dome before heading westward. The only thing to note is that Alice has been a complete bastard all day, annoying both myself and Jacqueline along the way. I was livid when she told a barefaced lie to Jacqueline, telling her that I had called her a particularly horrible name. I guess it just goes further to show where her limits are. Even now, Jacqueline and I are trying to chill in the hotel bedroom, and she is being deliberately disruptive because she is bored. She needs to understand that it is our holiday too. I'm really fed up with this. With Jacqueline along everything is so relaxing, add Alice and everything becomes stressful. I think next year we will investigate leaving her at grandma's. Still, out into Rennes in a little while for a spot of supper, hopefully we can salvage something of the day.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Up, up and away

Well, its that time of year again - holidays, and the annual pilgrimage to France.

As I stood in a crowd of people Thursday, waiting to get down to the Jubilee line, I have to admit to being somewhat less stressed than usual. Of course, Thursday just had to be a busy day, and when I got home in the evening there was little respite, lots of things to do. Poor old J. had a tough time also, trying to coax the dats in, for their annual "holiday", but finally by 11pm the bags were packed and the car loaded, time for a few hours sleep.

And it was literally just a few hours - up again at 4:30am ready for a 5:30am departure for the short drive over to Portsmouth, and the cross-channel ferry. We sailed on the morning fast-cat over to Ouistreham (not particularly good for resting, but a fast crossing nevertheless), and were well on our was south by lunchtime. Fortunately not too far to go this year, and after a leisurely lunch at L'Aigle, we arrived at our destination by mid-afternoon. The year's hot spot? Well, we were reluctant to change a working formula, so have been boring and chosen to visit Centerparcs once again. However, to fulfil my appetite for doing something different, we have tried a different village this year. This year we're in Haute Normandie to visit the village of Les Bois Francs.

I think that this must have been the first French village, and my main impression is that everything is just that little bit older and shabbier than the village in La Sologne (which has been our destination for the last two years). Only on the Friday night was the whole of the swimming pool open, for example. On every day since then the exterior pool, plus various parts of the interior pool, have been out of commission.

However, the cottage is very pleasant, and as Centerparcs cottages do, gives the impression of living in a wooded paradise with only oneselves for company. With the included Jacuzzi and sauna, we can hardly complain. The local wildlife is friendly enough, even if bizarrely enough, our main companions appear to be a bunch of cats who are living wild on the site. Needless to say, as cat-lovers, our subsequent visits to the supermarket have included the necessary Wiskas! I must say, having seen our two behave with a very reluctant mutual acceptance, it is somewhat strange to see these cats living effectively as a pack. But then of course they're probably all related in some way.

But I digress. Making good use of the lovely weather we've had since our arrival, excursions so far have been to Verneuil-sur-Avre, the local town, where on Saturday we stumbled onto the annual "Grande Fete des Gueux" (www.fetedesgueux.com), a medieval festival which appears to commemorate the battle of Verneuil in 1424 (presumably against the English - this sounds like 100 years war stuff) Great fun. Saturday evening we dined in the Auberge de Saint Michel, just outside L'Aigle. It is in the Michelin Guide, and with good reason. Sumptuous.

Sunday we met up with an old friend of mine, Isabelle, and her family, and headed north-east to visit, once again, the beautiful gardens at Giverny. A wonderful day in which we were massively grateful to have met up quite early and thereby to avoid the crowds which came along later. So, a lovely four or five hours in their company, just catching up with each other. (I first met Isabelle when we ended up in a shared house in Oxford together, back in something like 1992 or 1993, making her one of the oldest friends with whom I remain in contact.)

Yesterday, another excursion. Late in the day (i.e. after Alice had been playing and riding and swimming for several hours) we visited the nearby town of Dreux. Whilst we found the town centre small and charming, the main "hit", sorry to say, was the large "centre commercial" on the outskirts. An excellent wander around a Decathlon (wish we had these in the UK) followed, at Jacqueline's behest, by a visit to an enormous Cora supermarket (...just to look around, since we had no need of any groceries). Six pairs of knickers for Alice later...

The day was rounded off by a meal in the Dome, which was pleasant enough. In common with our other Centerparcs experiences, however, none of the food could be described as particularly memorable.

As for today, well it is still very early but the signs are promising for another lovely day, one which we are intending just staying on site all day. In fact Alice is booked into Kids' Club this afternoon (although their short two-hour sessions mean that there is not sufficient time for Jacqueline and I to go somewhere alone together). Tomorrow will be the "big day" since we intend getting the train up to Paris for the day. One final note - I haven't fired up the laptop at all yet - must be a record for me! (writing this from the pda, which doesn't count!)