Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Roundabout Passage to Venice by Patricia Steele

My review today is for A Roundabout Passage To Venice a short travel memoir of a special visit to Europe in 1995 by Patricia Steele.

French Village Diaries review A Roundabout Passage to Venice Patricia Steele
A Roundabout Passage to Venice

Patricia, in her forties, persuades her mother, in her sixties, that now is the perfect time for a trip together from the US to France. After a little thinking time, Mum agrees and soon Patricia finds herself planning a real European adventure to London, Paris (via the newly opened Channel Tunnel), Provence and Italy, as each phone call with her Mother sees another ‘must-see’ destination added to their list. Her Mother sounded great fun and was full of energy and excitement throughout their journey. 

I really enjoyed seeing my Europe and the places I know so well through their excited US eyes and couldn’t help but smile as I was reading. From the scary driving on the wrong side in London, to the history all around them in Paris and the questionable public toilets, Patricia’s writing style ensures the reader is there to experience everything with them, without the pain of sore and blistered feet. These ladies really know how to get the maximum from a trip. 

When they are in France they are lucky to stay en famille with some friends they have made. Many of the meals in their host families’ homes are described in mouth-watering detail and Patricia admits to following along in the kitchen with her notebook. I would have loved for her to include some of the recipes in the book, however she does include colour photos of them on their adventures, which is a nice touch.

This enjoyable memoir, that brings Europe in the 1990’s to life, is available in ebook and paperback and links to Amazon can be found below.



Tuesday, February 2, 2016

La Friperie, the second hand shop

I love the fact that my life in France is constantly changing and I’m still discovering new and exciting things, even after eleven and a half years. I mentioned before Christmas that I had serious bag envy after spotting this gem, designed purely for the purpose of transporting a quiche or a tarte to a picnic or shared meal. It is chic, stylish and oh so French and in my opinion can only enhance the experience of an outdoor social event.

French Village Diaries shared meals sac à tarte
Sac à tarte


Some French friends overheard my enthusiasm and the next thing I knew plans were afoot to start a small village sewing group, with the sac à tarte as our first project. We are all enthusiastic, we all have our own sewing machines and I’m hoping they have enough knowledge (and patience) to guide me gently. I would love to be able to sew. As a child I have fond memories of knitting, pom-pom making and cross stitch sewing, all under the guidance of my Nan and I loved it. I also have memories of Mum trying to teach me how to use her sewing machine, but alas we didn’t get very far and I think tempers frayed quicker than the material. I foolishly thought that as Ed got older I would have more time to take up sewing as a hobby, but my village life is a busy life and Mum’s sewing machine has now been sat in our dining room gathering dust for more years than I care to remember. I’m hoping 2016 is going to be my year of the needle.

What we all needed was some pretty material for our bags, ideally in two contrasting colours. A date was made for fabric shopping and this morning at 7.30am we set off on our adventure to what I thought was going to be a fabric shop, but I was wrong. We were in fact about to discover the weird and wonderful world of la friperie, a large warehouse stacked with second hand clothes and materials, all sold very cheaply by the kilo.

French Village Diaries la friperie
My friperie summer dress

Loosely sorted into areas of trousers, tops, dresses, skirts and more, some of the piles of clothes were taller than I am. We tip-toed daintily around the edge, lifting, looking and sorting, however some bold ladies (obviously professional sorters) were clambering on the clothing and digging deep for that something special they hoped was hiding at the bottom. I was probably the least vigorous rummager, but I still found a beautiful lined summer dress, that is the perfect fit on my short frame, not something I find very often. At around 1€ it was a real bargain.


French Village Diaries shared meals sac à tarte la friperie
Friperie fabric for my sac à tarte


In the fabric bin we all found something that will make some of the prettiest sac à tartes in the area and my friends, more accomplished seamstresses than I, also bought material and wool for their other projects. Watch this space for more updates on how my sewing skills are coming along. I promise to share the good and the bad of my journey, but I’m determined I will be the proud owner of an original sac à tarte in time for the summer. I'm also sure that won't be my last visit to la friperie.

French Village Diaries shared meals sac à tarte la friperie
Friperie fabric for my sac à tarte
This post has been linked to the Lou Messugo #AllAboutFrance blog link up. Click here for more great posts about France.



Lou Messugo

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A weekend of favourite things

French Village Diaries winter cycling Marais Poitevin
Cycling in the Marias Poitevin

A few of my favourite things (in no particular order) are my family, my friends, pizza cooked in a wood fired oven, bike rides, sunshine and the Marais Poitevin (an area of reclaimed marshlands where canals and waterways are the back drop to peaceful pathways, perfect for cycling and a great place to visit summer or winter).

This weekend has included all of the above. With Adrian and Ed both at home we joined friends for a Saturday night pizza fest at a local auberge. Handmade to order, perfect thin bases, generous toppings, cooked in a wood fired oven and à volontée (eat as many as you like). I’m not very good at à volontée meals. I have no idea when it would be a sensible time to stop. For future reference two pizzas would be fine, three was probably one too many.

French Village Diaries pizza night
Pizza night

French Village Diaries winter cycling Marais Poitevin Damvix
Beer in Damvix
Thankfully the weather today was perfect; blue sky, sunshine and temperatures up to 19 degrees. I hung the washing out, we lunched and then set off to the Marais Poitevin with the bikes. When we arrived, it had the deserted air of off-season to it, but as lunchtime became afternoon, life returned and we shared our route with walkers who wobbled and oozed across the path, families on bikes with small ones who tack left to right like sailing boats and fishermen whose clouds of tobacco followed us along the towpath. Despite the mild weather it’s only January and the waterways were fuller than usual, the fields flooded and the air smelt damp and earthy. The trees whose roots help to stabilise the banks of the water channels are kept short and stubby and evidence of winter pollarding was everywhere. The tourist boats looked unloved, beached on the banks and the hire shops were shut and deserted like most of the bars, except our favourite one in Damvix whose sunny terrace was the perfect place to enjoy a beer and muesli bar. Just over the road we were treated to the sun illuminating the stained glass window, visible through the open church door.


French Village Diaries winter cycling Marais Poitevin Damvix
Damvix church


This was my first bike ride of 2016 and Adrian’s first since coming down with Real Flu two weeks ago, that left him in bed and unable to work for a fortnight, which is not ideal when you run your own business, but he is feeling much better now. He breezed back to the car at the end of our 31km ride seemingly unaware of the head wind that had reduced my speed to walking pace. At least the sun was warm on my back giving a long shadow leading out in front of me. I like long shadows; they make me look tall and thin. It may have been an easy, flat ride, but I still had jelly legs and a tender bottom by the time I had finished, although I was delighted to hear I’d burned off over a thousand (greedy pizza) calories. My face also had that warm glow you only get from being outdoors in winter and this evening I’m very happy.

This post has been linked to Dreaming of France.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Route barree et deviation

French Village Diaries route barrée déviation travel road trips France
Route Barrée, the yellow sign of doom!
The yellow signs that strike fear and dread in the mind of any motorist trying to get anywhere in France, Route Barrée (road ahead closed) and Déviation (diversion). Depending on the work being carried out these déviations can last many months and depending on how rural the location, can add many kilometres onto your journey.

French Village Diaries route barrée déviation travel road trips France
Route Barrée, road closed ahead, turn back now!
If you are lucky the signage will be clear and continual to enable you to return to your original route. However it is just as likely you will find yourself in the middle of nowhere, a fair distance from where you are trying to get to, with no idea which way to go and no yellow sign to assist you. The suitability of the diversion route can also vary from adequate, but often lengthy, to a shorter more direct route using nothing more than farm tracks, designed for heavy tractors, but not heavy traffic.

French Village Diaries route barrée déviation travel road trips France
Déviation, diversion this way

We, unfortunately, have an absolute cracker of a diversion to cope with at least three times a week for the next five months. Our local town, which sits between our village and the larger town where Ed is at lycée, is having major drainage works that have effectively cut all access from the west and the north. The council have tried to put into place a number of diversions, but no matter which one I’ve tried the end result has been stress and we’re only two weeks in. I’ve found myself facing a no entry sign on a route I thought was a diversion. I’ve found myself forced into the muddy verge on numerous occasions with the brake pedal thumping under my foot as the ABS kicks in and the car slips and slides in the mud. The car is now mud brown rather than shiny silver and I’ve developed a severe case of déviation rage. I swore (to myself) when a huge construction lorry, going the wrong way on a one-way diversion, forced me into the grassy verge. I squealed like a girl when a school bus squeezed past me on a single track on a dark and sleety morning, cursing the fact we are soft parents who have made it a habit to drive Ed in on a Monday, even if it is a two-bus journey, in the cold and dark with a school bag and suitcase to cart along too.

We have now found our own route. It may be a little longer and further off our original route, but it is at least a real road rather than a muddy track and there is less traffic on it to get in my way and force me off the road. I’m not sure my stress levels would have coped with five months on the other route.



Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Public and School Holiday Dates in France 2016

French Village Diaries public and school holiday dates France 2016
Holidays in France 2016

It is January and as my holiday dates blog has been popular and well received for the past two years, here are your all-important dates for 2016. Whether you are new to life in France, or just wanting to plan your holiday here in the quiet weeks outside of the French school holidays, I hope you find this useful. Please feel free to share amongst your friends and family.

Public Holidays in France 2016
1st January
27th March, Easter Sunday and this year, also the day the clocks spring forward an hour to Central European Summertime.
28th March, Easter Monday (note there is no Good Friday holiday in France)
1st May, Fête du Travail (a Sunday this year)
5th May, Ascension Day
8th May, Victory in Europe Day (a Sunday this year)
16th May, Pentecost Monday
14th July, Fete National
15th August, Assumption Day
1st November, All Saint's Day
11th November, Armistice Day
25th December, Christmas Day (a Sunday this year and don’t forget there is no Boxing Day holiday in France on 26th)

With the exception of the holidays linked to Easter: Easter Monday, Ascension Day and Pentecost Monday, the above dates are the same every year and the holiday is always observed on the actual date rather than being moved to the nearest Monday as the UK would do. Public holidays can therefore fall on weekends and unfortunately for the working population in France, 2016 sees three holidays fall on a Sunday. To make up for this it is not uncommon for people to faire le pont (make a bridge) if a holiday falls on a Thursday (Ascension Day) or a Tuesday, by taking off the Friday or Monday giving themselves a four day weekend. This will be part of their annual holiday entitlement, so while most businesses will be open on bridge days, some staff shortages can be expected. It is worth noting that in many areas of rural France most shops, supermarkets, petrol stations, garden centres and DIY stores will be either closed or only open in the mornings on public holidays, although some opening hours is becoming more common.

School Holidays
In France the schools are split into three zones (see more info here) and most of the holidays are staggered so not everyone is trying to hit the ski slopes or beaches at the same time, although be prepared for extra traffic on the roads on all Saturdays during the school holidays.


French Village Diaries public and school holiday dates France 2016


Here are the dates for 2016:
The winter holiday is from 6th February to 6th March. Zone B gets the first two weeks, Zone A the middle two and Zone C the last two.
The spring holiday is from 2nd April to 1st May. Zone B gets the first two weeks, A the middle two and C the last two.
The summer holiday for all zones is from 6th July until 1st September.
The October holiday for all zones is from 20th October to 2nd November.
The Christmas holiday for all zones is from 17th December to 3rd January 2017.

 
French Village Diaries public and school holiday dates France 2016
Holidays in France 2016


Whether your ideal holiday in France is an active one, a lazy one, a cultural one or a culinary one, I hope it is a good one.

This blog has been linked to the All About France link up. Click here to read more about France from lots of great bloggers.

Lou Messugo