Thursday, May 5, 2016

A French Village Vide Greniers

French Village Vide Greniers France
Vide Greniers and Romanesque Church

I’ve totally lost track of the days as it feels like a weekend, but it’s only a Thursday. Today is Ascension Day and one of the many public holidays that fall in May this year (see here for more information), but not only are schools off today, we have a four day weekend thanks to the famous faire-le-pont, making a bridge between a public holiday on a Thursday and the weekend. This bridge day can sometimes seem greedy and rather a strange idea, but seems more than fair this year as Sunday 8th May is Victory in Europe Day, another public holiday, but falling on a Sunday means most people miss out on a day off work.

While Adrian is busy working in the UK, where neither today nor Sunday are public holidays and bridge days are unheard of, I set off with Pierrette, my French neighbour, to a Vide Greniers (car boot/yard sale) in a local village. The weather is glorious this week, as so often happens when Adrian returns to the UK for work and at 25 degrees, it was lovely and warm for those of us wandering around, but those sellers unlucky enough not have found a spot in the shade of a tree were wilting in the heat.

French Village Vide Greniers France
Vide Greniers
The roads around the Romanesque church in the centre of the village were closed to traffic and tables were set up to display pre-loved goods to sell. There were clothes, toys, bicycles, ancient electric gadgets that I would have been terrified of plugging in, books, kitchenware, homemade jams, home grown plants and seedlings, local walnut oil, eggs and even live chickens and rabbits sitting together in cages under the shade of a chestnut tree. The road through the village that was still open for traffic had cars parked nose to tail on both sides and people of all ages were milling around everywhere; walking, talking, browsing, buying and enjoying an afternoon in the sun.

Pierrette, who is in her seventies, saw something she recognised from her childhood, but had forgotten what it was for. It was wooden, a little like a bottle opener, but without the corkscrew. The friendly stallholder demonstrated that it was in fact a wooden punch for pushing a new cork into a bottle and she remembered her father using one. 

The stallholder, realising by now he had a captive audience; the old lady who remembers using some of these items and the younger one who hasn’t a clue, but is interested none the less, held up another object, also wooden, curved like the top of a walking stick but with a pointed metal cap on one end. I was stumped, but she knew immediately. It was for making a hole to plant out your seedlings in your potager. What I thought was wood, was actually a thick old tree root chosen specifically for its shape and strength. 

Then came the metal object that looked like a cross between a ladle and a small saucepan with a long handle, but on the inside where the handle joined the pan was a fine mesh of holes. This was used to scoop up a little water from the well and by gently tipping it, the water poured through the handle allowing you a small flow to wash your hands, so simple and yet so clever. We were also shown lovely cotton culottes, long to the knees, but with a gapping hole in the middle to allow easy access for the essential functions without having to get undressed. Pierrette remembers her Grandmother wearing them, but says her Mother wore far more modern cotton knickers.

We spent almost two hours wandering and talking, looking and discussing, but neither of us bought anything. There were plenty of bonjours and bisous (hellos and kisses) as we both found people we knew, although the biggest surprise for her was when a man sitting in the shade and eating a meal with his family called out her name. It took her a while to recognise him as someone who had worked with her husband many years ago, but bisous were exchanged, hands shaken and introductions to his grown up children made, before we continued our browsing. We stopped for a refreshing cold apple juice at the buvette (drinks tent) that was centrally placed by the church and we took a moment of cool and calm to look inside the open door at the simple interior of the village church.

I returned home to sit and cool down indoors, make a cup of tea and flick through the cookbook in my head and decide which cake to bake later. A movement outside the kitchen door caught my eye, it was Pierrette and she was off out on her bicycle for her regular afternoon promenade! I sometimes wish I had her energy.

This post has been linked to All About France with Lou Messugo.


Lou Messugo

Friday, April 29, 2016

France et Moi with author Helen Pollard

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to author Helen Pollard about what France means to her. Helen’s novel The Little French Guesthouse was released yesterday and you can read my review here.
 
Helen Pollard The Little French Guesthouse France et Moi interview French Village Diaries
Helen Pollard
As a child, Helen had a vivid imagination fuelled by her love of reading, so she started to create her own stories in a notebook. She still prefers fictional worlds to real life, believes characterisation is the key to a successful book, and enjoys infusing her writing with humour and heart.

When she's not writing, Helen enjoys reading, decent coffee, scrapbooking and watching old seventies and eighties TV shows.

Helen is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association.

Firstly, I think France is a special place and it is famed for many things including its cheese, wine and diverse holiday locations plus, dare I say it strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?

Helen: I love the sense of space as you’re driving through the countryside (and less traffic!) I also like the impression of civic pride in the towns and villages – a feeling of community. And of course there is the appreciation of good food and wine, and a more relaxed way of life.
Helen Pollard The Little French Guesthouse France et Moi interview French Village Diaries
The Little French Guesthouse

2) Your new novel The Little French Guesthouse is set in the French countryside, are gite holidays something you have enjoyed with your family?

Helen: We first started holidaying in France every summer when the children were small, but we were camping – we had a trailer tent. Mainly we would visit Normandy, Brittany or the Loire region – I can’t stand too much heat, and as we had to go in the school holidays, the Loire is the furthest south I could manage!

As the kids got older, the tent got too cramped (and we were fed up of putting the wretched thing up and down), so we sold it and started to stay in gîtes instead. We haven’t been quite as regularly for the last few years, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this year.

3) France has some beautiful cities and there are a few that constantly battle to be my favourite, what is your favourite French city and why?

Helen: We haven’t visited a large number of French cities, tending to prefer smaller towns, but I particularly liked Rouen in Normandy – I thought the buildings were just fantastic.

If I’m allowed to mention towns, Dinan in Brittany is very pretty, and we loved the atmosphere in Honfleur, Normandy - even though both can be rather touristy.

4) If money and commitments were no object where in France would you like to own a property and what sort of place would it be?

Helen: I think it would have to be somewhere within driving distance of the sea, perhaps in Brittany. I love the little coastal villages and the beaches . . . although the weather can be variable, we found!

5) Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?

Helen: Well, it would have to be the one coffee I allow myself each day, wouldn’t it? A large café crème! And if a fresh pain aux raisins happened to be available, I wouldn’t turn it down . . .

6) What is your favourite thing to treat yourself to in a French Boulangerie/Patisserie?

Helen: Gosh, I mean, where would you start? I could spend hours just looking in the windows! If I were choosing a special treat, then I’d probably go for a fresh strawberry or raspberry tart, although I am rather partial to a tarte au citron . . .

7) Every region in France has it’s own culinary specialty, do you have a favourite regional dish?

Helen: I can’t resist mussels in some variation of white wine and onion broth.

8) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tome, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?

Helen: Ha! I would say the soft, fresh and lively goat cheese . . . but since I can’t eat cheese, does that mean I have an intolerance to myself?!

9) Do you prefer French or New World wine?

Helen: Ahem. Actually, I like Italian whites! But I would choose French over New World, definitely.

10) How does France inspire your writing? Can we expect to read more from the guesthouse La Cour des Roses?

Helen: I had the opening scene for The Little French Guesthouse in my mind for a long time, but I didn’t do anything about it until we stayed at a particular gîte one year and I thought, ‘This is where it takes place!’ Once I could picture it in my mind, the rest of the story developed from there. France was the perfect setting – Emmy needs somewhere beautiful and relaxed where she can just ‘be’, giving her the opportunity to work out how she wants her life to move forwards.  I developed the setting into somewhere imaginary, of course, but as I wrote, it became pretty real to me. I keep forgetting La Cour des Roses doesn’t exist!

And yes, you can expect to read more! It is planned as a three-book series, and the second book is due out later this summer and then it will be onto Book 3. So I will be immersed in France and all things French for quite a while yet!

FVD: Oh, now that makes me very happy! Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.

Helen: Thank you so much for having me as a guest on the blog!

You can follow Helen on Twitter, Facebook at her website.




Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book review of The Little French Guesthouse by Helen Pollard

french village diaries book review The Little French Guesthouse Helen Pollard
The Little French Guesthouse Helen Pollard

My review today is for the brand new novel (with the prettiest of covers) The Little French Guesthouse by Helen Pollard, released today and currently only 99p for the kindle edition.

A well-earned holiday in France is just what Emmy and Nathan need. Their relationship is struggling, but Emmy is sure it’s something that time away from work and routine can fix, until she finds Nathan and their B&B owner Gloria on the terrace in a rather compromising position. Angry and upset, Emmy tries to talk to Nathan, but instead he drives off into the distance, with Gloria.

I liked Emmy, she was a genuinely nice person, wanting to make those around her happy and avoid conflict if possible, which wasn’t easy in the situation she found herself in. She needed to keep busy, which she did by helping owner Rupert, who had been abandoned by Gloria, to cook, clean and look after the guests, something he was struggling to do on his own. Rupert made me smile, his heart was always in the right place, but his ways and means were sometimes a little devious. Although Emmy and Rupert make an odd couple, they worked well as a team and slowly, life in rural France began to weave its magic on Emmy.

Helen paints a lovely picture of the renovated stone guesthouse, La Cour des Roses, and I felt its charm and like Emmy, I fell in love with it and the flower filled gardens. In fact I was ready to pack my bags and head off for a few nights away, where the food and wine seem to be as good as the company. Emmy becomes part of Rupert’s social scene and appreciates the friendships she makes, and here Helen introduces a great fun mix of characters in the form of the locals and other expats. With a bit of scheming from Rupert and some unexpected interest from his gardener and accountant, Emmy begins to feel she has unexpectedly found somewhere she belongs. Reality for her though, is returning to a stark flat, a job (in the same company as Nathan – awkward) and no one to share her life with. She certainly has lots to think about, but will it be her heart, her head or Rupert that influence the decision to be made about her future?

This book offers lots to make you smile at as you read and once I stepped in, I didn't want to leave. It is warm, cosy and will fill you with summer sunshine and unless you are going away as a last ditch attempt to salvage your relationship, will be a perfect holiday read!

Please join me back here tomorrow where I will be chatting to Helen for my France et Moi interview feature. You can follow Helen on Twitter, Facebook and her website.



Monday, April 25, 2016

La Sarthe à Vélo, we did it!

French Village Diaries 455km cycling La Sarthe à Vélo
La Sarthe à Vélo

We are home from our week of following La Sarthe à Vélo and although my legs are glad of the rest today, I am missing being out on our adventure and as for having a relaxing day, it hasn’t happened yet. 

We were out this morning at 7.00am to take Ed to school, back before 8.00am to wave goodbye to Adrian’s parents who bravely held the fort while we were away and by lunchtime we had walked the dog, hung out the freshly washed cycle clothes and jet-washed the bikes.

French Village Diaries 455km cycling La Sarthe à Vélo
Back home washing and cleaning
You can read my daily reports for Free Wheeling France by clicking here, but I thought I’d share a few facts and figures from our six days on the bikes.

We spent 24 hours in the saddle, which is rather appropriate as our cycling was centred around Le Mans, famous for it’s 24 Hour race.

We pedalled a total distance of 455km.

We travelled east, south, north and west and whenever there was wind, it was blowing against us.

We climbed a total of 2,768m, which is twice the height of Ben Nevis.

We burned an additional 16,611 calories, which we had to make up by eating well along the way.

We had 7 croissant-heavy breakfasts, 3 afternoon patisserie stops, 4 picnics and 3 cooked lunches, as well as generous evening meals.

We carried 18kg of luggage, split 3kg for me and 15kg for Adrian, but the additional information and gifts from the tourist board along the way added an extra 2.5kg to Adrian’s panniers!

We visited 1 cathedral, 1 abbey, 1 vineyard, 1 Plus Beaux Village de France, 2 gardens and 4 museums.

We followed 4 rivers, the Sarthe, the Loir, the Huisne and the Vègre.

I completed the week with no punctures, but I did wear through my rear brakes.

French Village Diaries 455km cycling La Sarthe à Vélo
At the finish line

It was tiring at times, but exhilarating too and I’m pleased to report I did it all without Big E (my photosensitive epilepsy) getting in the way. It was all great training for Adrian and his Ride London Surrey 100 that he will be doing this July, but even our longest days were only half of the distance he will be covering in one day. I know that would be too much for me, but if you have enjoyed reading about our adventure and would like to donate a small amount to our Just Giving page for Epilepsy Action, it would make us both very happy, thank you.

Ride London Surrey 100 Epilepsy Action
Adrian's Just Giving Page for Epilepsy Action


I will be writing more this week, especially about some of places we visited and the sights we have seen.

Friday, April 15, 2016

France et Moi with author Karen Aldous

One Moment at Sunrise Karen Aldous Blog Tour French Village Diaries

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week, as part of her blog tour for One Moment At Sunrise , I am talking to author Karen Aldous about what France means to her.

One Moment at Sunrise Karen Aldous Blog Tour French Village Diaries
Karen Aldous
Karen enjoys village life on the edge of the north-downs in Kent with easy access to the buzz of London. Not only does she love the passive pleasures of reading and writing but craves the more active pursuits, walking, cycling and skiing especially when they involve family, friends, food, and…wine!

Much of Karen's inspiration comes from her travels. The UK, France, Switzerland and USA are just some you’ll be transported to in her books, but wherever she goes, new characters invite themselves into 'Karen's World' screaming at her to tell their stories; strong independent women who are capable of directing their own lives - but struggle to control them...especially when temptation strikes!

As a member of the Romantic Novelists ‘Association and The Write Place, Karen feels she owes so much of her success to the love and support of her fellow writers

Firstly, I think France is a special place and it is famed for many things including its cheese, wine and diverse holiday locations plus, dare I say it strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?

Karen: Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog. Yes, I simply adore France, it is extremely alluring and I love that the regions and landscape can be quite diverse whilst retaining that French ‘ambience’ which I think is what I’m drawn to.

2) How does France inspire your writing?

Karen: It’s rather like the itch of writing – it’s just in me. It speaks to me. France has something magical about it, which excites and inspires my fingers; its, culture, landscapes and the light, particularly as you go south. I love its simplicity and diversity, from sunny beaches to stunning hillsides and vineyards to skiing in the Alps. I think it’s a love affair I couldn’t ever give up!

3) When you are writing about France, are you able to write in France and if so do you have a favourite location?

Karen: Me and France are like pen and paper; we go together. Yes, it’s so easy to write there because it’s so inspiring. I would live there tomorrow if my heart would allow me to leave my family. It’s mostly notes or scenes that I write when visiting but I always have my laptop if I need to work. Provence is heaven on earth, it’s so beautiful and its villages and markets are just divine. Provence, Mougins, Canal du Midi, Dordogne, Burgundy vineyards, are among my favourites but this list could go on.

4) The French love their patisseries, what is your favourite thing to buy in a Boulangerie/Patisserie?

Karen: I love their rustic loaves, seeds or cereal, so tasty – and of course, a fresh croissant.

5) Every region in France has its own culinary specialty, do you have a favourite regional dish?

Karen: Oh, the French Savoyard Tartiflette is high on my list of favourites. Not the healthiest of dishes but irresistible with all those alpine cheeses. It’s worth a hard days skiing just to indulge. I also love a Paysanne salad, although not necessarily regional, for me it exemplifies the country with its explosion of colour and taste.

6) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tome, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?

Karen: You know how to make my mouth water! I would say I’m a soft, fresh and lively goats cheese – it livens up any dish for me.

7) Can you describe your perfect French apero for us the drink, the nibbles, the location and the company?

Karen: The combination of sunshine, olives and a cool Rose wine is tres seductive especially on a balmy evening sitting on an outside terrace with hubby overlooking Provence and the Med. Then of course, the Apres ski Vin Chaud.

8) France has some beautiful cities and there are a few that constantly battle to be my favourite, what is your favourite French city and why?

Karen: There are still so many to visit but Cannes has to be up there with the best. I like to stay in the Place Gambetta, close to the market and among the community, just a short stroll to Rue Antibes and the railway, which gives access to all the coastal resorts.

9) If money and commitments were no object, where in France would you like to own a property and what sort of place would it be?

Karen: Money no object, I would have two, I’d love to live in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Cannes in a small but beautiful apartment with a sunny terrace but also, have a villa with a stunning view across the hills and sea, so somewhere like Mougins or Grasse.

10) Do you have any plans to visit France again soon?

Karen: I’ve just returned from a ski trip in the French Alps but there’s a good chance I’ll be back some time this year.

Finally, do you have any current projects you would like to tell my readers about?

Karen: I do have a couple of projects but I won’t commit until I know what is next. Of course, the setting will be beautiful and is likely to include lakes or mountains.

Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.

You can follow Karen on Twitter at: KarenAldous_

To read my review (and enter the giveaway) of her latest novel One Moment at Sunrise click here.


One Moment at Sunrise Karen Aldous Blog Tour French Village Diaries

All of Karen's novels are available in ebook format from Amazon.