Saturday, June 29, 2013

Book review of French Revolutions by Tim Moore

To celebrate the start of the 2013 Tour de France I have a review of the perfect book for all French loving, armchair cyclists, French Revolutions: Cycling the Tour de France by Tim Moore.

French Village Diaries Tour de France book reviews cycling French revolutions Tim MooreWhen Tim reignited a passion for cycling, aged 35 and not actually owning a decent bike, he was inspired to take on the challenge of the Tour de France, although obviously not as a serious team competitor. Tim, who wasn’t the fittest, or even the greatest cyclist, bought himself a bike and set off to cycle the 3630kms of the 2000 proposed Tour de France route ahead of the main peloton (by a couple of months).

What follows is a journey of pain, frustration, determination, discovery and above all (for the reader) humour and lots of it. As a Tour de France novice I really enjoyed the snippets of Tour history, information and interesting insights Tim added into his journey. Although for an event where organisation and publicity are key it was surprising to learn how difficult it was for Tim to get detailed information on the route. Above all this book is the story of a BIG challenge as Tim tries to cover similar distances to the professional riders each day and this can be in the region of 200km. He also takes on the mountain stages with enthusiasm and trepidation but also with his luggage and without the team support back up – apart from the times his wife and family make an appearance to cheer him up and on. Having clocked up a three bike rides this week, totalling a respectful 110km, I take my hat off to Tim for taking on this challenge and having the energy left to turn it into a great read.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

La Foire de Javarzay, Chef Boutonne

French Village Diaries Chef Boutonne Deux Sevres Foire de Javarzay
Romanesque Church Javarzy, Chef Boutonne
Today in Javarzay, part of our local town of Chef Boutonne roads were closed, some shops too and everyone was out in the streets to celebrate the annual Foire de Javarzay (fête). This is something that has occurred every year on 26th of June since 1821 and began as the annual goose fair (or foire aux pirons – pirons is the local patois for goose or oies in French). Today it is more a general street market, although first thing in the morning you can still buy chickens, ducks, geese, guinea fowl and quail under the shadow of the Romanesque church in Javarzay. Although the market is only there for one day there is also a funfair and beer and restaurant tents that have been there for a few days with a firework celebration bringing it to a close tomorrow evening. It is looked forward to by young and old, especially as the children all get a free ride token for the fair given out at school (this is both a lovely gesture and great marketing policy!). We were amused to see a number of older folks, heavily clad in nylon, meeting with friends for a drink and walking around the funfair. We weren’t sure if they were planning on going on the rides, or rather just enjoying a spot of conviviality, sunshine and watching the younger generation having a great afternoon. It certainly seemed the tradition of attending the fair is still alive and well.

French Village Diaries Chef Boutonne Deux Sevres Foire de Javarzay
Time to get your ducks and geese for Christmas

French Village Diaries Chef Boutonne Deux Sevres Foire de Javarzay
The market in Javarzay

The thing that always sparks my curiosity is the eel man. He is there every year with his box of live eels that are for sale at 19.90€ a kilo or his barbecued eels at 36€ a kilo. He takes the eels carefully with a pair of tongs, whacks them over the head a couple of times and places them on the hot coals, fresh they most certainly are and they smell delicious. However I have never eaten eels, are they fishy or meaty? Do they contain lots of small, fiddly bones or just one big backbone? I would love to try them, but I haven’t yet been brave enough – I certainly don’t need (or rather can’t afford) a kilo of cooked eels. We did sample many lovely cheeses, hams and saucisson, with some favourites from the Auvergne coming home to join us for aperos.



French Village Diaries Chef Boutonne Deux Sevres Foire de Javarzay
Fresh eels
French Village Diaries Chef Boutonne Deux Sevres Foire de Javarzay
Cooked eels



Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The health benefits of mowing the lawn



french village diaries mower gardening lawn
Her mower
I read an interesting article the other day that stated that mowing the grass can help to relieve stress and boost your memory. Before we moved to France and indeed for the first few years we were here, mowing was a ‘blue’ chore chez nous, unlike washing and ironing which were and still are ‘pink’ chores. This meant I had little or no experience or interest in it, although I do remember it used to be my Monday evening summer task at home when I was not much older than Ed. With Ade working away, keeping the grass (well green growing stuff, to be more accurate) in the front and back courtyards neat and tidy is something I have taken on, look forward to and really enjoy doing. Having left a stoney courtyard to 'grow' we have ended up with a clover lawn that the bees love almost as much as we do. It is therefore no surprise to me that researchers have discovered it is good for you due to the happy and relaxed feelings a chemical released by a mown lawn gives you. It also appears to be able to prevent mental decline in old age as these happy, relaxed feelings combat bad stress that over time can damage the hippocampus leading to increased blood pressure, forgetfulness and a weakening of the immune system. I love my time spent mowing, I’m out in the fresh air, more often then not the sun is shining, I’m getting exercise and my mind is relaxed and often wanders away with itself. A bit like dog walking, I don’t find it a chore at all. For me the walking mower will always win over the ride on mower that Ade loves. One of the things that was on his wish list when we moved to France was a garden big enough for a ride on mower and our orchard is certainly that.

french village diaries clover lawn gardening
Our clover lawn

Shortly after moving in he found a jolly red mower that fitted the bill – it needed to be under a metre wide in order to get through the orchard gate, and not be too expensive. The only way to get it home was to hire the knackered old van the shop kept for such occasions, leave his Mum, Ed and I loitering in the car park while he and his Dad made the 90km trip home and back – kerching! (That added a bit to the price).

Not long after we got it, whilst making a tricky manoeuvre he clunked it into something and broke the steering rod – kerching! That cost a bit to replace, but at least he had the knowledge to be able to fix it.

french village diarires ride on mower gardening
His mower
After a few years we struck another problem, the gearbox went. We spoke to a local company specialising in mowers and were quoted well over half the original purchase price to replace the gearbox – kerching! It was at this point Ade wondered whether to bother or not. There is no need to mow over winter and once the weather warms up the grass goes yellow and doesn’t need mowing, plus the ducks and goose do a bit of grazing for us. Some years it doesn’t get much use at all, especially if I am doing most of the mowing. He doesn’t mind me using it, but I’ll admit I’m not spatially aware enough to guide it safely between the concrete gateposts – clearance is about an inch either side. But we all know boys need their toys and being Mr Resourceful he found replacements for the shattered gears and selectors and carried out the delicate surgery required to fix it yet again. Add to this the odd flat tyre and replacement drive belt over the years and it probably works out more expensive to keep than Ed! But at least those feel good chemicals balance out the stress of keeping his toy running and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want a shiny red tractor of their own?




Monday, June 24, 2013

Cycling the chestnut route in Deux Sevres


Following a hectic weekend that saw Ade’s final return from Brussels (yippee, let the summer begin) and the annual Dance Gala that brings the community together to ensure 60 plus young dancers get a brief taste of fame, Monday morning started with a some baking before we escaped with our bikes this afternoon. We lunched on an energy packed fish and couscous salad followed by a slice of fat free cherry cake and then set off direct from home following the narrow back lanes towards the local town of Sauze Vaussais.

french village diaries cycling deux sevres chateau Jouhé
The chateau at Jouhé
The route takes in a couple of Chateaux, nothing grand like in the Loire but pretty all the same, walnut orchards and many fine sweet chestnut trees. In our village there are no chestnut trees as our soil is not right, but you don’t have to go far to find the soil becoming a deep orange colour and the chestnuts appear. My neighbour, Pierrette, remembers spending days with her uncle collecting chestnuts as a child in the early 1950’s. They would leave in the morning with his horse and carriage, taking a picnic and spend the day stocking up on chestnuts to be shared with the extended family. From the size of some of the trees we saw I guess they have been there since before Pierrette was a child.

french village diaries cycling deux sevres Sauze Vaussais
Bar de la Tour Sauze Vaussais
In Sauze Vaussais we stopped for a beer in the Bar de la Tour. The friendly barman served them with a smile, but unfortunately there wasn’t too much sun on the terrace. We did have a good view of the clock tower that has pride of place in the town centre and were able to listen to it strike the (same) hour twice, a few minutes apart. The return took us past the first golden wheat fields we’ve seen this year and also some fields planted with tobacco, a crop we don’t see around our village. I could have done without the breezy wind, especially on the steady uphill roads that saw me lagging way behind Ade. He often complains that a cycle with me (in tow) hardly sees him break a sweat, but after 45kms I sure feel I’ve had a good workout.

We were back home with plenty of time to mow the lawn in the sunshine before saying goodbye to our first summer visitors.

french village diaries cycling deux sevres lavoir Hanc
The lavoir in Hanc


Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Tour de France


French Village Diaries Tour de France Cycling
Our photo from the 2012 Tour de Poitou-Charentes

We are not a sports mad family. We do enjoy an active and outdoor lifestyle, but none of us could explain the ‘off-side rule’ and we conveniently manage to miss football and rugby on TV even if it is World or European cup games. The tennis also passes every year without us feeling the need to watch a single match. However, last year Ade and I found ourselves tuning into ITV4 every evening to watch the Tour de France coverage and we are counting down the days (seven) until the start of the 100th Tour begins in Corsica on June 29th.

 Last year the terminology and the rules were a bit of a mystery to us and while we are still not experts we have grasped the basics and here is our little summery in case it is all a bit confusing to you too. Full information can be found on Le Tour website and don’t forget whether you understand it all or not, if you do tune in you will get to see some lovely areas of La Belle France.

The Teams.
Each of the 22 teams are made up of nine cyclists and despite it looking like it is a ‘one man and his bike’ sport the teams work hard together and for their team leader. The lower ranking members put team tactics ahead of personal triumph, support their leader and are referred to as domestiques. They help to pace the team leader and ensure he is where he needs to be for the best chance of victory.

The Peloton.
French Village Diaries Tour de France Cycling
www.letour.fr
This is the main body of cyclists who group together during the race. This helps with pace and wind resistance. There are always some who drop behind the main peloton and others who will breakaway often in an attempt to win a stage.

The Stages or étapes.
The Tour de France is a race made up of 21 stages, one stage per day and with only 2 rest days in the 23 days. This year these stages will cover a total of 3,404 km and are made up of 7 flat stages, 5 hilly stages, 6 mountain stages, 2 individual time trials and 1 team time trial. The time trial days are against the clock and do not include group or peloton riding. The Tour takes in different areas of France each year, often includes an overseas stage (next year this will be in Yorkshire), but always visits the Alps, the Pyrenees and finishes on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, where Mark Cavendish has crossed the finish line first for the last four years.

The Yellow Jersey.
This is awarded at the end of each day to the person who has the fastest time overall. This may not be the winner of the current days stage, he is known as the stage leader or la tête de course. It is possible for the Yellow Jersey to change many times during the race or, like last year when Bradley Wiggins stormed it, for it to remain with the same rider for many days.

The other Jerseys.
As well as the Yellow Jersey, there are other jerseys awarded for different ‘wins’ during the race. The red Polka Dot Jersey is awarded to the King of the Mountains, the rider who gains the most points from the mountain climbs that day. The White Jersey is presented to the rider under 25 who has been awarded the most points each day and the Green Jersey is for the leader of the general points. Points are awarded during the day for individual sprints as well as stage wins.

La Caravane.
This is a publicity convoy that drives the route about an hour before the cyclists pass by, adding to the excitement of the crowd and enabling the sponsors to throw advertising merchandise at them.

The thing that struck me most last year was the awe I felt for the stamina of the cyclists who often cover over 200km a day, day after day. Compared to the pampered lifestyles of the professional footballers with their orange, plastic wives who manage 45 minutes of play before they need a rest, the cyclists (in my opinion) are real sportsmen. The Tour de France is tough, but it is only one event in their sporting year, some have already competed in a similar event in Italy and others will go on to do the Spanish tour too. Our British riders do us proud and I hope Mark Cavendish continues to triumph in Paris and wish him and Chris Froome all the best. Chris was second to Sir Bradley Wiggins last year, who managed to retain the Yellow jersey day after day and then became the first EVER British cyclist to win, and I’m sure Chris and Mark have their sights set high this year.


Friday, June 21, 2013

France et Moi with author Paulita Kincer


French village Diaries France et Moi interview with Paulita Kincer The Summer of France virtual book tour
The Summer of France

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I’m taking part in a virtual book tour organized by FranceBookTours to help give a shout out to THE SUMMER OF FRANCE by Paulita Kincer. I read this novel set in Provence earlier in the year and really enjoyed it, and you can read my review here. If you would like to enter a giveaway to win an ebook copy of this great summer read just email FrenchVillageDiaries@gmail.com with The Summer of France as the email subject. The winner will be the first name pulled out of a hat by my Mum over evening aperos on Tuedsay 2nd July (when she arrives here on holiday).

French Village Diaries France et Moi interview with Paulita Kincer The Summer of France virtual book tour
Paulita Kincer
Today I’m talking to Paulita about what France means to her. Paulita has an M.A. in journalism from American University, has traveled to France 10 times, and still finds more to lure her back. She currently teaches college English and lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her three teenagers, two cats and one husband.

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’?

Paulita: I’ve traveled to many different parts of France, and everywhere I go I fall for the lifestyle. I feel like I’m living in the moment when I’m in France, that each second is important: every sip of wine, every bite of food, every vivid-blue sky – not to mention the quintessential architecture and the depth of history in those charming cobblestones.

2) What is your first memory of a trip to France?

Paulita: Well, things didn’t work out so well on my first trip. I went on a college tour, one of those on a bus that visits 21 countries in 14 days, or 14 countries in 21 days. We arrived in Paris after Rome, and I had a bit of tummy trouble in Rome. I even missed the Pope!
So the first day in Paris, we went to Notre Dame and the Rome revenge continued. I had to find a bathroom – quick! The bathroom I found was a Turkish one. I stood with my feet on either side of the hole thinking, seriously? I began to believe France was not for me if the country couldn’t even provide civilized bathrooms. Luckily, experiences after that swayed me to give France another try. The next time I returned to France as an au pair for three months – one month in Corsica, another month in a country manor near Bourges and finally a month in an apartment outside Paris. Tough life, but…that trip won me over.

3) What is your favourite holiday location in France?

Paulita: I’m totally besotted by Aix en Provence. The minute I bicycle or drive into town, I feel all tension leave my body. I think I’d be content to sit in a café in Aix en Provence forever.

4) Do you speak French? If so at what level would you say you were?

Paulita: At one point, I was quite good at speaking French. I minored in it at university and, after my time as an au pair when I spent three months speaking French, I was fairly confident. I could understand and make myself understood. But now, years later, I’m barely passable. My French kicks in after a couple of days in the country, but French shopkeepers still quickly switch to English when they hear me speak. 

5) 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?

Paulita: I like to think I’m a creamy and rich Camembert with nuances yet to be discovered, but too often I’m distracted and turn into the fresh and lively goat cheese, frolicking here and there.

6) How does France inspire your writing?

Paulita: I’ve completed three novels (only one is published at this point) and in two of them, the characters run away to France. So obviously I’m obsessed with the country. Since I’d like to run away to France, that’s where my characters go. I truly believe that the French lifestyle helps people straighten priorities. When I returned from my extended trip to France, I decided to attend graduate school. When my daughter was unsure about her college major, I sent her to France for three months. I feel like it’s almost a pilgrimage that many people could benefit from. That’s why my characters head to France to solve their life dilemmas. Plus, there’s always an opportunity to add some charming French men to the plot. 

7) In your book THE SUMMER OF FRANCE the main character Fia arrives in Provence to spend the summer running a B&B for her uncle, is this something you would like to do?

Paulita: Yes, I would love to live in France, and running a B&B seems like a viable option. My dream would be to have a writer’s retreat in the South of France.

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

Paulita: Just one? I have to say that the little restaurants along Paris’ Rue Mouffetard draw me in with their friendly owners who tempt us with free drinks if we’ll only occupy those outdoor tables, but one of my favorite meals ever happened in Equilles, France en route to Aix en Provence. So that is where I would return. The views over Provence with the rolling hills and the vineyards were spectacular. I’d want to share my apero with my husband and our French friends from Nantes who always know the history of everything in France. To drink, I’d choose a Kir Royal – champagne and crème de cassis. For nibbles, I’ve eaten something as exotic as baguette sliced into rounds, buttered and topped with caviar that burst like little bubbles in my mouth, but I’ll take a simple slice of baguette topped with a black olive or tomato tapenade.

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?

Paulita: I’d love to live in the midst of a vineyard or olive grove near a small village outside of Aix en Provence. I picture a stone house with wide French doors that open out to a patio with a pool and a hound dog lounging nearby. My desk would face those open doors and I’d write novels while my husband walked into the village for our daily baguette before we both took a dip in the pool.

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

Paulita: I’m working on a sequel to The Summer of France, which I’m calling Autumn in Aix. But before Autumn in Aix hits the bookshelves, expect to see I See London, I See France, a women’s fiction novel about a mother who sells her minivan and uses the money to travel overseas with her three young children. She hopes to find the love of her youth, a Frenchman, bien sûr, to see how her life might have turned out differently. 

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

Paulita: Thanks, Jacqui, for the interview. Such fun questions that really made me think. I hope everyone who dreams of traveling to France considers taking a trip through my novel first.
Bisous.
Paulita

You can find Paulita on her website, blog and on Facebook.  For more posts on this virtual book tour see here. To whet your appetite here is a synopsis of THE SUMMER OF FRANCE :

French Village Diaries France et Moi Interveiw Paulita Kincer The Summer of France book tour

When Fia Jennings loses her job at the local newspaper, she dreams of bonding with her teenage twins. As she realizes she may be too late to pull her family closer, her husband pressures her to find another job to pay the increasing bills. Relief comes with a phone call from Fia’s great Uncle Martin who runs a bed and breakfast in Provence. Uncle Martin wants Fia to venture to France to run the B&B so he and his wife Lucie can travel. He doesn’t tell Fia about the secret he hid in the house after fighting in World War II, and he doesn’t mention the people who are tapping his phone and following him, hoping to find the secret.

After much cajoling, Fia whisks her family to France and is stunned when Uncle Marin and Aunt Lucie leave the same day for a Greek cruise. She’s thrown into the minutiae of running the B&B without the benefit of speaking the language. Her dreams of family bonding time fade as her teenagers make French friends. Fia’s husband Grayson begins touring the countryside with a sophisticated French woman, and Fia resists the distractions of Christophe, a fetching French man. Why the whirlwind of French welcome, Fia wonders after she comes home from a day at the beach in Nice to find someone has ransacked the B&B.

Fia analyzes Uncle Martin’s obscure phone calls, trying to figure out this WW II hero’s secret. Can she uncover the secret and relieve Uncle Martin’s guilt while building the family she’s always dreamed of?

(No violence. No graphic sex, some sexual situations.)

Publication Date: October 2012
230 Pages, Oblique Presse ISBN-10 1300257334, ISBN-13 978-1300257332 Available in ebook and paperback, Amazon link below.

Thanks to Paulita and France Book Tours for organising the tour and giveaway - don’t forget to email me at FrenchVillageDiaries@gmail.com if you would like to enter.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sitting in the middle of nowhere


I love that we live in a rural location. We don’t have traffic issues or crowded supermarkets. We do have space; a large orchard, a potager and the walking and cycling possibilities available from the front door are almost endless. However there are downsides and one of them is ‘next day courier delivery’. This is something to think about if you crave an escape from civilisation.

french village diaries life in rural france the middle of nowhere
The middle of nowhere


Ade placed an order at the weekend for a product that was showing an estimated delivery from Leeds, UK to France of Tuesday 18th June. I assured him I could be at home on Tuesday, no problem. Within a day of placing the order I had a call from a friend (who also happens to be my yoga teacher) who has broken her toe (nothing to do with yoga) asking if I could drive her to class on Tuesday morning, meaning an extra class for me this week. Thankfully the delivery date had moved to Wednesday 19th June, so I was able to say yes.

Wednesday arrived and via the DHL tracking website we could see that on Monday our package had left Leeds and arrived in Gatwick. Tuesday it made it’s way to Paris and on Wednesday it arrived in Nantes in the wee small hours. By 11.07am it was showing as ‘With delivery courier’ and I was waiting. The sun was shining, but I didn’t want to stray into the potager for fear of missing either the courier or the phone call we often get to say they are close by. I pottered with the pots, doing a bit of deadheading and then tackled the ironing mountain, all the time trying to ignore the dogs who really couldn’t understand why we hadn’t gone out for a walk especially as the weather was perfect. Toffee tried talking to me, Mini tried to get my attention with her ball and they even tried jangling their leads in the hope of getting out. Nothing, all was quiet (except the dogs), which if I’m honest was to be expected as Nantes is a two-hour drive from us and that is direct via the autoroute. By six o’clock yesterday evening the DHL site was updated with the status ‘scheduled for delivery as agreed’, location – Nantes. Not entirely sure what this means as agreed delivery date was Wednesday 19th, but we guessed it meant ‘it went out on the van, but you were too far to get to today, we’ll try again tomorrow’. It was nine o’clock before I got chance to walk the dogs, but it was a lovely evening with the setting sun glinting off the rolls of hay and the increased hare and rabbit activity made for extra excitement and very happy doggies indeed.

This morning I was hopeful that the van would set off bright and early and as we are likely to be the furthest point from depot, a quick blast to get to us as first drop and then make their way back towards Nantes with other deliveries seemed a possibility. I could visualise myself signing for it wearing my yoga leggings and with my yoga mat in my other hand ready to dash off to my 10 o’clock class. However, the class has now started, the phone hasn’t rung, the village is quiet and I’m sitting here waiting, even the dogs are sulking in their beds. To make matters more frustrating the DHL site hasn’t been updated since six o’clock yesterday evening. Quote from DHL site “our online results give you real-time, detailed progress as your shipment speeds through the DHL network.” Hmmm, I may never get to leave the house again!


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Whether the weather will ever get better


It is a very British thing to talk about the weather and being British that is what I’m going to do, as it seems to me that France is being picked on by the weather gods this week. Having seen many horrid images in the local and national press the one thing I am not going to do is complain about our weather, instead I am very thankful as we seemed to have escaped the worst of it.

French Village Diaries weather storms floods France hail midsummer
Mini in a flooded field

At the beginning of this week, that just so happens to be the week we will be celebrating the summer solstice, we were on an orange storm-warning alert. Storms are not my thing at all and being here without Ade just added to the stress. However, I took the usual precautions before going to bed, unplugged all computer and television appliances, checked the batteries on the torch I keep by the bed and made sure the garden furniture was stacked away. With a mug of chamomile tea and a good book I waited for it to hit. Surprisingly I awoke on Monday morning and not a drop of rain had fallen overnight. However not far to the north of us in the Vendee and north Deux Sevres and oddly enough to the south in the Charente Maritime too, they had not been so lucky. Reports of hail stones the size of golf balls and pictures of destroyed vineyards, cereal crops and damaged cars and property were all over the internet. We were lucky, but again that evening we were on another high alert. A repeat of my bedtime precautions was followed by a slightly interrupted night as thunder and heavy rain rattled around outside. Thankfully Monday had been spent harvesting as many of our cherries as possible, something I am really pleased I did. Tuesday we had rain all day, improving to light drizzle by the evening, which is not the best cherry picking weather and to be honest much of what was left had either fallen off in the night or is now going mouldy because of the rain. For us this is just a disappointment and an inconvenience, but there are many families who will have seen their income for this year destroyed overnight.

By yesterday evening reports were coming in of flood warnings from the Pyrenees all the way up the west of France to Poitou-Charentes. One of the areas badly affected was the town of Luchon where we stayed this February for our ski holiday. The shocking pictures showed the road outside our accommodation running like a fast flowing river. Many people in towns and villages in the area had to be evacuated including in Lourdes, mountain roads have been closed due to landslips and at least one person has drowned. Some pictures can be seen here. Even closer to home and not far from where we cycled last week there has been some flooding of houses this morning.

French Village Diaries weather storms floods France hail midsummer
Not used to wearing wellies in June
The weather today is warm, overcast and damp underfoot but I was able to do some weeding in the potager, although the wet clay soil soon made walking difficult as it clung to my boots. As a bonus everything is growing well and I haven’t had to do too much watering, but as usual it seems the weeds are the happiest of all. Last week I was pottering in the potager with a glass of rosé wine, side shooting the tomatoes and being warmed by the evening sun and even at the weekend I took a late dip in the pool to cool down after my potager chores. I really do hope for an improvement in the weather so many more evenings can be spent outside. Summer is a special time for us, and being able to sit out in the garden watching the bats and gazing at the stars is part of what makes it so special.

The north and east of France is currently on orange alert, with warnings of violent storms and hail due later today and some of the Pyrenees is still on a red flood warning. I do hope if you or anyone you know are in any of the affected areas you stay safe and that all is well. More information on the current French weather can be found here.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Guest Post by Juliette Sobanet

French Village Diaries guest post Juliette Sobanet Midnight Train to Paris book release I thoroughly enjoyed reading Juliette Sobanet's first two novels, Sleeping with Paris and Kissed in Paris (read my reviews here and here), and I'm delighted to share a sneak preview of her new novel Midnight Train to Paris released today. Juliette is a true Francophile and I was lucky enough to chat to her recently for my France et Moi interview feature, see here. She earned a B.A. from Georgetown University and an M.A. from New York University in France, living and studying in both Lyon and Paris. She worked as a French professor before turning a new page in her career, penning romantic women’s fiction with a French twist. She has also been busy with her upcoming novels Dancing with Paris and Honeymoon in Paris (A Charlotte Summers Novel, Book 2). Today she lives with her husband and two cats in San Diego, where she devotes her time to writing and dreaming about her next trip to France. You can find her on her website, Twitter, or Facebook.

Thanks so much for having me, Jacqui! Today we’re celebrating the release of my latest France-based novel, Midnight Train to Paris! This book was originally released as a Kindle serial on Amazon US, but it is now available as a full-length novel in print and e-book on Amazon UK, Canada, France, and all other Amazon sites!

Here’s a little more about the story:

When hard-hitting DC reporter Jillian Chambord learns that her twin sister, Isla, has been abducted from a luxury train traveling through the Alps, not even the threat of losing her coveted position at The Washington Daily can stop her from hopping on the next flight to France. Never mind the fact that Samuel Kelly--the sexy former CIA agent who Jillian has sworn off forever--has been assigned as the lead investigator in the case.

When Jillian and Samuel arrive in the Alps, they soon learn that their midnight train isn't leading them to Isla, but has taken them back in time to 1937, to a night when another young woman was abducted from the same Orient Express train. Given a chance to save both women, Jillian and Samuel are unprepared for what they discover on the train that night, for the sparks that fly between them...and for what they'll have to do to keep each other alive.

Midnight Train to Paris is a magical and suspenseful exploration of just how far we will go to save the ones we love. 

If you’d like to board the midnight train to 1930s Paris, here is a sneak peek of the opening scene…

Prologue

December 24, 1937

Lausanne, Switzerland

Rosie Delaney stood on the empty platform, gripping the handle of her cherry-red suitcase with ice-cold fingers. She desperately wished that she’d remembered her gloves.
Thick, heavy snowflakes poured from the black winter sky, dusting the tracks in an eerie white glow. Save for the giant clock ticking overhead, the silence in the Swiss train station that night was deafening to Rosie’s ears, which had never been so alert.
Despite her nerves, Rosie was certain she’d covered her tracks well. She’d put on quite the show with Alexandre before slipping out of the annual Morel Holiday Gala unnoticed. She’d even resisted the overwhelming urge to say good-bye to the one person she would miss.
Her mother.
Swallowing the lump in her throat, Rosie thought of the lovely sights of Paris and the even lovelier man who would be waiting for her there, in her favorite city, in only a few short hours.
Jacques Chambord.
She’d made the right choice.
Of course she had.
She’d left behind a closet full of shimmering evening gowns, fur coats, jewels, and high heels. Her meager suitcase contained only a few changes of her most practical, modest clothes and a box of letters.
Those letters meant more to her than any jewel-studded closet ever could.
Running her thumb over the newly bare skin on her ring finger, Rosie remembered how suffocating Alexandre’s elaborate diamond ring had felt on her left hand. And it wasn’t only the ring that had been suffocating.
The memory of him made her forget how to breathe.
If only the train would get here.
A nervous glance at the clock revealed that it was 11:37 p.m.
They would surely be wondering where she had gone by now. She could almost see Alexandre’s dark furrowed eyebrows, his beady brown eyes combing the party, searching for his fiancée, his trésor, his poupée.
Rosie was finished being Alexandre’s treasure, his doll.
She was finished keeping him and his elitist, power-hungry family happy.
A train whistle thundered through the night, and adrenaline shot through Rosie’s veins as she glimpsed the steam locomotive barreling down the snow-covered tracks.
Only one word soared through Rosie’s mind at the sight of the Orient Express on that snowy winter night in the Swiss Alps.
Freedom. 

Thank you Juliette and good luck with the new releases. I can't wait to read the rest of Midnight Train to Paris and I'm really looking forward to your other new books later this year, especially Honeymoon in Paris and catching up with Charlotte.


Monday, June 17, 2013

Cycling in the Charente

french village diaries cycling charente boucle 48On Friday we escaped the cherry picking, packed the bikes and a pasta-pot picnic and set off to the nearby town of Champagne-Mouton just to the east of us in the Charente, where we followed the Charente Velo Boucle 48C, a 47km marked route. There are also 7km (48A) and 29km (48B) routes available from this start point. For details on many more cycle rides in the Charente we use the great information on the Bike Hire Direct website, here.



french village diaries cycling charente boucle 48
Following the epic rain of Thursday and a misty start to Friday morning, the sun soon triumphed and as the mist lifted the temperature rose and the weather was perfect for the undulating route through the pretty hamlets of the Charente-Limousine area. The route, which like all the Charente Velo Boucle’s we have cycled, was well signed and mostly avoided the main roads. The small back roads wound through tiny hamlets, some with neat manicured lawns, pots filled with summer flowers, climbing roses in full bloom and one even had a water lily filled pond. Others seemed very run down and forgotten with houses shuttered up, cracks in the stone walls and no signs of life. The scent of the roses lingering in the air as we cycled past, the hedgerows heavy with elderflowers and the freshly mown verges was delightful and it’s just as well we’re not hayfever sufferers. Most of the hamlets had at least one house that had at least one huge old cherry tree and in all of them was at least one old couple with their buckets, bags, ladders and sticks harvesting this years cherries - just what we should have been doing!



french village diaries cycling charente boucle 48
Beer in Vieux Cerier

Just over half way we stopped for our customary beer in the quaintest bar we’ve found around here. It was not much more than a few tables in a front room. Two beers were brought out to us on their terrace over the road that looked like it was once a village petrol station. Seeing as only one car drove through when we were there I guess it is no surprise it has closed.


french village diaries cycling charente boucle 48
On the Viaduct

This is an area of many rivers and we crossed the River Charente a few times in the first half of the ride and then later on the smaller rivers L’Argent (silver) and L’Or (gold). At the end of the route we cycled along the old railway line where we found ourselves riding by platforms and a lovely old viaduct that we had driven past on the main road many times. This was a lovely, easy afternoon ride that we will be doing again, hopefully this summer.


french village diaries cycling charente boucle 48
The Viaduct
french village diaries cycling charente boucle 48
One of the hamlets we cycled through