2019 CHENES

BON VOYAGE

We leave for France today on the overnight boat from Plymouth to Roscoff. This morning I went early down to Pentewan for a walk and it was magic:

You’re probably wondering why we are going 900 miles when we have this on our doorstep and so was I. Well, the weather outlook  in nearby St Tropez may have something to do with it and made me feel a little better :-

Image-1

We drive from Roscoff to St Amand Montrond tomorrow. It’s a small town conveniently close to the A71 and situated almost right in the middle of France – the nearby Aire (service area) is called Aire du centre de la France. For us halfway house. the first 420 miles completed. Hotel Noir Lac is situated next to Lac Noir (translation Black Lake) which sounds anything but romantic. It’s black because of the colour of the underlying rocks, and makes for quite a spectacle, particularly at sunset. Worth a pic or two and for the eagle eyed viewers the top left picture shows a flock of Little Egrets :

Hotel from the lake

Off again to Pezenas near Beziers in South West France. Only 300 miles this leg and having found the hotel with great difficulty, we were disappointed that the reception and hotel door did not open until 5 pm. However, when we did gain entrance it was excellent in all respects, particularly the restaurant. Happy bunnies!

IMG_0826

As a testament to the hotel the plaque on the front door says it all. It is also home to the Rotary Club and the Mairie Social Club and as Jean says – no wonder with food like that.

Sunday 25th August and we’re on the road again on our last leg. The press in France have been calling this the Black weekend and, as we were heading for the dreaded Autoroute A9, we were fearing the worst. As it turned out it was the best of all the times we have used it. No hold ups at all, although the opposite direction was often stationary. cork oak
210 miles flew by and here we are in Chenes Lieges (it means cork oak in French) and we were more than happy to open one of those corks last evening, having had a short walk at the sea. Just a thought – with the current awareness of the dangers of plastic, proper corks may be making a comeback!

We don’t normally come here until September, so setting off for our walk at the sea gave us a reminder of why we avoid August. Took us ages to get to Cavalaire and there was not even one parking place left, so, back to Pardigan and managed to park and visit the sea. The plan was to get a pizza as we had no food, but so did many other hungry tourists, so it was the Spar shop for a few bits and pieces, and very pleased to get home before dark. The temperature was still 30 degrees and we ate huddled next to the air conditioner.

The good news is that the schools go back next Monday so life will return to normality.
It would be careless of me not to mention the cricket, as I spent the first hour of our stay here on my phone switching between teletext TMS and scorecards following the incredible 3rd test match. Could be the start of Sir Ben Stokes Ashes, or maybe just a dream. I can’t resist 2 pictures – has a ramp shot and a reverse sweep, both for 6, ever been played by a single player in any test match?

Monday 26 August and back to the realities of moving back in after 3 months away in Sticker. Unpacking, cleaning, connecting appliances, clearing out the jungle – it’s actually a garden, but now overgrown and partly parched or even dead due to the recent very hot weather, and the on-going inadequacies of a rather ancient automatic watering system. Work in progress you might say as it was too hot to complete the jobs. Short walk at Cogolin Plage where we did manage to find a Pizza, and back to the air conditioning to eat it.

A general view from our balcony. As you can see there are lots of huge umbrella pine trees – 2 close to us and 2 in the background at the bottom of our plot.

It’s now the last day of August (31st) and we’ve been here at Chenes for nearly a week. The overall impression of our hideaway here hasn’t changed – it’s still paradise – but the heat is always a shock to the system, particularly in August. We benefit from 310 to 330 days of sunshine per year! However, the temperature has been at least 33 degrees every day so far (that’s 91 in old money) and the air conditioning unit has been well used, as well as the ceiling fans. The forecast is no better (or good if you like extreme heat!).  There has been no appreciable rain for 2 or 3 months and trees and bushes are wilting. The garden, now it is completed again, needs watering every day – if not twice. Needless to say, a daily dip in the swimming pool is obligatory. Of course the whole of France is affected, some central areas are worse than we are. The government has announced restrictions on water use in two-thirds of its départements as drought grips the country.

One change from our last visit is the reversal of the new lower speed limit. The speed limit on 400,000 kilometres of departmental roads across the country was cut from 90 km to 80 km per hour in July 2018 – a decision that proved hugely unpopular among the general public. Figures show that deaths on the routes fell by 127 in the second half of the year.  However, this measure is believed to have been one of the key factors that sparked yellow vest revolts throughout the country and resulted in violence, disruption and vandalism. It’s now 90 again – there’s a stockpile of 80 signs at a bargain price if you’re interested!

A word about French customs and manners. The word “etiquette” is one of the 21% of words in the English language that are actually derived from French (which was the official language in England from William the Conqueror for 300 years) so it’s no wonder that etiquette and manners play a vital role when socialising in France, and it takes a while to realise this.

For example, it is saying ‘hello’ that can be the difference between being treated courteously or getting ignored! Always say ‘bonjour’ or ‘bonsoir’ when you enter a store or restaurant, and add the person’s title for an extra dash of politeness! I can remember 2 years ago I rushed into Le Clerc to find a ladies for Jean. I went straight to the reception and in my best french asked for directions. The man just looked at me and then said “Bonjour Monsieur”, I hastily replied the same, and he then rattled off the instructions.

It all starts at school!

The French shake hands with acquaintances but will kiss their friends and family on both cheeks, or 3 times for the Belgians. Kissing your male close friends does not come very easily to we British!

It is generally well known that an attempt to speak French is always appreciated. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just make an attempt and they will likely be a little warmer to you.

I now have concrete evidence that someone actually reads this blog. When I opened the news this morning this appeared at the top

Learn Real English

     We went for a great walk at Gigaro along the sea front as this picture shows. It’s about 9 am and it’s already 26 degrees.

 

 

Back at the ranch in air conditioned comfort for a while and then out on the balcony for the peace and tranquility of our balcony – no wind, stillness, large butterflies flit about, birds on our feeders – crested tits, blue and great tits, greenfinches, goldfinches…………

 

Feeders on the right hand tree.

 

 

 

 

It’s now September 1st and a pinch and a punch is in order so I dutifully got up at 6.45 for a preview of the sunrise

 

A word about blogging, or specifically about wordpress, my chosen blog system. It worked like a dream for years, but this year I ran into difficulties as the cursor would not seem to stay in one place and made unpredictable movements with the command keys. I usually use chrome but after a few hours I realised that it worked OK with Internet Explorer, which is why you are reading this. Something to do with the Javascript………!!!

In next week’s picture, will he be going in the other direction?

Certainly back at home the Brexit pantomime gathers pace. Fortunately we don’t get it all the time here and I, along with millions of others, am looking forward to the Test cricket tomorow for a little welcome relief. Of course, cricket is virtually unkown here and I follow the txt commentary on line when our rather unreliable internet reception permits. I can remember trying in my best French to explain the game to a group at a lunch party. I’m not sure whether they understood, but it was noticeable that the next topic of conversation was dementia!

 

Now that Jean seems to be recovering from the hectic programme at home for the last couple on months, we are gradually resuming our normal existance here. We had a nice “apero” (about 2 hours of drinks and nibbles) with our Belgian neighbours to celebrate  Arlette’s birthday, and a nice meal down at Cogolin Plage. The loos were blocked in the restaurant so we had to go down the lane to a wine bar. We were so impressed with their facilities, we adjourned there for and drink afterwards and chatted to a group of crew from one of those private yachts in the harbour, accompanied, in my case, by a splendid glass of Malbec.

I went for my evening swim today and, since all the children have returned home for school, I was the only one in the pool. As you can see in this pic there is only my towel hanging on the fence. The pool like most in France is surrounded by metal fencing and entry is by a locked gate, for which we have an electronic card. The system has been unreliable this year so I propped the gate open with a stone. 20 lengths later I get out, gather my things and…..oh dear….the stone is gone and I’m locked in the pool!! As you can see there are worse places on this earth to be trapped. Fortunately I had my mobile and Jean came down to help me. While waiting I used the entry card and slid it into the mechanism to release it. A burglar’s escape, and I publish this to help anyone else who meets with a similar fate. The only question remains – who removed the stone???

 

 

 

 

 

September 5th and we started the day early with a walk around Cavalaire, watching them preparing the stage on the port for the start of the 10th Annual Cavalaire Jazz Festival.

Today it’s the turn of the ‘Swing Bones’. Playing to a packed crowd there were 4 trombones, bass, piano and drums. All excellent players and wonderful arrangements of classic trad pieces, but the continuous low sound became a little boring and even funereal at times. The piano was the saving grace!

 

Friday 6th September and we had thunder and lightning and lots of rain rain in the night. After drying out the balcony, table and chairs it’s off to Gigaro for an early walk and lots of surprises such as this puddle. After 3 dry months it was a bit of a novelty to the residents here.

An even greater surprise was a family of wild boar foraging in the mud for whatever they find tasty to eat there. Mummy, Daddy and 2 babies. I was a little wary so the photo may not be the best!

No peace for the wicked, so it’s time to get ready for afternoon tea at our neighbours the Shaws. It was at 2 pm, so could have been lunch! Be that as it may, we started with champagne which was followed by beautifully prepared sandwiches, creme and jam splits, and yet more champagne. It was a great social occasion and finished at 5 pm. After a lazy  hour or so I went in the pool to wake me up, only to find someone had locked the gate and my card was not working ….again! Tried the burglars entry again and it worked like a treat.

Great swim before Jean prepared a lovely hake dinner outside on the patio. Very good day and the temperature does seem to have moderated a little after the rain.

 

 

Saturday 7th Sept and we’re up early and off to Ste Maxime for a walk. Went to Cafe de France for a cuppa and found to our delight that the ‘Jazz at the Table’ starts on the 16th – earlier than we thought. Lunchtime swim and for a change the gate mechanism woked, althoughI wasn’t taaking any chances and propped open the door for exit time.

 

We were looking forward to another Jazz event at Cavalaire. Well as you can see the ambience was superb again, but the music definitely was not. Singer, 2 guitars, piano and drums, and they had constant trouble with the sound system, so it wasn’t entirely the fault of the performers, but disappointing all the same. Pizza and bed.

 

 

 

Sunday 8th and a walk at the beach at Grimaud Sud. Much cooler with a nice breeze

 

The final concert of the Jazz Festival was in the Salle des Fetes and was indeed the highlight of the week. Superb playing by 2 young pianists – aged 17 and 23 respectively, backed at times by a very good saxophone and percussion. In addition there was a young singer who is also  a boogie woogie specialist on the piano. By the end everyone was on their feet and some (not us!) dancing in the isles.

What was certainly different was the concert started only 15 minutes late and finished by 10.45. In the 9 years that we have supported this event, that is some sort of record. Last year we were driving home after midnight.

Monday September 9th and the birthday of yours truly. Amazing array of good wishes – 7 cards, 50+facebook messages, 3 phone calls, 9 messenger greetings, several presents,and a kiss from Jean. What more could a man want. Oh I nearly forgot the family picture taken by by son in law Chris with his drone – has to be a first for us!

Nice relaxing day swimming and walking knowing we were going to party the following evening with the Oxfords. Trevor had invited us down for a meal and we were not going to mention the birthday.

What we didn’t allow for was the power of social media, in this case Facebook, and we were greeted with fireworks, a banner, and a bottle of champagne, by Trevor, Mary and Murray. My surprise present was the previous day’s Sunday Times beautifully wrapped in aluminium foil to keep it up to date! A first class meal was served and it was a surprise birthday party par excellence, and not too late in bed either.

 

 

 

 

 

Tues 10th September was probably the worst day ever for our trips to Chenes as it rained all day.

Coupled with high wind,and a spot of thunder and lightning thrown in, it was literally rain stopped play – no umpires decision required! We stayed in all day and night. Of course this weather was widely welcomed by everyone plus the trees and plants, as it hadn’t rained for a long time. The good news as well not to do the early morning watering sessions in the garden.Good view out of our window!!

 

 

Wed 11th September and a walk at Gigaro to start the day in beautiful sunshine, blue sky and no wind at all. It was good to check on the vineyards around there and to see that next year’s rose is in good hands. Another birthday party that evening as it has been customary to go out with the  Oxfords on this occasion. Great meal, on the edge of the sea at  Azure Beach, with the biggest portion of scallops on record. We had to tell them the news that we had decided to sell our unit (decided before we left home in fact) and that we were going home 2 weeks early owing to worries about Jean’s health.

Thursday 12 December was the day that we had to inform our wonderful neighbours that we were leaving early and selling our unit. Amid much emotion we went round to each one, and Trevor as well, trying to explain the reasons. I asked Jose next door to explain to James and Claudine, just in case I got it wrong as they speak no English, and within half an hour they had found a buyer  paying the asking price, who was actually his son – already is a member at Chenes, and wished to move to a better view and situation. Lucky or what???? We had yet another viewing that morning and a request that, should the sale fall through, her family would buy it. Amazing.

A day and a half to pack and sort out what we want to bring back to Cornwall. Given that our vehicle is the trusty Skodia Fabia Estate, there was not room for too much!

Friday 13th (hopefully not an omen) September. All systems go! Defrost, tidy up, pack or throw away clothes…..the feeling of finality in the back (or even front) of our minds. Final coffee with Trevor.The neighbours had arranged a farewell drink over the road at 12 noon and it was of course more than that – beautiful dishes of food to go with seemingly endless premium champagne (2 of the families come from Champage). We had to be very careful as we had a lot of work still to do and drinking slowly is not my forte – never has been. Yet Jean stayed on water and I had one glass – ’twas determination and will power in equal portions – and we managed to leave before 2 pm. As I remember the party was still going strong at 4.30!

Most of the car was packed by the evening – our little Skoda seemed a bit lower than before. Last pastis, light meal and off to bed for the last time in our house.

Saturday 14th September and we aim for a 9 am start. By 8.45 all the neighbours had gathered outside for a final farewell and in the end formed a guard of honour up the street to see us off. What a wonderful bunch of people – all different backgrounds, culture, language and never a dull moment. How lucky we have been for the last 10 years. Thanks to Lyn and the late Rod for introducing us to Chenes all those years ago, and to the Oxfords for keeping an eye open when we were away.

The journey home. Saturday and Sunday are usually the best days to travel in France and this time it proved the case. 375 miles the first day to go to St Beauzire and a wonderful hotel restaurant that we have stayed in before. Fabulous meal and interesting to meet a couple from Yorkshire who were travelling back from Ste Maxime which is about 6 miles from Chenes. 450 the next day to a hotel near Broons in Brittany. Quite a stretch but traffic fairly light despite it being the post tourist roadworks season. Off to Roscoff to catch the ferry (that’s another 120 miles). Ferry at 3.50 so time for a picnic lunch at the sea, some shopping, wine and beer and food for our 1st day back in Cornwall. The ferry was pretty calm and we arrived on time. Luck was on our side as, due to the fact they had to get all the cars off for the next sailing, we were diverted to a new immigration desk and hit the road before most of the others. Consequently, very little traffic, and the journey back to Sticker (39 miles) was the best of all our trips. It was the 38th time we had made the journey – 19 out and 19 back.

Back home to sunshine the next morning

Amen

 

 

%d bloggers like this: